Individual. authentic. diverse. Inclusive. Rule-breaking... You won’t be surprised to hear these words on repeat from designers who show on the London runways when we asked them ‘What is British fashion now?’ It practically goes without saying that the UK’s fashion identity is wrapped around a cauldron of creativity and that London Fashion Week is the fashion-capital-in-chief for both incubating and sourcing new talent – showcasing more than 250 designers, it is estimated that orders of over £100m are placed during LFW each season.
We know that the UK’s fashion schools remain second to none, that well-organised support is available on graduation, and that being a ‘British’ designer is open to all, whether you come from Slovakia or South Korea. ‘I am Korean-born but definitely consider myself a British designer, and there is no other place I’d rather work,’ says Eudon Choi of our fashion scene, which, he adds, ‘Champions talent no matter where you are from.’ American-born Michael Halpern, he of the sequin-spangled disco aesthetic, agrees: ‘For me, the most exciting part of British fashion is the incredible breadth of design that emerges from London.
Having a specific voice and point of view is celebrated here more than in any other fashion capital.’ And it’s not just designer ‘implants’ who benefit from British fashion’s cultural diversity: ‘That’s what makes British fashion so innovative and unique. There’s a braveness to design here, a bending of rules and an entrepreneurial spirit, which constantly inspires me to push the boundaries of what we have done before,’ says the queen of witty accessories, Anya Hindmarch.
If the twin pillars that support and sustain British fashion are a) its rich diversity and b) its constant supply of new talent, in the last decade it has also become renowned for its professionalism and maturity. No more waiting for hours in underground car parks for shows to start. Those individuals who continue to move the creative needle do so with presentations that are as slick and self-assured as any you might see on the Paris runways. ‘I think it’s grown up,’ says Jonathan Anderson. ‘British style still has a playful edge that I think is missing in some other countries. It’s a bit crazy sometimes, a bit “off”, but there is still a great sense of humour.’
That’s the good news. But what of the bad? Today, designers are not only grappling with the prospect of a no-deal Brexit, but also labour issues, race and cultural appropriation and, most perplexing of all, the problem of sustainability. As fast fashion becomes public enemy number one in the world’s sustainability crisis, the big question facing designers is what to do about it? ‘We all know that the fashion industry is one of the most polluting and damaging for the planet,’ says Amy Powney, creative director of Mother of Pearl, who has taken a stand by implementing a stringent supply chain that reduces environmental impact. ‘We still create desirable pieces, but we do this in a smarter and more considered way,’ she adds. ‘Sustainability is a mindset and, once you adopt it, it infiltrates everything that you do.’ Or, as Ashish Gupta puts it when summing up the burning issues of the day: ‘British fashion now is about – or should be about – rethinking our modes of creation, communication and consumption. More than ever, it’s essential to align our belief systems with our brands – diversity in the workplace, equal pay, better practices supporting artisan communities, zero waste and a forward- thinking commitment to the planet.’
So what will see our designers through these tumultuous times? What will future- proof British fashion? Perhaps the one unshakeable truth that defines it – the confidence in its creative power. As London’s master of print Richard Quinn says, ‘In a time of political and social uncertainty, creative things happen and this has been an incredibly unafraid time for British designers.’ It’s not for nothing that British fashion has grown into a mecca of originality. Let us pray it long continues.