By Alice Baghdjian and Li-mei Hoang
LONDON (Reuters) - American designer Tom Ford unveiled his womenswear line to the world on Monday in a lavish London Fashion Week debut that will help seal the city's credentials as a major international fashion hub.
Industry bloggers and buyers have flocked to London this season drawn by the big names on show, including Burberry, Erdem, Vivienne Westwood and Ford, who blended Inuit patterns, fur and pop-art designs in his cross-culture collection.
Once displayed behind closed doors for private clients and the editors of glossy fashion magazines, the collection's public showcasing coincides with the expansion of Ford's legion of stores in Europe and beyond, which will total 100 by the end of next year.
"We're in pretty much most major markets," Ford told Reuters after the show in the majestic rooms of historic Lancaster House, a short distance away from Buckingham Palace.
"We open our London store this fall ... and it's really the last of the major global capitals where we do not have a freestanding store," he said.
Even though it has produced some of fashion's biggest names, such as Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney, London in the past has struggled to maintain its international profile on par with Paris, Milan and New York.
But with stars like singer Rihanna and fashion darling Ford heading this year's catwalk line-up along with well-established names like Westwood, London is rising to the challenge.
Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel sat on the front row to watch a procession of sequined bomber jackets, cowhide skirts and sheer evening dresses with fur trims parade along the L-shaped runway, illuminated by roving spotlights.
"England does produce some of the most creative fashion designers in the world and often they do leave because they go to France or they go to Italy to work," Ford said, adding he would love to entice some big British names back to the British capital, where he lives and works.
"I would love to lure back my friend Stella McCartney, I would love to lure back other people, it would be great if McQueen showed here ... you know a lot of people who don't show here but live here and work here," he said.
The direct value of the British fashion industry to the UK's $2.5 trillion economy is 21 billion pounds ($32.6 billion), according to estimates from the British Fashion Council (BFC).
With buyers from 39 different countries attending, the BFC estimates orders of more than 100 million pounds are placed each season at London Fashion Week.
Burberry sent a whimsical collection of its trademark trench coats down the runway embellished with heart motifs, animal prints and metallic detailing for Autumn/Winter 2013.
"The collection was really about the iconic Burberry colors, so black, white, camel and red, mixed with a little bit of gold," Chief Creative Officer Christopher Bailey told Reuters after the show.
Held in London's Hyde Park, models sported fitted dresses, chic pencil skirts, knitted jumpers and shiny golden belts.
"(Burberry) is smart, it's casual, it's cool, it's young. It's classic. It just caters for such a broad market," said British model and actress Rosie Huntington-Whiteley. "This is my favorite show to come and watch and I think Burberry always impresses everyone."
Opulent tones of burgundy, midnight blue and scarlet red featured across Christopher Kane's collection, along with revealing velvet dresses and feathered flower shapes sewn onto sheer tops and skirts.
The Scottish designer infused colorful camouflage prints into his collection, as well as floral appliques, feathers and fur.
Models donned boxy jackets with contrasting buckles, loosely cut trousers that hung off the hips and heavily embellished sheer silk dresses.
(Additional reporting by Dasha Afanasieva, Editing by Paul Casciato and Eric Beech)