Not since the 1960s has there been so much hoopla over English fashion. Then again, not since the 1960s have the London collections looked so, well, 1960s.
Fashion here has gone very "glam," as the British say, with great opulence in fabrics such as brocades and satins. Hip-hugger styles and stretch pants and miniskirts are reappearing. Ruffles are beginning to show up, and so are unisex, long hair, psychedelics and other hippie holdovers.
Princess Diana is the new Jackie O, and Cyndi Lauper, Prince and Tina Turner are this generation's Grace Slick, Jimi Hendrix and Tina Turner.
"It's inevitable," says Stuart (Izzy) Ezrailson of Georgetown's Commander Salamander. "It's the return to rock 'n' roll. After all, it's what you would expect after all the '50s things."
"It is the same energy here in the music and the clothes now as in the 1960s," insists Macy's vice president Terry Melville. "It's a cycle that comes back at a different strength."
As in the '60s, London is again an important center of fashion, with dozens of young designers -- many of whom are recent graduates of art school -- breaking old fashion rules and more established designers showing their best collections in years. But although London is swinging again, no style ever returns in its original form.
This time it's "Amadeus" and Prince that have sparked all the fancy dressing, which shows up boldly peacock in the hands of some designers and deftly subtle with others.
Rifat Ozbek, the young Turkish-born designer whose second collection has been snapped up by every prestige American shop, uses black fabrics with sheen, brightened with touches of brocade on the backs of collars or as linings in jackets and coats.
"It's luxury for oneself, not a showoff kind of luxury that I like," he said as he showed buyers his collection in the living room of his apartment.
Subdued for Ozbek, perhaps, but on the catwalks here for the past four days, shimmer and shine have exploded in virtually every collection. And in the booths at Olympia, the exhibition hall where most buyers have been placing orders with designers, " 'glam' is what they are looking for," says Saks Fifth Avenue's Renee Hunter.
"This dress looks very Joan Collins," she told designer Antony Price, pointing to a grand-entrance, strapless velvet gown. "That's what the customer wants, so I'll buy it."
Trend-setters started buying fancy-fabric clothes here more than a year ago. Crolla, a shop on Dover Street, was often the fashion crowd's first stop for beautiful chintz shirts, brocade Nehru jackets and crushed-velvet pants, an opulent look sought out equally by men and women. In fact, these clothes are so popular that they are carried by other shops in London, and are sold on a limited basis to American stores so that there will be enough to go around.
"Women have had to cover up their toned-up, worked-out bodies in big baggy menswear or black Japanese shrouds," says Georgina Godley, Crolla's designer. "They are ready for a change."
Even the post-punks have gone "glam." Until a year ago the racks at Boy were filled with black bondage clothes, the shelves stacked with the nastiest T-shirts anywhere. Now the first thing you see in this Kings Road shop are quantities of pink brocade suits -- for both boys and girls.
"People are tired of looking scruffy," says Hazel Willis, the store manager.
All this interest in dressing up has been a boon to designer Bruce Oldfield, one of Princess Diana's pets and a favorite of Joan Collins. "Times are bad," he explains. "There are at least 3 1/2 million unemployed, an endless miners' strike, hardship and poverty about, and yet frivolity is in the air. People are clutching at fantasies." And he provides them for private customers, among them the Duchess of Kent and Queen Noor of Jordan.
With such dressing up comes a return to fitted clothes, says Oldfield. He's made a cinched-waistline dress in cream-colored silk for Joan Collins to wear to next week's gala benefit for Barnardo's, a home for orphans and children from split families. (Oldfield, who grew up in Barnardo's, has also made Princess Diana's gown, but won't reveal even the color.) His spring collection, marking his 10th year in business, will be shown to the audience of 800.
Mark Lascelles, 25, says he was just "a bit in somebody's womb" in the 1960s, so he doesn't remember that period very distinctly. "I think clothes today have some of the wow of that time," says the young designer, who gives a fashion show in a tea shop near Carnaby Street every Wednesday afternoon. His collection includes skinny velvet pants printed with the street signs of Carnaby Street.
Angela Aurora, of Brocade, has dressed up denim jackets with Indian brocade and decorated black satin baseball jackets with patches, just like in the 1960s. But the studded dollar sign on the back of one "is my homage to the strength of the dollar today," she says.
At Pink Soda, Robert Rose expects his psychedelic-print socks to surpass the 100,000 pairs of floral-print socks he sold this spring. Berets adorned with key chains, dazzling flag pins and accessories that play frightfully on Hermes and Chanel status items are quick sellers, too, although Rose, who owns the business, hasn't a clue why "everyone wants everything of the 1960s."
Apparently men and women want the same things. On Saturday on Kings Road, young women in Jones were buying fancy shirts and brocade vests in the smallest men's sizes, and men were buying women's jeweled pins to wear on their jackets or tuxedos in place of pocket squares or black ties.
John Galliano and Body Map show identical clothes on men and women, including skirts, which is bit of a jolt even when several in the audience are wearing them. You see a few men around London in skirts, usually worn with trousers underneath.
In the Joseph Tricot and Pin-Up collections, models danced and writhed on stage, pulling their sweaters and knitted jackets over their heads and wearing them backwards and upside down, one supposes to make the point that today clothes can be worn anyway you want. And by anyone. Occasionally it was a man who modeled the knit dresses in the collection.
And that's the big difference between today's unisex looks and those of 20 years back. In the past, women co-opted menswear. Now a few men are wearing things that were once solely for women, including makeup, jewelry and dresses.
"I guess I like to wear something different," John Richmond says shyly. One of the designers for Pin-Up, he wears skirts because, he says, they are more comfortable.
Erica Steinhauer of Bead Games, who was selling big chunky necklaces and beaded sashes to several American stores from her stall at the Olympia this week, was delighted to be swept along in the retro craze. "Fashion is changing so fast these days, it is almost catching up with us. What will we do when we run out of decades?" she asked with a laugh.