02/16/2012 01:32 EST | Updated 04/17/2012 05:12 EDT

McCartney, Burton aim to shine as London takes fashion spotlight from NY

LONDON - Such a pity that the Concorde doesn't fly anymore — supersonic transport would make the transition from the catwalks of New York to the runways of London so much easier for the fashion crowd.

With New York Fashion Week ending on Thursday evening and London Fashion Week opening on Friday morning, the goal is to cross the Atlantic as quickly as possible despite wearing skyscraper spike heels.

The Manhattan-to-Mayfair shift brings some big British names to the fore and gives London — already preening for the 2012 Summer Olympics — its chance to enjoy the fashion spotlight. A number of top designers are planning first-ever London shows and many stalwarts are returning to the scene of past successes.

"There is fantastic talent as always, and the international audience is looking very strong," said Caroline Rush, the elegant CEO of the British Fashion Council.

She cited Stella McCartney, holding her first stand-alone show in London since she graduated, and McQ, the second line from the Alexander McQueen fashion house led by Sarah Burton.

"There is great excitement about (McQ) because of Sarah Burton's success dressing Katherine Middleton for the royal wedding last year," Rush said.

Rush said British heritage brands like Belstaff — also showing in London for the first time — and the return of regulars like Burberry, Christopher Kane, Erdem and Paul Smith should guarantee big crowds and motivated buyers.

"There should be a lot to hold people's interest," she said.

London's twice-yearly fashion week extravaganza has benefited in the last few years from having a permanent base at Somerset House, a London landmark on the banks of the Thames river.

Spinoff fashion shows in several other locations give central London a party vibe and a welcome mini-boom for restaurants and clubs.

"Fashion week lifts the mood," said Francois O'Neill, owner of the Brompton Bar and Grill in Knightsbridge. "Anything of that size will promote business and bring people out of their homes and into the street, just like the Olympics will do."

The London shows by McQ and McCartney have added more lustre to fashion week, which precedes catwalk shows in Milan and Paris.

McCartney, who has shown her smart, minimalist collections at Paris Fashion Week for a decade, is moving her catwalk to London for a special presentation. This comes after McCartney, who has collaborated with Adidas on a popular women's sportswear line since 2004, was named the creative director of the UK Olympic team's competitive clothing for this summer's London Games.

Her presentation Saturday highlights a busy year for the designer, who is boosting her presence in London with the launch of her new perfume and the opening of a second store in spring. She has also been winning kudos for her lingerie line, which edged other luxury designers in a recent magazine competition.

Fashion lovers are also excited that McQ, the late McQueen's more affordable range, is debuting. The show — the label's first runway presentation — comes ahead of McQ's first flagship store in London: a huge four-storey retail space that is expected to open in the next few months.

But interest goes far beyond these two trendy houses. London is known as a cutting-edge city that nurtures and develops young designers, and buyers are scouting for new talent.

"London tends to be edgier than New York, which shows more classic cuts," said Jo Hooper, chief buyer at John Lewis' womenswear department. "We will be keeping a close eye on British designers Christopher Kane, Jonathan Saunders and Mary Katrantzou, whose designs are proving increasingly popular."

Hooper also said she looked forward to seeing "Meadham Kirchoff, who put on an amazing display at their shows, and we're always interested to see Osman's shows."

It doesn't take a social scientist to spot the London Fashion Week crowd, says O'Neill, the restaurant owner.

"Everyone is dressed up. A lot of hats, a lot of boutique clothes, a lot of vintage," he said. "It brings an electric crowd."