London Fashion Week: UK style walks tall once again
British Fashion Council boss Caroline Rush reveals new deals as sector leaders arrive in London.
Sunday marks the mid-point of London Fashion Week, the twice-yearly, five-day trade show that sees 5,000 buyers, designers, celebrities and generally beautiful people descend on the capital.
By the end, they will have taken in 73 shows and presentations and left behind countless uneaten canapes. But they will also strike deals thought to be worth £100m and form opinions with major ramifications for an industry that employs 816,000 people in the UK and directly contributes £21bn to the economy.
The UK fashion industry is in buoyant mood. As it reaps the benefits of the Middleton Factor and revels in the success of a new men’s fashion week, London is more than holding its own among its Big Four peers: New York, Milan and Paris. But London Fashion Week – and the British fashion industry at large – hasn’t always taken full advantage of its time in the spotlight.
“It had become a bit tired, a bit stale, it got into a rut,” says The Telegraph’s former fashion director, Hilary Alexander. “Buyers and magazine editors were genuinely thinking, 'why come to London?’ Many of the best British designers were showing elsewhere. London Fashion Week wasn’t established, it couldn’t really walk in heels.”
But in 2009 the British Fashion Council (BFC) used its 25th anniversary to launch a charm offensive.
“We wanted to set the tone,” said Caroline Rush, who became the trade body’s first full-time, paid CEO that year.
The BFC approached the British brands and designers who had distanced themselves from the UK, such as Alice Temperley, Jonathan Saunders, Matthew Williamson and the biggest high-end British label, Burberry.
“We said, 'this is going to be a moment for strengthening British fashion, come and join us. And if we deliver on everything we say we can, then stay’.”
The plan worked, helped significantly by Burberry, which, headed by American chief execuitve Angela Ahrendts and British creative director Christopher Bailey, is growing strongly. In May the company announced that revenue was up 8pc on the year to £2bn.
Rush, speaking to The Sunday Telegraph, described Burberry as “leading the way” by enlarging its footprint in foreign markets (sales in China grew by 20pc last year), but added that many UK brands are enjoying increased demand from overseas.
“The US remains an incredibly exciting market for British brands because of the scale and the power of the department stores,” she said. “We continue to see growth in the Asian markets, particularly in Japan at the moment. China and South Korea are also seen as an opportunity.”
Rush, who left the Manchester-based PR company she founded for her current role, said concerns about British companies altering output to pander to stereotypical ideas of Britishness were unfounded. Savvy businesses, she said, were the ones that offered different sizing and fits to suit foreign markets…
Newport International Group London Fashion Week: UK style