"It's not easy getting dressed in the morning these days, mum," the taxi driver teased his passenger coming in from the airport. "There's this fashion thing here, and it makes me a little nervous about what to wear."
Indeed, there is quite a major fashion thing going on in London at the moment, and everyone here knows about the fall showings because of unprecedented media coverage -- "even something on the telly," the cab driver explained. Shops have spruced up their windows for tie-ins and for a competition among display directors generated by this week's fashion events.
Even Princess Diana, who has had a lot to do with sparking new interest in London fashion, has taken notice and plans to participate. She will greet designers -- including many whose clothes she wears -- as well as buyers and press at a reception at the government's Lancaster House after the last show Thursday evening. A year ago Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher invited the same fashion crowd to 10 Downing St.
Official London has more than a passing interest in these shows, which last year generated more than $1 billion in exports, an increase of 15 percent over the previous year. Of the 8,700 buyers who browsed through the exhibitions and attended some of the shows last October -- a 25 percent increase over the year before -- 40 percent were from overseas.
"We're growing up and we're fighting to be recognized," says Rosalind Woofson, spokeswoman for the exhibition at Olympia, a huge hall that provides more than 300 designers and manufacturers with display space and where retailers order clothes and accessories for the season ahead.
While there are unofficial fashion shows here on every corner, put on by kids inventively attired in personal mixes, the official round got under way yesterday in the rococo-trimmed Pillar Hall. More than 50 designers, most of whom have very small companies, banded for a 90-minute showcase called the Individual Clothes Show.
Not only had the hall been spiffed up and repainted since the last round of shows six months ago, but the presentation was less haphazard as well, with professional models assisted by professional hair and makeup people.
But not all of the kinks in such a massive undertaking have been worked out. Someone decided to embellish the stage with white fabric floating over the runway -- and interfering with the view of the photographers. It didn't take them long to figure out that they couldn't dismantle the display, so the photographers simply knotted up the fabric to get it out of their way.
After about the fourth or fifth designer, the microphone failed, and there was hardly a clue to whose clothes were being modeled. But it almost didn't matter.
"It was a harvest of history," said Bernie Ozer, vice president of Associated Merchandising Corp., considered the largest buying office in the world.
The designers spun off ideas from just about every period in fashion history, from fitted coats to psychedelic sweaters, wrapped skirts and kilts to jodhpurs, blazers made of carpets to windbreakers decorated with patches. But the way everything was leveled and layered left little doubt it was all made to be worn today.
Most of the clothes were long and big, though others were snug and sexy, as if poking fun at the tightly wrapped clothes popular with some of Paris' best designers these days. And with the repetition of oversize shapes -- big shirts and long skirts -- there was usually inventiveness in the fabrics and fabric combinations. (Because these small designers can't afford to buy from major fabric suppliers, they often use fabrics they have printed themselves or have gotten from a friend.)
Buyers who flew from Milan to London after the Complice show yesterday found an emphasis here, as in the Italian shows, on dressier fabrics such as crushed velvet, Lurex and satin. John Crancher, the last designer to show (and whose clothes can be found at Commander Salamander in Georgetown), sent his male and female models skipping down the runway in sheer black crushed-organza pants and shirts topped by glittery embroidered jackets.
Until three weeks ago there was no backing for the Individual Clothes Show. Then Lesley Goring, the organizer, persuaded Gordon (Gifi) Fields, chairman of the Coutwall Group, which produces and sells clothes here on a large scale, to help. Fields wouldn't say what it cost to put on the show. According to Goring, each designer "had to put up only 100 quid," a little more than $100, to send his clothes down the catwalk and to be seen by more than 500 buyers and reporters.
Along with the individual designer shows being presented at Pillar Hall or down the road at the Commonwealth Institute -- where the Murjani jean company has paid for a tent to showcase the designers -- group shows include students from two of the art schools in England that are churning out amazing fashion talent. And a few designers, such as Jean Muir, are showing in their showrooms.
With the increasing crowds here, it's clear that a lot of people won't make it into the shows. But that's not such a hardship in this city, where there's so much interesting fashion to be seen on the street.