Living With The Cuts: The “Sam Cam” Effect Boosts Britain’s Fashion Industry:

The spring fashion season is in full swing. First, it was New York (9th-17th February), where the “Victoria Beckham collection” got much of the attention. After that, it was London’s turn (18th-23rd February), then Milan (23rd February – 1st March) and finally Paris  (1st –9th March) – which is already embroiled in controversy due to the suspension of British designer John Galliano by Christian Dior for an alleged “racist tirade” in one of the French capital’s bars. Who or what received the most media coverage during London Fashion Week (LFW)?  Mulberry, a brand which (according to the Guardian) is “defying the recession with profits up by 207% and whose handbags (typical price: £600) are everywhere? Paul Costelloe’s “dazzling launch of dresses featuring earthy shades of green, burnt orange and mustard”(London Evening Standard)? Or even Christopher Kane, described in The Independent as the event’s “hot ticket” with his “crystal-encrusted gingham to neon lace and emphasis on hand-craftsmanship”?

A recent British Fashion Council (BFC) Report has estimated that the UK fashion industry contributes £21 billion to the country’s economy, employs 816,000 people and  also generates “spillover spending” in other sectors such as IT and tourism which brings in an additional income of £16 billion. The Daily Telegraph enthusiastically noted the presence of “some of international fashion’s biggest names and a score of celebrities” in the front-row seats at the four main LFW catwalk venues: Somerset House (The Strand WC2), On/Off (The Mercer Studios, Covent Garden), The Show Space (Northumberland Avenue, Trafalgar Square) and ‘My Beautiful City’ (Old Sorting Office, New Oxford Street). The precise timings of the display schedules in theory made it possible for the media and the ‘fashionistas’  to rush ( for example) from the Felder Felder presentation in Northumberland Avenue (5.45pm) to the Bora Aksu event in Somerset House (7pm). In practice, it didn’t quite work out like that. Due to the milling crowds and long queues of people waving various permutations of tickets (many invitations were sent out by e-mail, so several copies could be printed and distributed), it often took up to an hour to get in (if at all) to a fifteen-minute show that started half-an-hour late – so there was no guarantee of getting to the next one in time to gain access and where similar chaotic scenes were anyway likely to be encountered.

The perceptible urgency on the part of so many to attend the top catwalks was certainly a reflection of what journalist Liz Jones characterised in her Daily Mail column as “a buzz around LFW which we haven’t seen since the days of Cool Britannia” (at the beginning of the Tony Blair Government in 1997). The tourists and members of the public who thronged the Somerset House forecourt throughout the five days were at least able to soak in the atmosphere (and take photos) even if (without an official pass) they weren’t allowed into any of the exhibitions. Skimpy attire was much in evidence despite the cold and inclement weather. “See and Be Seen” was clearly the mood of the moment both for those who had LFW accreditation  (especially “the beautiful people” congregating at the many after-show parties) and those who didn’t.

It was undoubtedly, however, Samantha Cameron (the Prime Minister’s wife) who “stole the show” right from the outset of LFW. Hailed by British Fashion Council Chairman Harold Tillman as “a brilliant ambassador for the BFC,” she made the inaugural speech at LFW “in (as noted by the Guardian) a Mulberry dress, a Sykes jacket and LK Bennett shoes – lending support to a major British brand, a small boutique label and a high street store”. The same evening she hosted a party at 10 Downing Street (the PM’s residence) for the UK’s “fashion industry stars” wearing a “flawlessly patriotic ensemble of Christopher Kane skirt, Emilia Wickstead blouse and Mawi necklace, all British” – and thus avoided the stir caused by Michelle Obama (inevitably dubbed “Frockgate”) who attended the State Banquet for Chinese leader Hu Jintao in Washington in January in “a striking red Alexander McQueen gown” and then the same week wore “a dress and coat by smaller British label Roksanda Illincic” at a meeting with the White House press corp. In the opinion of the Sunday Telegraph, Samantha Cameron “ has now officially joined the First Ladies of America and France in the world’s most famous Style Trio”. The London Evening Standard likewise considers that she has become “ something of a fashion icon” and quoted the view of British designer Osman Yousefzada that “It’s really important in the current (economic) climate for her to support the British industry, British talent and the made-in-England labels”. Among those present at the Downing Street reception was Brazilian-born Daniella Issa Helayel, one of whose designs was chosen by Kate Middleton for the announcement of her engagement to Prince William. “Issa” is also ( reports the Guardian) being mentioned as the possible designer for the royal wedding dress.

LFW 2011 has been depicted by the London Evening Standard as “one of the most exciting for years”. Bold colours and imaginative use of fabrics were certainly a constant theme, not only at the Peter Pilotto catwalk (“cut-out panels on dresses, patch pockets and clashing prints”) but also at the Falguni & Shane Peacock presentation (“trademark prints juxtaposed with a wild and outrageous style to create svelte and sexy silhouettes”) and the jackets & leggings in leather, sequins and suede at the exhibition by Les Chiffoniers – started by Central St Martins graduate Leena Similu and apparently “already a favourite of style mavericks Kate Moss and Cheryl Cole”. Hilary Clinton has been quoted in the US edition of Harper’s Bazaar magazine as saying she “loves a good handbag”. In which case, she would have been entranced by the ones on view at the Angel Jackson display in Somerset House – the prices of which ranged from £200 to £600 and upwards. Meanwhile, an article in “The Daily”, the LFW newspaper, referred to a rumour that “paranoid designers are asking their models to walk faster, in a bid to control who photographs their new collections”. It seems that some camera-phones, iPhones and Blackberrys have trouble with registering moving images in dark venues at a certain speed: “The quicker the show, the worse the photo”. “The Daily”, in response, warned struggling designers that if they craved more coverage across the blog and Twittersphere, they should “Slow down the pace and light up the lights – or your collection will never get seen”.





Filed under: Society | Posted on March 1st, 2011 by Colin D Gordon

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