LONDON: The opening of London Fashion Week on Friday was darkened by the giant shadow cast by the death of Alexander McQueen, long the enigmatic toast of the London fashion world.
McQueen, who died in an apparent suicide last week, was honored with a remembrance wall that quickly became the center of attention in the mammoth fashion tent pitched in the courtyard of Somerset House.
Hundreds of messages were posted to the late superstar, regarded as the provocative enfant terrible of the once staid London design scene.
Some simply said, "RIP Lee McQueen" - using his given name - while others lamented the loss of his considerable talent.
"So many memorable moments - a real British hero," read a note written by Clara Mercer of the British Fashion Council. "We will miss him."
Many stopped to be photographed standing in front of the McQueen wall.
Tributes to McQueen touched on his genius and his lasting influence.
"My favorite McQueen creations are his skull clutches and scarves which fuse contemporary edginess and ladylike chic," wrote Marigay McKee, the fashion and beauty director at Harrods.
"His sculptured dresses are also an artform."
Once fashion week is done, the notes will be collected in a book and given to McQueen's family.
Focus will then likely shift to Paris, where his final collection - finished by his assistants - is expected to be shown early next month.
The organizers of London Fashion Week paid tribute to McQueen, who last showed here in 2001, in opening remarks, but there was an attempt to move forward with business as usual - show business that is - despite McQueen's shocking death, which came several days after his mother succumbed to a lengthy illness.
Sarah Brown, the wife of Prime Minister Gordon Brown, opened the festivities by praising the designers responsible for building Britain's fashion industry, a source of both jobs and pride.
"I have no doubt this will be a creative and inspiring London Fashion Week and also a reflective time with the passing of Lee McQueen," she said.
Fashion Council chief Harold Tillman, elegant in a gray double-breasted suit, said fashion fans can honor McQueen by showing continued support for London's designers.
"He has inspired so many to follow and establish their own collection and has influenced many designers," Tillman said.
"To ensure London, his home city, continues to grow as a global fashion center will be a fitting tribute to this brilliant man."
Somerset House was thronged with fashionistas from early morning, with many of the women wearing tight black mini-dresses and stiletto heels.
A few who bucked the all-black trend wore leopard skin print dresses or coats - including one who wore black knee socks matched with a leopard print dress and impossibly high heels.
Bright red lipstick seemed to be in vogue.
Some styled their hair with bangs - or a fringe, as the British call them.
One brunette said she had styled her hair like Bettie Page, a famous American pinup girl from the 1950s.
One of the eye-catching outfits also relied on the jungle theme.
A striking woman in a skintight leopard print leotard snarled for the cameras, showing off massive shoulder pads studded with spikes and severed Barbie doll heads.
Despite the reflective mood, there were plenty of canapes and champagne at several receptions.
The fashion-familiar sound of champagne corks popping offset a bit of the gloom.
The long list of prestigious catwalk events set for the next five days emphasized that London's talent pool is still deep.
Anticipation is building for shows by Paul Smith, Burberry, Vivienne Westwood, Matthew Williamson and other stalwarts.
A dizzying list of parties was planned, with the festivities kicking off Thursday night with Naomi Campbell's "Fashion for Relief" charity gala.
Party invitations - especially to the more exclusive, less-publicized bashes - were rare and valuable commodities in the quest for status and reassurance.
Inside the darkened exhibition space Friday, it fell to fashion week veteran Paul Costelloe to turn attention away from the fashion world's loss and focus people again on designs, color, fabric, fit and the future.
The Dublin-born Costelloe showed a trenchcoat-heavy camel and caramel colored collection, while designer Caroline Charles offered a defiantly classic look that mixed smartly cut gray tweed coats with touchable white ear muffs.
On Friday afternoon Bora Aksu impressed the crowd with unusual knitwear featuring pale pastel colors set off by dramatic black leggings.
He used some sequined armor on top of textured brocades and silk tulle, and used Brazilian fish skins in place of leather to striking effect.
In the evening, Sass & Bide captured the imagination of the crowd, which included '60s supermodel Twiggy.
The show featured unusual outfits worn by models on exaggerated platform heels, giving them extreme height - altitude with attitude.
Costelloe's collections might keep people warm next winter, but they won't necessarily leave customers looking hot.
Many of the women wore puffy brown lampshade dresses pulled down over black leather leggings.
His men's coats were huge, some skimming the floor and billowing as the models strode across the catwalk.
Martina Gallagher, a friend of the show's organizers, said she found the men's coats "very swish" but too big.
"He was bit a drowning," she said of one of the models. The 38-year-old also criticized the wool-like material used in some of the women's clothing.
"Honestly I think the women were done too heavy," she said.
Highlights included a set of silvery dresses centered around the stomach and an elegant, semitransparent black top with lines of ruffles running from the wrists to the waist.
Charles started off with a rigorously classic look, with tweed, fur, gloves, pearls, and oodles of black: black gloves, black hats, and black leggings.
A stray flash of green or leopard print kept things from getting too grim, and the collection came into its own when it started experimenting with combinations of black and tarnished gold.
Many of the clothes seemed very wearable, and - unusually - the models wearing them seemed at ease, dropping their usual sneers and pouts for warm smiles than perfectly complemented the chirpy-looking earmuffs and cutely cut tweed jackets.
Aksu, a Central St. Martin's graduate, described his show as an effort to mix Marie Antoinette with Edward Scissorhands.
The models wore pastel colors paired with black leggings, and some outfits were set off by gold metallic effects.
The short cut dresses, many with sheer tops, had a layered effects, and some of the skirts of the dresses had a puffed up look, giving them a distinctive profile. SASS & BIDE
The final show of opening day saw Sass & Bide claim center stage with a series of black-and-white outfits on models who were tall to begin with and given extra height with extreme platform shoes.
The effect was often exaggerated with vertical stripes, at times making it appear as if the models were on stilts.
But they were not circus figures. Elegant, sexy and otherworldly, they dominated the runway, their hair often set up by gold-plated headpieces.
Some wore armor-style shoulder pads, giving them a strange, warrior-like appearance. A few wore lacy, sheer tops, adding a feminine touch to the slender silhouette.
Others wore long black leather gloves that extended almost to the shoulder.
It was a striking conclusion to the day, and gave hope for more surprises as the week unfolds. - AP
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