Page last updated at 17:19 GMT, Friday, 19 February 2010

Fashion Week opens under 'dark cloud' of McQueen's loss

Paul Costelloe show
Paul Costelloe's designs have opened the show for the last five seasons

By Nicola Pearson
BBC News, London Fashion Week

As the crowd filed in to watch the first catwalk show at London Fashion Week, they were entertained by the country and western tunes of Dolly Parton.

The room buzzed with cheerful anticipation, but en route to the show venue many had already filed past a wall of tributes to "revolutionary" designer Alexander McQueen (real first name Lee), who died last week aged just 40. His name seemed to be on everyone's lips.

Dozens of photographers and camera crews jostled for position at the end of the room, as the plastic covers were peeled away from the glossy new runway.

Rhiannon Jones

Most of these are Barbies but I think there are some Sindys in there - I bought them all at a car boot sale

Rhiannon Jones

Then, Dolly was faded along with the lighting. The music switched to a more sombre track, in the style of a Western movie, signalling the show by London-based designer Paul Costelloe was beginning.

Out of the darkness, with their hair wildly back-combed and eyes lined thickly in black, came the first models to strut the catwalk in this autumn-winter fixture on the fashion calendar.

The hair was pinned high, adding several inches to their already impossibly tall frames.

Veteran designer Costelloe has been showing here for 15 years and has opened the event for the past five seasons. This year, he cited his inspirations as the film The Assassination of Jesse James, black and lace.

Lampshade-style skirts, like exaggerated versions of the tulip trend, were seen alongside leather-look tubing for arms and legs, shimmering ruffles and tailored dresses in metallic fabrics.

By 1000 GMT show number one was complete, and the champagne was already freely flowing.

The fashion crowd milled. Those who were there to be noticed posed happily for a succession of TV cameras, photographers and visitors snapping with mobile phones.

One young designer was impossible to ignore, with her flamboyant punky look and accessories that were unusual, to say the least.

At just 17, Rhiannon Jones is burning with desire to have her own show at London Fashion Week.

The autumn-winter 2010 collections kicked off with designers Paul Costelloe and Caroline Charles

"I'm hoping for next season. I tried to get sponsorship for this one but wasn't successful. I've sold a few designs and a few bands are wearing my stuff," she says.

She moved from Yorkshire to London when she turned 16 and rents a studio in Shoreditch, where she is already turning out her own designs.

Donning a leopard skin leotard, with enormous shoulder pads supporting a row of tiny severed dolls heads, she is certainly attracting attention.

Little plastic amputated legs dangle from her ears, and a huge gold full-sized bedroom alarm clock hangs from her neck.

She twists one of the dolls heads to get a closer look.

"Most of these are Barbies, but I think there are some Sindys in there. I bought them all at a car boot sale."

When asked about her inspiration she says: "I've always been like this. I don't know, I just got the idea; I can go for ages without an idea and then something just comes to me."

But outlandish outfits were plainly not in vogue this season, with few on the first morning dressed outrageously.

Outrageous is a word often associated with Alexander McQueen, who hanged himself on 11 February.

Hilary Alexander
Hilary Alexander was among many paying tribute to Alexander McQueen

His death undoubtedly led to a more sombre atmosphere than previous shows.

As Prime Minister Gordon Brown's wife Sarah prepared to officially open the event, chairman of the British Fashion Council Harold Tillman led tributes to McQueen.

Photographers lowered their cameras and eyes faced the floor as a minute's silence was held.

Guests were invited to leave memories and pay their respects by pinning cards to a tribute wall.

It was also plastered with photographs of McQueen's designs - among them a headdress that looked like it was made from three stuffed birds of prey.

Former M&S chief executive Sir Stuart Rose left a note saying McQueen's was a "great talent that will not be forgotten".

Fashion journalist Hilary Alexander wrote: "Dear Lee, so sorry time's winged chariot whisked you away - far too early!"

And, in a statement, Costelloe said McQueen would be greatly missed by all in the industry.

"There will obviously be a dark cloud hanging over this season's London Fashion Week," he said.

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