LONDON: Iconic British designers Vivienne Westwood and John Galliano will be online to help aspiring designers and models around the world as part of a new social networking website, dubbed the '' of fashion.

IQONS, the name of the new online social network that the founders said was a fashion first, was launched at London Fashion Week on Tuesday and hopes to open up the cliquey, sometimes hostile, fashion world to the next generation.

On IQONS* | Fashion Set Free, design students and aspiring supermodels will be able to mingle in cyberpace with top designers and fashion scouts, while trend spotters hunt for that hottest of fashion commodities "the next big thing".

"We would aim to have the same impact as MySpace had in taking talent straight to the consumers," co-founder Suran Goonatilake told reporters, referring to the online networking site that is one of the Internet's most popular services.

The fashion industry has been slow to latch on to the Internet, but it is now making up for lost time with online fashion shopping springing up all over the Web from established houses to startups like

Fashion bloggers are also gaining kudos with some of the biggest blogging names now considered so powerful they get press seats at the top shows. Even designers are realising how the Internet can give them access to millions more consumers.

Giorgio Armani, the Italian designer loved equally by Hollywood stars and business leaders, broadcast his haute couture show from Paris last month live on the Internet, while fast fashion chain Topshop this week podcast its show.

IQONS already has more than 4,500 users with around 600 new sign ups every week, Goonatilake said still a small drop compared with the more than 90 million unique visitors globally who visited in December 2006.

The site is free and open to everyone from star designers, stylists and fashion photographers to fans and consumers. It allows members to showcase their work through online portfolios and promises to spot and provide support to new talent.
"The fashion world was sometimes a hostile and competitive environment so this is a tool to help young designers get involved," said IQONS other founder Rafael Jimenez, who previously worked at fashion house Comme des Garcons.

"If you are talented someone will spot you and you will get through."