It's rarely the many beautiful, commercial clothes that make it on to the front pages - and understandably so. The theatre, brouhaha and glittering celebrity of the fashion world often eclipses what's really going on away from the media glare. But it also means a lot of people do not take fashion very seriously at all.
For the average person on the street, the fashion business can look like a ludicrous world populated by celebrities, eccentrics and an endless stream of fashion "characters" in high heels and wacky hats. It's a presumption that London Fashion Week - which begins today - often suffers from, especially as it's at the epicentre of fashion creativity.
But behind the air-kissing and paparazzi flashing there is a very serious business, as any store owner, editor or designer knows all too well. And at last there is evidence of the fact.
Yesterday Ed Vaizey, the Culture Minister, and Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, helped launch the "Value of Fashion" report at the House of Commons - a detailed survey of the UK's fashion industry that was commissioned by the British Fashion Council (BFC) and put together by Oxford Economics, a well-respected and long-established provider of economic analysis.
The study concludes that the fashion industry is now worth £21 billion a year to the UK economy, and as much as £37 billion when its wider contribution is taken into account, including tourism and related businesses.
The report also found that the fashion business, which is the 15th largest industry in the UK, directly employs 816,000 people, making it the second biggest employer.
It's the first time that a report has provided a comprehensive overview of the fashion industry, and it was put together by analysing the industry's profits and employment across all sectors, from the wholesale, retail and manufacturing of womenswear, menswear and accessories, across designer brands and right down to the high street - from Pringle to Primark - and including related businesses such as fashion education, marketing and media.
The BFC's chairman, Harold Tillman, who has even more of a vested interest in the success of British fashion as he is also chairman of Jaeger and Aquascutum, hopes that the report will give the Government the impetus to invest more in the fashion business: "Fashion is a great British success story and this landmark piece of research underlines its true scope and economic impact. This is just the first step to creating a detailed national action plan for the industry which will help to support its future growth and success."
The report makes recommendations for the future - from providing students with better business training at college to giving them support once their businesses are up and running.
Of course it's easy to pinpoint flaws in the very rosy figures. Many of the high street giants whose vast profits are included in this report base their manufacturing overseas, in China. Many designer brands are also forced to produce abroad, in Italy or France, as the manufacturing base in the UK has declined.
None the less, fashion is important. The designers who will show their collections during London Fashion Week over the next few days will take orders totalling £100 million.
Although that is an impressive figure, it is dwarfed by the sales of global fashion labels in other capitals. However, as Ed Vaizey was quick to point out this week, the country also basks in reflected glory from our talented young designers: "British fashion has the talent, creativity and skills to rival anywhere in the world. Our new and established designers are internationally renowned for their unique vision."
They are also the reason that our fashion colleges are the envy of the world and why major fashion houses from New York, Milan and Paris will all come to London colleges when they are looking for fresh talent for their teams. All of which adds to our "fashion economy".
When the BFC's report points to the tourism that is generated by our fashion business, it is not only referring to the vibrant and creative designer scene - our high-street style is also the envy of women across the globe. Topshop and the like convert designer trends into high-street clothes at record speed - something that other countries' chain-stores may have mimicked but in which British brands still lead the way.
It's why foreign buyers and editors always make a beeline for our high- street stores when they make their bi-annual trips to Fashion Week. The diversity of our high-street fashion is one of its strongest selling points. There is a wealth of choice and the on-trend, well-made clothes are incredibly cheap - which can be a good or a bad thing, depending on your ethics.
There are few young designers on the fashion week calendar who don't have a lucrative deal on the high street that fuels their own business, whether it's Henry Holland at Debenhams, Roksanda Ilincic at Whistles, Giles Deacon at New Look… the list goes on and on.
John Lewis, which reported soaring half-year profits yesterday, has recently launched a £10 million new fashion floor at its Oxford Circus flagship and also unveiled a series of collaborations with British designers including William Tempest, Philip Treacy and shoemaker Terry de Havilland. And, as anyone who shops on the high street knows, such collaborations are increasingly spilling over into everything from interiors to beauty - there are few areas that are not touched in some way by the fashion business.
While the BFC is, quite rightly, making a plea for the Government to support the fashion industry, there are signs that in London, at least, it is flourishing despite some very challenging conditions. Burberry, one of British fashion's great success stories, has moved its shows back to London (it was formerly based in Milan for Fashion Week). After the label's show next Tuesday, customers will be able to order clothes that will be delivered just seven weeks later (rather than the standard six months), many of which are British-made. It's a marker of just how voracious the appetite still is for expensive designer clothes and accessories.
Tom Ford, who staged the most talked about, if least seen, show in New York this week is opening his design studio in London after a five-year absence from womenswear in which he has built his menswear brands and made movies.
And on Monday morning we will have a stark reminder of how incredible British creativity can be built into a global brand when the late Alexander McQueen is given his final send-off with a memorial service at St Paul's Cathedral. McQueen's incredible artistry may have fed into the notion of fashion as a whimsical business that had little relevance to the man, or rather woman, on the street, but much of London's reputation as a fashion centre rests on his, and his contemporaries', shoulders.