Young talent is emerging from London pretty consistently, even more so than any of the other fashion capitals. Over the past couple of years or so, LVMH tapped London-based J.W. Anderson to head up its Spanish accessories brand, Loewe. The same conglomerate invested in footwear designer Nicholas Kirkwood and couturier Maxime Simoens [the latter has since parted ways with LVMH]. Its rival, Kering, bought into womenswear designer Christopher Kane's brand. What all of these designers have in common: They have London-based businesses. However, of these talents, only one, Nicholas Kirkwood, is of British descent. This isn't terribly surprising; of the nearly 90 brands that showed their Spring/ Summer 2014 collections in London, just over half were designers of British heritage.
Tom Ford is American. Ashish Gupta hails from India. Barbara Casasola is Brazilian. Roksanda Ilincic is of Serbian origin. Hwan Heo, the founder and creative director of Heohwan Simulation is from Seoul. Jonathan Saunders, like Christopher Kane, is Scottish. Mary Katrantzou is Greek. And Steven Tai was born in Macau and raised in Canada. "If you look at the schedule, at least 50 percent of the designers, although they are considered to be London designers, they're actually born or they come from countries around the world," said Simon Ward, co-executive director of the British Fashion Council.
Drawing talent from all over the world is not especially novel for any metropolis, really. In Paris, for instance, thirty-five of the fifty designers that showed in February made the trek from foreign countries. However, London, which has always been a cosmopolitan city, home to wave after wave of immigrants, boasts a significant amount of non-native designers, many of which are in the emerging stage of their careers. As a result, London is very much leading the way in regards to fostering and advocating for up-and-coming fashion talent. Natalie Massenet, founder of Net-a-Porter and chairman of the British Fashion Council, an American, I may add, recently spoke to the strength of the British fashion scene, saying: "London is truly the global capital of creativity … The international spotlight is on us." Sarah Mower, a contributing editor for Vogue, noted this past February: “London has developed its reputation as a supporter of the future of fashion by being open to ideas and innovation from everywhere."
Simultaneously, the city is experiencing some of largest growth in its fashion industry to date. In addition to growth in the retail sector (British retail sales are up 3.9 percent from 2013), the British Fashion Council announced earlier this year that the net worth of the country's fashion industry increased 22 percent, up from $35 billion in 2009 to $45.5 billion. Numbers aside, Fashion Week in London is becoming increasingly prominent. In fact, the city added a men's specific week beginning in the summer of 2012. This is something New York still lacks.
In addition to a fiscally thriving industry, London maintains a truly diverse and influential industry. The British fashion landscape is unique to the city, a real amalgamation of the people who inhabit it (including young designers with fresh perspectives); a melting pot of varying historical and social factors, and the varying visions of the designers who call London home.
London is home to prestigious institutions like Central Saint Martins, the alma mater of Phoebe Philo, Riccardo Tisci, Hussein Chalayan, and of course, true greats like John Galliano and Alexander McQueen (and McQueen's successor, Sarah Burton), which draw the most talented students from all over the globe. Mower further commented on this, saying: "As a city we are multi-cultural, our art colleges are a magnet for international students and we are always thrilled to be able to get the first glimpse of the new.” In addition to such colleges, other factors may be attributed to London's success.
British brands are not shy to embrace new technologies. You may recall that for Spring/Summer 2014, Burberry got its hands on the then not-yet-released iSight® camera on iPhone 5s to shooting high quality photos and video for runway and beauty looks, product details, and backstage moments.
And maybe more importantly, London, probably more so than its international fashion counterparts, really embraces the power of personal expression in fashion design, but more basically, in dressing. Individual style is celebrated, and designers are encouraged to build upon their respective nationalities. Designer Steven Tai (pictured below), a Central Saint Martins graduate, who is based in London, commented on this: “It’s about how unique the work is that you bring to the table. And heritage gives that personal touch or originality. It’s not something you can fake.”
Antonio Berardi, a Sicilian designer, who is based in London, seems to epitomize the cultural mix that is so thoroughly embedded in the fashion that comes out of London. Berardi was born in England but his parents are Sicilian. He cites this mix as a main source of inspiration: "I think the Sicilian part is the very ultra-feminine part, and the British part is the part that is much more tailored and structured, and slightly more aggressive. But I think the two are the perfect combination for any woman."
*This article was initially published in April 2014.