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Champagne pops as London Fashion Week opens

London Fashion Week opened Friday with the rarest of things — a model who actually smiled on the catwalk, as if to welcome the return of the style limelight to the British capital.

The grin as Paul Costelloe's show opened Fashion Week set a positive tone for a catwalk display that featured upbeat, cheerful autumn-and-winter outfits. The usually stern and expressionless models seemed to be enjoying themselves and the comfortable-looking ensembles.

Each female model wore an identical short red wig and simple makeup to contrast a series of short poncho-style dresses and short skirts with matching jackets. The men didn't wear wigs — but they sported burgundy velvet jackets, orange trousers, and other adventurous outfits.

The fashion crowd popped bottles of champagne Friday morning while Samantha Cameron, the prime minister's wife, and Harold Tillman, chairman of the British Fashion Council, got the festivities going with speeches that emphasized the central role fashion plays in Britain's economic life.

"Fashion is one of our most important industries, full stop," said Cameron, wearing an elegant black outfit. "It brings about 20 billion pounds ($32 billion) a year to our country, and it sends a positive message about British creativity. This should be a great week for London and for U.K. fashion."

Cameron was debuting in her role as a Fashion Week ambassador. She is expected to attend several shows in the next five days amid a packed schedule that includes Burberry Prorsum, Vivienne Westwood, Issa of London, Paul Smith and other fashion icons.

There are also dozens of shows by up-and-comers at other venues throughout London, and a full tilt of menswear shows on Wednesday.

"We feel very upbeat and excited, but we are all suffering along with others because of the cuts the government has made," Tillman said. He said the fashion council is working with city officials and private sponsors to try and expand the program, despite the financial austerity gripping Britain as the country struggles with a large budget deficit.

He said registration for London Fashion Week has increased and that international buyers are playing an increasingly important role.

Costelloe's show shrugged off the financial crunch. It was more colorful than in recent years, and seemed to be a relaxed celebration. Many outfits featured shades of green, while others had bright prints.

The rest of the shows seemed to effortlessly move back and forth in time as different styles were showcased.

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CAROLINE CHARLES

Veteran designer Caroline Charles, a mainstay on the London scene, showed a taste for days gone by in her autumn-and-winter collection before a packed London Fashion Week crowd.

To a background of Mozart sonatas, she showed tweeds, herringbones and plaids in outfits that featured long skirts and a wide variety of hats, including men's-style fedoras and bowlers, some in striking midnight blue.

The colors were serious and somber: chocolate, cappuccino and black mixed with a smattering of bright ruby and jade. One colorful outfit was topped with a nearly full length black veil.

The effect was slightly retro, evoking the 1950s and elegant country house parties from an even earlier era. The overall style was understated.

But there were playful outfits as well, including some skirts paired with leopard skin tops and pantsuits with similar prints. Evening gowns were sparkly and mid-length, and Charles did not cater to the miniskirt trend.

She also showed well-tailored, very high-waisted trousers and some slouchy tuxedo-styled jackets in sparkly midnight blue.

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CORRIE NIELSEN

Young talent Corrie Nielsen, winner of the "Fashion Fringe" award last year, showed her highly theatrical outfits Friday to an appreciative crowd. Her models had a slightly androgynous look, with braided hair tied down tightly over their heads amid an Elvis-style pompadour.

She also opted for extremely pale makeup that gave some of the outfits an otherworldly look.

Nielsen, who has American roots but has taken to the London scene, showed many monochromatic outfits, including many in a dark gray, and set off some outfits with classical Greek references. Purple shoes added a needed touch of whimsy to several ensembles.

She says some of her inspiration comes from 18th century illustrators. Nielsen used long length skirts and jackets with exaggerated shoulders to give her outfits a distinctive silhouette, and showed a number of sexy evening gowns, including some that mixed purple and black.

At the show's climax she displayed several dresses with long trains, and the models seemed to float along the catwalk, their shoes almost completely hidden.

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AMINAKA WILMONT

This unusual design duo showed a series of signature asymmetric print dresses Friday, including some cut well above the knee in front but nearly reaching the floor in back. Some trousers sported uneven leg lengths. Many models wore high lobster-claw black boots.

The asymmetric look extended to outerwear, including one dark shearling jacket that was cut unevenly in the back.

The designers are Maki Aminaka Lofvander, originally from Japan and Sweden, and Marcus Wilmont, from Denmark.

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BORA AKSU

Turkish born designer Bora Aksu wowed a crowd that included models and pop stars Friday night with a series of unusual dresses, including one with a separate hood and several with veils fashioned like chin bandages.

Some of his models clad in silver metallic outfits looked like injured but sexy and elegant aliens on the catwalk. Many wore trademark patterned tights set off with diamante and paisley patterns.

Some of the outfits mixed gray and black with green detailing, and there were a number of sheer tops, plunging necklines, and low backs to his cocktail dresses. Evening wear also included some brocaded trousers and a tailored waistcoat worn over a sheer black top.

One of the few full length dresses featured a mermaid flare at the hem.

The show was jammed to capacity, and perhaps beyond, and included '60s supermodel Twiggy.