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London Fashion Week opens amid Brexit uncertainties

Last Updated Feb 17, 2017 at 12:20 pm MST

A model wears a creation by designer Eudon Choi during the runway show as part of London Fashion Week, Friday, Feb. 17, 2017. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

LONDON – Models and fashion editors descended on Britain’s sunny capital from snowy New York Friday for the start of London Fashion Week, kicking off a whirlwind of runway shows featuring Burberry, Versus, Roksanda and dozens of other designers.

The first day of the fashion showcase started in a new location on the Strand in central London. Here are some highlights:

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BREXIT ANXIETIES LOOM

For a change, politics took centre stage as the event opened.

“Brexit” — Britain’s upcoming exit from the European Union — and political uncertainties in the U.S. and Europe dominated opening remarks by the organizers, who urged the fashion industry to make a clear statement of unity and inclusiveness in the face of rising nationalism.

Britain’s fashion leaders are concerned about how Brexit will impact trade in an industry that has grown accustomed to the easy movement of talent and goods across European borders.

“I’d like to take this opportunity … to remind the government that retaining our competitive position isn’t straightforward and we hope that you’ll listen and understand our concerns and our needs when we talk to you about visas, talent, tariffs, and IP (intellectual property),” said Caroline Rush, chief executive of the British Fashion Council at an opening session.

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PASTELS AT BORA AKSU

The London-based Turkish designer Bora Aksu dedicated his show to Princess Sophia Duleep Singh, a prominent advocate for women’s rights in Britain during the suffragette movement. He said she showed a “beguiling combination of royalty and revolutionary fervour.”

The collection played heavily on lilacs, blues and powdery pinks. Some of the outfits offered playful variations on Victorian themes, complete with severe, almost masculine hats, while others were completely contemporary.

The 1960s were present also, with some models braiding blue flowers into their hair and several outfits offering variation on black and white Op Art themes.

A full-length pink and pale blue dress was particularly striking, seeming to bridge several eras of fashion history in a soft, subtle vision. At its best, the show had an ethereal quality.

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TWEEDS AND SPARKLY GOWNS AT PAUL COSTELLOE

It was a splendid evening for Irish-American designer Paul Costelloe, a stalwart of London Fashion Week who spiced up his show with Jimi Hendrix’s apocalyptic “All Along the Watchtower” and finished by dancing with one of his models to Sam Cooke’s joyous “Another Saturday Night.”

Between the first Hendrix chords and the last steps of his dance, Costelloe showed dramatic evening gowns, many with sheer, sparkly designs, and ensembles featuring tight corsets over culottes and oversize tweedy jackets over skintight leather trousers.

Models were given a horizontal line of blood-red eye makeup that gave them a somewhat forbidding look. Many of the short dresses featured attached hoods, and one elegant outfit showed a distinct Japanese influence, with a floor-length kimono-style dress.

Costelloe highlighted his Irish heritage with the use of tweeds, but not in traditional cuts or styles. He has perfected the sexy librarian look — giving one model a long, high-waisted tweed skirt paired with a ruffly white blouse. Many of his simple outfits, relying on solid pieces in contrasting colours, worked extremely well. The gowns were the highlight: distinctive, imaginative and fun.

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VIRTUAL REALITY

Off the catwalks, there was also a broad array of international talent on display at presentations at Somerset House, which includes designers from India, Guatemala, Slovakia and elsewhere.

The new presentation rooms at the Store Studios included a virtual reality display that let visitors don special equipment for brief presentations about London’s fashion heritage plus a video about Alexander McQueen.

The headphones and goggles gave viewers a startling display of the workmanship and detailing that goes into the construction of the highest of high-end apparel.