From London

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Talk about tension. Hussein Chalayan's show last March was one of those all-too-rare moments fashion editors live for great clothes, great staging, great music. At Sadler's Wells theater in London, Chalayan performed the magical act of transforming furniture into clothes. Chair covers became dresses, a coffee table became a skirt. Chalayan says he was inspired by the idea of refugees fleeing. Many in the audience said it was the best fashion show they'd ever seen.

So the pressure was on when Chalayan was to wrap up what had been (with the notable exception of Alexander McQueen's) a rather uninspired group of shows in London. As the fashion flock packed into a North London film studio, it was hard to imagine he'd be able to wow the crowd again. The show, accompanied by a live orchestra, began with an animated film and finished with grand spectacle as three models smashed glass-fiber outfits off other models using little hammers. The audience loved it. But the clothes shown in between didn't have the same excitement. The suits Chalayan offered for fall didn't get much press they were overshadowed by the table-skirt bit but they were there, with white piping and asymmetrical collars, and they were lovely. It's hard to put that same kind of heft into a spring collection. His multihued acid-washed denims were inventive; his black dresses with netting panels were a sophisticated break from the flash of the '80s retro trend most other designers were mining, but there wasn't anything earth-shattering. Until those little hammers came out.