A world of British accents London: New 'gateway' to European fashion leads the changing of the avant-garde.

March 27, 1997|By Valli Herman | Valli Herman,DALLAS MORNING NEWS

The rumor was so outlandish, it seemed to spring from fantasy: Two wild and wooly but wildly creative British designers were to take over two of France's stuffiest couture houses, Givenchy and Christian Dior.

But it was fact. John Galliano, 36, the dreadlocked, club-haunting son of a plumber, was to gain creative control of Dior after a short stint at Givenchy, and in his place, a foul-mouthed son of a taxi driver, Alexander McQueen, 27, would reign at the famously proper house of Givenchy.

When the announcements were made amid the Paris ready-to-wear shows in October, some wondered whether the appointments were a publicity stunt dreamed up by the owner of both houses, Bernard Arnault, head of the luxury goods conglomerate LVMH. They were -- and they weren't.

Although the new hires were milked for their headline potential, they were really just the most visible evidence of the British infiltration of international fashion.

Designers, models, photographers, editors and stylists who are British by birth or connections have been steadily assuming positions of control and influence around the world. They are quickly infecting the creative community with their particularly British appreciation of eccentricity, class differences and even pessimism.

The look, in ads or in clothing, is usually described by the words quirky, stark or even "street," says Hamish Bowles, a Briton and the European editor at large at American Vogue. "In England, it's all about rebellion and anarchy and that punk aesthetic. You make your own statement."

The London renaissance blends bits of Carnaby Street's hippie aristocrats, Savile Row's expert tailoring and punk rock's revolt. The mix is alluring.

"London is regarded at the moment as a creative melting pot," says Robert Triefus, the British vice president of corporate communications at Calvin Klein. "It's not just fashion, it's music. It's art. There is a real creative resurgence in London."

The fashion industry, which is relatively small in the influential upper reaches, often operates on word-of-mouth endorsements. That works in favor of the now-hot British. "It's like an extended family thing," says Bowles.

Many high-profile names in fashion share a handful of links. Some have apprenticed for a few top photographers, or designers such as Vivienne Westwood. Others befriended well-connected stylists such as Isabella Blow. Some of the top talent attended prestigious schools like St. Martin's School of Art in London or the Royal College of Art.

Fashion magazines are one of the clearest examples of the importance of "family" ties. Along with Bowles, other British names high on the masthead at Vogue include creative director Grace Coddington, senior fashion editor Camilla Nickerson, and since June 1988, editor Anna Wintour, who commands the top spot at the most important magazine in the Conde Nast empire.

Three years ago, James Truman, 38, a former editor of Details, became Conde Nast's editorial director, a move that shook the publishing world in part because of his youth and nationality. He, too, was an FOA -- Friend of Anna.

The scenario is similar at rival Harper's Bazaar, where Liz Tilberis became editor in February 1992, bringing with her 21 years of experience editing British Vogue. Tilberis has exposed some of her countrymen to a wider audience in America, notably photographer Craig McDean and senior fashion editor Melanie Ward. Her influence is such that she was able to persuade Princess Diana to attend a recent benefit for the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute in New York City.

It was a new look in advertising that led the way for the current editorial direction. At Calvin Klein, British photographers David Sims and McDean have been shaping the stark ad campaigns for several years, says Triefus.

McDean was recently hired at Calvin Klein to shoot all of the women's CK and Collection sportswear and accessories ads, starring Klein's favorite British model, Kate Moss.

London also jump-started the careers of photographers Nick Knight, Glen Luchford (both Britons), Peruvian-born Mario Testino and German-born Juergen Teller. Most notable among the pack, though, is Corinne Day, the British photographer who discovered Kate. Ward, of Harper's, styled many of those early shoots.

The British model craze gained momentum after an unusual brunette slouched down catwalks as the anti-Naomi Campbell (another British treasure): Pale, gangly, almost timid Stella Tennant gained notice quickly, if not for her unique look and heavy nostril ring, then for her aristocratic lineage. She's the granddaughter of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, who live on one of England's grandest estates. Tennant, now the face of Chanel, has opened the door to other "blue-blood beauties."

Tennant sometimes poses with her model cousin, Iris Palmer, who is the great-granddaughter of Pamela, Lady Glenconner.

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