London designers look to L.A. and red carpet for fame, fortune

London designers
Left to right, celebrities wearing creations by British fashion designers on the red carpet. Actress Willow Shields in an Emilia Wickstead dress at the world premiere of “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” in London. “Mad Men” actress Kiernan Shipka wearing Preen at the British Fashion Council and cocktail party to celebrate the London Style Suites in L.A. Actress Diane Kruger in an Emilia Wickstead dress at the Autism Speaks’ Blue Jean Ball at Boulevard 3 in L.A.
(Andrew Cowie / AFP; Donato Sardella / Getty Images; Kevin Winter / Getty Images. )
Los Angeles Times Fashion Critic

When you’re a fashion designer looking for exposure in the industry, you show your collection on the runways in New York or Europe. When you are looking for exposure to the world, you come to L.A.

British designers invaded L.A. last week in search of the fame and fortune that only the red carpet can bring.

Mary Katrantzou, David Koma, Matthew Williamson and others set up shop at the “London Style Suites” at the Chateau Marmont for two days of meeting and greeting Nov. 7 and 8, with the hopes of placing some of their designs on celebrities in the lead-up to the awards show season.

It’s the fourth time that the British Fashion Council has brought a group to L.A., all expenses paid. And indeed, London designers have made impressive inroads dressing stars in Hollywood. Considered cool and edgy, London designers can help celebrities define their style and generate editorial and branding opportunities.


“What’s brilliant about the Brits is that they are very innovative with print and embellishment,” says L.A.-based stylist Cher Coulter, who works with Kate Bosworth, Elizabeth Olsen, Nicole Richie and others. “They are unique and that’s what we need on the red carpet. Actresses need to stand out.”

London is a hotbed for up-and-coming fashion talent right now, and a rich source for luxury conglomerates looking to broaden their brand portfolios. LVMH Moet Hennesy Louis Vuitton recently bought a majority stake in British shoe designer Nicholas Kirkwood’s business, and Kering (formerly PPR) acquired a majority of Christopher Kane’s business. (Both Kirkwood and Kane have previously traveled to L.A. with the BFC.)

“We’ve found there’s an atmosphere for our designers here,” said Caroline Rush, chief executive of the British Fashion Council. “To be able to dress a celebrity drives sales. And it’s not just the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards, it’s the cocktail parties the night before held by the sponsors, and all the lobbying parties running up to the awards.”

How does the BFC measure the return on its investment? Simple, Rush says — column inches and the caliber of stars. “Of course, the end goal for the designer is to have their own red carpet office in L.A.”


Set up in garden rooms behind the swimming pool at the Chateau, Justin Thornton and Thea Bregazzi of Preen showed their Miami-inspired tile and floral print silk devore dresses with asymmetrical hems, one of which was worn by actress Kiernan Shipka at the BFC event Nov. 8. The designers didn’t realize the importance of celebrity to their business until Gwyneth Paltrow wore one of their dresses in 2009, “and we sold like 500 of them the next season,” Thornton said.

Emilia Wickstead, a favorite with Kate Middleton, had a rail of her crinkly cotton gowns in Necco Wafer colors, alongside crisp white denim dresses and piano print tops inspired by the Mississippi Delta. “Diane Kruger wore something of mine, then Cameron Diaz wore something, and all of a sudden we saw this different kind of attention. We saw the power it brought to the brand,” Wickstead said. On Monday in London, Willow Shield wore a sunshine yellow Wickstead gown to the “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” premiere.

Mary Katrantzou’s elaborately printed minidresses, tops and skirts were inspired by shoes, with piping, lacing, panel and fringe details. “It’s great to see stylists in L.A. and show them the collection. You get a perspective on what people like. Tips we’ve been told is that dresses need to be bigger in the bust area, and have 5 centimeters at all the seams so they can be fit perfectly to everyone’s body.”

Matthew Williamson went for more of a homespun look with his prints — hand-drawn dragonflies and insects that looked graffiti-esque on some pieces.

Japanese khudo (archery) inspired David Koma’s sculptural body con dresses, one of which was worn by Jennifer Lawrence at the GLAAD Media Awards in April. “They only have certain shapes, cuts and fits they will wear,” Koma says of celebrities. “They are exposed, standing in front of millions of people being judged. And that has helped me think about how I design for all women.”

Osman Yousefzada has had some major celebrity hits, too, namely dressing Beyonce in a black-and-white jumpsuit for the Grammys. “It was really accidental. Her stylist just found the piece,” he said, showing his mix ’n’ match collection of beaded bandeaus and flowy pants, and singling out a white neoprene coat. “This would be perfect for Cate Blanchett.”

The British Fashion Council’s Style Suites were co-sponsored by the website, which will be offering 10 exclusive red-carpet-worthy styles from participating designers for sale beginning in February.



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