Byline: DAVID COHEN
THE MOOD inside the Portland Place headquarters of the British Fashion Council should have been ebullient yesterday. But as chief executive Hilary Riva and her team ran over the final details for their showcase bi-annual event, London Fashion Week, which kicks off on Sunday, it was instead all doom and gloom.
For weeks Riva has desperately put a brave face on the threat by New York Fashion Week to bulldoze London out of its slot. She has been schmoozing the trade press, saying: "We're still trying for a fair solution, I don't think anyone is setting out to deliberately damage London."
The reality is that the Americans have been sharpening their stilettos. For today comes confirmation that Riva and the BFC have thrown in the towel and that the catwalk battle is lost, plunging the industry into turmoil and the future of London Fashion week into an unprecedented crisis. In a wider context, it is another shot in the new battle for supremacy between London and New York.
In the past two years London, with its eclectic style and the powerhouse of the City driving its ambitions, has emerged as the hottest of the world's cities. The Americans, of course, are determined to regain their crown. And so the catwalk has become the latest battleground.
The British Fashion Council says Riva will issue a definitive press statement next week but its spokesperson admitted to the Evening Standard: "It's a big blow to us but this will be the last London Fashion Week to run over six days.
"As of next year, the best we can hope for is four days sandwiched between New York and Milan, though with one travel day, it realistically leaves us just three days unless we can convince New York not to have any large designers showing on the final Friday. But historically
Donna Karan always goes at 3pm on that final Friday, so we may not be able to change that.
"The problem has arisen because the Americans say they will start their shows on the second Friday of February and September, a week later than their current slots, and have rejected our compromise request that they only move back four days. Milan and Paris, which go immediately after us, have agreed to move up four days if they had not, we'd be left with nothing." While few industry insiders believe the New York juggernaut could have been defeated, there is a view that a more silky negotiator than Riva might have come away with a better deal for London.
British designer Caroline Charles, one of the doyennes of the industry, says that while Riva was "initially diffident and lacking in confidence", she has "recently grown in stature and is logical and sensible".
But does she have the " necessary diplomacy"? Brenda Polan, director of programmes at the London College of Fashion, says: " Riva is very purposeful and has a reputation of getting what she wants but she is also known for being abrasive."
A BFC spokesperson confirmed that behind the scenes there have been "strong words" industry innuendo for "a furious row" between Riva and her "intransigent" counterparts in New York, Steven Kolb and star designer Diane Von Furstenberg, who head up the Council of Fashion Designers of America.
"The Americans say that with European factories closed in August, their designers have insufficient time to get the samples through, and with Milan and Paris saying that a later slot will mean it less likely their clothes will arrive in store on time for the new season, London, the poor cousin of the Big Four, finds itself elbowed out," said the spokesperson.
"There have been numerous meetings to seek an agreed resolution but it comes down to raw buying power. New York is backed by Donna Karan, Tommy Hilfiger and Versace, Milan has Prada and Armani, for Paris there is Gucci and Dior but all Hilary has to back her up is Aquascutum, Jaeger London and Paul Smith. It's no contest, really. …