BY DESIGN : THE FALL COLLECTION / LONDON : The Present and Future Are Here and Now


Sandwiched between the runway parades in swanky Milan and elegant Paris, London is back on the fashion map with more shows, more buyers and more wearable--and, it is hoped, salable--clothes for fall and winter.

"You see the present and the future here in London," said Clinton Silver, chairman of the British Fashion Council and a key figure in reviving London Fashion Week, which was on the verge of collapse three seasons ago.

With London's reputation built on innovation, it was fitting that five "New Generation" design groups kicked off the event Friday night, most showing for the first time thanks to sponsorship from the Marks and Spencer retail chain.

The duo of Dennic Lo, 28, and Darren Cabon, 24, showed jackets made from natural wood and wax paper. They also served up a slinky black suit topped with a matching witch hat--and long silver talons for the model's fingers to complete the look.

"Take those away and you have a suit that anyone could wear," Lo said.

Stephen Fuller, 31, who moved into fashion after a career in rock videos and film, showed 23 outfits--almost every one made with such industrial materials as nylon, plastic, latex, graphite and rubber.

A 1950s-style rubber suit had a houndstooth check painted on, and a figure-hugging, sleeveless red rubber dress was decorated with black flying saucers.

How do you get into a thin rubber dress? "They are quite delicate," Fuller said. "You have to put on talcum powder to get them on and then spray them with silicone to get the gloss."

The design team Red or Dead explored what it called "the very underbelly of good taste" in an exciting show Saturday, which ended with Shirley Bassey singing "Hey Big Spender" to front-row buyers.

The offerings started with slinky bodysuits--one with cutouts down the right side. Next were fur dresses, plastic shorts and diaper-cloth T-shirts worn with skintight synthetic jeans.

Then it was back to the 1970s with a range of fitted velvet jackets and frill edges and to the 1930s with "Bugsy Malone" gals in wide cuffed trousers. A final vampy range of seductive gowns with deep cleavage left the audience clapping.

In London, the avant-garde always mixed with the more traditional.

Bella Freud's flirtatious collection of knits and classic styles featured short, flippy skirts with scalloped edges and jackets with fake fur lapels--a definite feature for next winter.

Zandra Rhodes showed her signature prints in reds and pale blues, with hand-painted gold, on more modern shapes, including little shifts. Betty Jackson's collection, called "plain luxury," was understated but very feminine.

"It's all glamour," said David Sasson, whose evening-wear customers include Saks Fifth Avenue. "We are now desperately trying to put on weight and get our curves back."

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