London Fashion Struggles To Find Its Identity In A Post-Brexit World – Forbes

By on February 27, 2020
Burberry - Runway - LFW February 2020

LONDON, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 17: Models walk the runway during the finale at the Burberry show during … [+] London Fashion Week February 2020 on February 17, 2020 in London, England. (Photo by John Phillips/BFC/Getty Images for BFC)

Getty Images for BFC

London Fashion Week ended last week and it marked the first time designers showcased their collections since the UK withdrew from the European Union. Brexit, Coronavirus and the climate crisis weighed heavily in London. The five-day event was bookended by New York and Milan, which only highlighted the weaknesses of London as the city’s major fashion event struggled to stay relevant and redefine what it means to be British in divisive times. 

The month-long carousel of fashion shows started with New York Fashion Week, which despite a slim schedule against a backdrop of failing retailers, was still captivating and poetic led by Brandon Maxwell’s collection of voluminous gowns and Marc Jacobs’ dance-based runway show. Milan, which just concluded, had several blockbuster moments including the iconic Gucci show featuring a revolving runway, Giorgio Armanis’ show in an empty theatre and the announcement of Raf Simons’ appointment as co-creative director of Prada, while London seemed to have gotten lost amidst the shuffle. 

For years, fashion editors skipped London but the British Fashion Council has worked hard to turn things around by crafting a narrative that focused on celebrating British sensibilities and craftsmanship, and cultivating a thriving business model for young brands to succeed. But with Brexit looming in the background for the past few seasons and finally coming to fruition just before the Fall 2020 season kicked off, British designers were shouldered with how to express their Britishness amidst the anxious times.

Mary Katrantzou and Peter Pilotto have decamped to other cities, leaving heritage label Burberry to anchor the event with Roksanda, Erdem, Christopher Kane and Simone Rocha who represented a generation that grew up and flourished within the LFW system. The calendar was rounded out by younger designers including the return of Ashley Williams and Mimi Wade who rejoined after some time away, and rising star Matty Bovan. 

Between old favorites and emerging stars, the Fall 2020 collections featured diverse viewpoints, scintillating colors and sustainability done right. Here are the takeaways from London Fashion Week. 

Coronavirus’ Impact

Burberry - Runway - LFW February 2020

LONDON, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 17: Kendall Jenner walks the runway at the Burberry Ready to Wear … [+] Fall/Winter 2020-2021 fashion show during London Fashion Week on February 17, 2020 in London, England. (Photo by Victor VIRGILE/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Chinese presence was lacking at this year’s event as designers, editors, influencers and celebrities were not able to travel due to restrictions to prevent Coronavirus from spreading. Most notably missing were the top editors from the Chinese editions of Vogue, Elle and Harper’s Bazaar from London’s front row, but also from brands such as Asai, a young London-based label helmed by A Sai Ta. Asai has made a strong mark in the industry since its launch in 2017 with the Fashion East collective. Currently, the brand is sold in some of the coolest stores including LN-CC and Ssense. But the production of its Fall 2020 collection was halted when Chinese factory workers were sent home by the government until February 10 to safeguard the country from further outbreak.

As the coronavirus continues to develop, the Chinese luxury market is dwindling and British brands are feeling the effects, most notably Burberry who shuttered 24 of its 64 shops in China. The remaining ones are operating on reduced hours. But the effects of the tragedy reach beyond Burberry. Business of Fashion reported that the luxury fashion industry stands to lose upwards of $40 billion as the Chinese market, which has been responsible for 70 percent of global growth since 2012, comes to a standstill.

Exploring British Identity

Shrimps - Runway - LFW February 2020

LONDON, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 14: A model walks the runway at the Shrimps Ready to Wear Fall/Winter … [+] 2020-2021 fashion show during London Fashion Week on February 14, 2020 in London, England. (Photo by Victor VIRGILE/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

This season marked the first time British designers showcased their collections after it left the European Union and designers are still trying to figure out how to articulate their identity in this new Britain. Some have turned within themselves to strengthen their national identity while others drew on nostalgia. 

Stalwart Margaret Howell celebrated 50 years in the business with her signature staples: perfect white shirts, fisherman’s jumpers, relaxed trousers with a masculine edge and a peacoat – all with subtle twists for the season. Her quiet elegance instantly evokes images of modern Britannia and her designs utilize British fabrics including West of England worsted and flannel, fine cotton shirting and heritage tweeds. 

Hannah Weiland of Shrimps took a more literal approach, drawing on the Queen, Princess Margaret and Princess Diana with a collection that featured jewel toned cocktail gowns, jodhpurs paired with tartan jackets rimmed with faux fur, midi-skirts in heritage check and silk headscarves. 

Meanwhile, Victoria Beckham was more subtle, peppering her collection with tweed seen in overcoats worn over slip dresses and paired with matching skirts. 

Portobello Road is Molly Goddard’s old stomping grounds and that was the starting point for her collection, drawing from an old photo taken 25 years ago for Japanese street style bible “Fruits” of her father with the young Molly by his side. She gave nod to those early days at the market and 90’s fashion staples such as stripy mohair jumpers and creepers that were shown alongside her signature tulle creations. 

Burberry, perhaps the quintessential British brand led by Italian designer Riccardo Tisci, reimagined the iconic trench coat featuring oversized shearling lapels and as glossy satin dresses. Waists were nipped and the brand’s check print was seen on corseted dresses and high-waisted skinny pants, imbuing a sense of elevated sexiness. 

House of Quinn Reigns Supreme 

Richard Quinn - Runway - LFW February 2020

LONDON, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 15: A model walks the runway at the Richard Quinn show during London … [+] Fashion Week February 2020 on February 15, 2020 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Marsland/WireImage)

Mike Marsland/WireImage

Richard Quinn brought his “fashion dreamhouse” to the Horticultural Hall, transforming the space into a floral fantasy with his collection titled “House of Quinn”. His extravagant silhouettes are reminiscent of the old French couture masters such as Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent and Cristobal Balenciaga but brought into modernity with his use of hyper saturated color palette that made his oversized floral prints pop, especially when paired with glossed latex, leather or intense crystal detailing that covered models from head to toe. Literally. Legendary fashion editor Carine Roitfeld styled the show, which featured supersized bubble dresses in vivid hues, draped in taffeta and blown out voluminous skirts that are museum-worthy. Hems of bulbous gowns were pulled up to the knee or elongated, layered and cinched with large juicy bows. This season also saw the debut of menswear interpreted under the Richard Quinn lens, which included satin rugby shirts paired with black flares and tailored suits saturated in black and silver beading worn with matching flare pants and crystal-studded masks or feathered headdresses. 

Sustainability Takes Center Stage

Richard Malone - Runway - LFW February 2020

LONDON, England – February 14: A model walks the runway at the Richard Malone show during London … [+] Fashion Week February 2020 at the FC Courtyard Showspace on February 14, 2020 in London, England. (Photo by Estrop/Getty Images)


Sustainability took center stage this season from offering guests complimentary Swell water bottles at the BFC Show Space, one of the main hubs of the event, to the rise of upcycling and working with different fabrications and methodologies. Richard Malone, who won the Woolmark Prize, has always championed eco-consciousness since starting his label in 2015, working with plant-based dyes, repurposing and upcycling fabrics and partnering with weavers in India who get paid a fair wage. This season, Malone continued to push the sustainability envelope with a collection that was completely biodegradable. Dyes were all plant-based and organic, while leather was repurposed and will only be produced on a made-to-order basis. Most impressively, the water used in the dying process was reused to fertilize soil for future crops. 

Tommy Hilfiger was also made strides towards a more sustainable collection by using 100% cotton, recycled materials and low-impact denim washes, while Halpren’s glamorous sequinned gowns are produced locally with the furthest factory being less than an hour away from London. 

Tommy Hilfiger Still Knows How To Have Fun 

TommyNow - Runway - LFW February 2020

LONDON, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 16: Naomi Campbell walks the runway at the TommyNow show during London … [+] Fashion Week February 2020 at the Tate Modern on February 16, 2020 in London, England. (Photo by Gareth Cattermole/BFC/Getty Images for BFC)

Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images for BFC

American designer staged his #TommyNow show inside the Tate Modern and he proves that at 68 years old, he still  knows how to throw a good party. The fourth collection of the TommyxLewis collaboration, which teamed the American brand with British race car driver Lewis Hamilton, fused Tommy Hilfiger’s streetwear sensibility with preppy Americana classics such as navy blazers punctuated with gold buttons, varsity jumpers and bombers reminiscent of school jackets in Hilfiger’s signature slouchy silhouette and Hamilton’s athletic aesthetics. Veteran model Naomi Campbell opened the show in a neon yellow and white tracksuit designed by Hamilton. She wasn’t the only noted model who walked the show – Winnie Harlow wore a blue and white pullover anorak over matching shorts, Jodi Kidd modeled a printed silk ensemble and was joined by Victoria’s Secret stars Alessandra Ambrossio and Caroline Swanepoe, Lottie Moss, Jourdan Dunn, Erin O’Connor and Halima Aden who wore an American flag headscarf. 

The runway also featured a collaboration with music artist H.E.R. who designed a capsule collection for Tommy Hilfiger featuring jumpsuits, hoodies and sweatpants in neon colorways with the words “Unity”, “Stand Still” and “My heart or you, I’m going to lose” emblazoned on the back. 

The atmosphere was electrifying despite a more stripped back approach to the production with no photogenic backdrops or pre-show drinks, focusing on the collection and its eco-savviness rather than the extraneous bells and whistles.

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