- Associated Press - Friday, September 16, 2011

LONDON (AP) - By day, London may look the same _ downbeat commuters, snarled traffic, headaches galore. But after dark the city will be sparkling on Friday as London Fashion Week spawns dozens of catwalk shows, parties, and ever-more-exclusive after-parties.

If you’re going, rest assured that there is always one more party a bit more posh than the one you’re attending, unless your name happens to be Natalia (as in Vodianova, the Anglicized Russian “it” girl with the stunning cheekbones) or Gisele.

The unveiling of the spring and summer 2012 collections _ this time including a show by Tom Ford, the latest A-plus fashion star to embrace London’s catwalk _ marks an unofficial end to London’s riot-torn, phone-hacked summer and, hopefully, kicks off a bumper fall social season.

The sound of champagne being uncorked can’t come soon enough for people whose businesses were hurt by the widespread rioting and looting that struck London and other British cities in August, events that put a damper on night life that only now seems about to lift.

“It’s something positive, it’s a good thing in many ways, and it’s not rioting,” said Charles Gilkes, co-owner of several London bars and clubs, including Barts, Maggie’s and Bunga Bunga. “It means more people are out and about during the week.”

He said the majority of Londoners aren’t aware of fashion week, but that for a small segment of the population, including many in the service industry, the catwalk shows and the spinoff trade they create, are the most important time of the year.

There is a ripple effect that goes far beyond the shows, with many of the capital’s finest stores sponsoring gala parties or exclusive cocktail receptions.

Many Bond Street boutiques _ the kind where seriously nice accessories costs seriously large amounts of money _ stayed open late last Thursday as part of Vogue’s Fashion Night Out, now a fashion week tradition.

For Gilkes, it meant an extra job _ setting up the bar for Tod’s, a favored shoe store _ and it sharpened the focus on London’s status as an upscale shopping center, a place with so much variety that it’s possible to spend 25 pounds ($40) on some trendy, colored plastic shoes or more than 1,000 pounds ($1600) on unique Italian footwear, all on the same block.

London has capitalized on its reputation for encouraging fringe and street designers to work their way up the fashion ladder, giving fashion week an edgy feel despite big name houses and generous corporate sponsorships. There are dozens of smaller events in the side streets near Somerset House, which has proved in the last few years to be a successful base for Fashion Week headquarters.

The crucial buzz factor will be helped this year by the presence of Ford, who was instrumental in the turnaround of the Gucci house and has found nothing but success as the head of his own label, which has branched out into trendy (read expensive) sunglasses and beauty products to go along with his men’s and women’s fashion lines.

Ford has been increasing his presence on London of late, holding a series of private presentations at fashion week last spring, and his catwalk show Sunday is expected to be one of fashion week’s hot tickets, though he will share the spotlight with Christopher Bailey of Burberry Prorsum, Vivienne Westwood and rising stars like Roksanda Ilincic and Daniella Issa Helayel, Kate Middleton’s fave.

“It’s very exciting to have him here in London,” said Vogue Executive Fashion Director Calgary Avansino. “Everyone is keen to see what’s next. He’s always on the cutting edge, and he always uses the best models and chooses them meticulously. It’s fun to see his choices.”

Avansino said Ford’s clothes have come to represent classiness and elegance, with only the best fabrics and leathers and detailing, whatever the cost.

“The clothes are very expensive for a reason,” she said. “He designs for a very specific woman, a very secure woman with a career path. A strong, emboldened woman who is sexy, too.”

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