Harold Tillman, Chairman of the British Fashion Council, reflects on the success of London Fashion Week, its importance to the British and global fashion industries, and how the industry is working to address the challenges it faces.
London Fashion Week has just come to the end of yet another phenomenal season. The “week” is actually six days of back to back catwalk shows, presentations and exhibitions and of course, the inevitable parties. It takes its place alongside the other fashion capitals that make up the big four (there are more than 50 other cities vying for recognition but so far none have come close). Milan, Paris and New York are incredibly important bedfellows for London and we guard our slot as one of the big four carefully. We should all be proud that London is not only alongside these fashion giants, but is emerging as the most dynamic and exciting capital of them all.
It is easy to dismiss designers and London Fashion Week as a glamorous, elite, niche part of the fashion sector – LFW is after all a trade show with attendees limited to buyers and media. But in fact they are at the very heart of the broader fashion industry, an industry that contributes £37 billion to the UK economy and employs more than 1.3 million people (half of them under 30).
Our designers and the ideas and trends they are showing here in London oil the wheels of this multi-billion-pound fashion industry.
Fashion is fuelled by demand for the new, the on-trend and the inspiring. This comes from the incredible talent that shows on our catwalks. The creativity of these highly inspirational designers has a powerful influence on the mass market, generating consistent demand via regular showcasing of new trends and design styles. Ours is an industry that reinvents itself twice a year and in so doing generates consistent demand and sales. So our designers and their globally-lauded creativity is crucial to the dynamism of this sector. The British Fashion Council’s role is to identify, support and nurture, and showcase this creativity.
London Fashion Week is at the heart of our showcasing. The talent we see on our catwalks today reaches a global audience. Live streaming of catwalk shows (pioneered in London) has engaged more audiences and consumers than ever before. The trends get around the world quicker, consumers want them earlier and they want more and more choice as they manage to get access to the ideas on the catwalks. As a result, our designers, our catwalks, our fashion colleges and our fashion media are acknowledged as the most creative and cutting edge in the world. It is not just the economy that relies on the power of our fashion talent – this is great news for the global creative reputation of Great Britain.
Fashion is one of the most inclusive and diverse of the creative industries – it touches everyone in the UK everyday. It has universal appeal – fashion is an immense source of enjoyment and discussion for the majority of the population. People can buy fashion products, read about them in magazines, and create their ‘own look’ at home. Fashion is the most democratic of art forms – it has real inclusive, interactive and cultural power.
But this highly dynamic sector also has its own challenges. Commercial life for most of these talented individuals is tough. We need consistent and considerable funding from both public and private sources to ensure our designers receive the attention they deserve.
We have no shortage of extraordinary talent, our designers are recognised the world over as being at the cutting edge of fashion excellence and creativity. But the lack of commercial skills, manufacturing infrastructure and limited financial support means they struggle to make their business commercially viable, particularly in the global economy. This is the other part of the BFC’s remit; we support our best talent through numerous schemes that take them from college through to global brand.
We know that there is a market, there is undoubtedly the demand. Brands such as Burberry have proven that a British brand can conquer the world. It is crucial for us to support our talent to reach out to bigger audiences and new markets. We are reaching out to global audiences with London Showroom showcases in Paris and New York, taking our young talent out to meet the people with the cheque books – the buyers.
The appointment of Samantha Cameron as fashion ambassador to the BFC, has given a real boost for our international reputation. Already, in her first season, she has hosted events at Downing Street, met with international buyers and encouraged and mentored our young talent.
We are indeed optimistic about the future. As we pull together our plans for the Olympic year when the world’s spotlight will be upon us, we can be assured that our fashion talent will keep our reputation flying high. With the right support and encouragement fashion can continue to contribute to the growth of both our economy and our global reputation as a creative powerhouse.
Photos by Christopher James.