London Fashion Week: The Return of “Made in Britain”:

The famous Italian designer Elsa Shiaparelli  (the great rival to France’s Coco Chanel) once noted that “In difficult times, fashion is always outrageous”.  The era in which she is reputed to have made this comment – the 1930’s – was going through a period of economic turbulence reminiscent of the crisis now facing most Western nations. Both the problems and the proposed solutions sound familiar: High rates of unemployment, burgeoning trade deficits, huge national debts, panic in the financial markets – which in turn have resulted, across much of  Europe, in sweeping public expenditure cuts and demands for (in cases such as Greece) the implementation of drastic austerity measures. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that UK media coverage of London Fashion Week  (LFW: 17th-22nd February) has tended to focus (as in every year since the banking collapse of 2008)  on the income generated for Britain by this bi-annual event. The “Guardian” estimates that “The fashion industry accounts for 1.7% of UK GDP (Gross Domestic Product) – twice as much as publishing, manufacturing or the chemical industry – and supports 816 jobs”. The “London Evening Standard (ES)” journalist, Rosamund Urwin, puts the country’s annual earnings from this source at £21 billion and calculates that LFW itself “brings in some £20 million”. In an editorial on 17th February captioned “Not Just A Pretty Face”, her newspaper emphasised its view that LFW is not just about catwalks, flamboyant designers and attractive clothes but is also part of a “lucrative industry that Government Ministers must take seriously”.

The British Fashion Council (BFC) has already reported that attendance from international buyers since Friday has been “30% up” on LFW in October 2011 (which showcased the collections for the Spring/Summer 2012 season), leading the Guardian to anticipate that the 59 catwalks and approximate total audience of 5,000 will produce a distinct improvement on the £100 million worth of orders placed following the last occasion. Although both Jeremy Hunt (Secretary of State for Media, Culture & Sport) and Ed Vaizey (Minister for Culture & the Creative Industries) both turned up for the LFW launch, it was Sir Philip Green, the owner of BHS and Topshop  who got most of the press headlines. According to the ES, Sir Philip believes that London can become “the style capital of the world”. He would like to see “more clothing made in the UK” (The Daily Telegraph) and (as quoted in “The Independent”),  he  “highlighted the potential for the UK of not just designing fashion-wear but producing it too”. Indeed, according to the Daily Telegraph, that is already beginning to happen – once such example being Maria Grachvogel, the British fashion designer, who has moved production back to this country because , “due to increased demand for her collections, the  factory she uses in Poland can no longer cope”. This encouraging development has led Marcus Leroux, Retail Correspondent for The Times, to declare that “ ‘Made In Britain’ is back in fashion”.

Although The “Observer Magazine’s edition of 19th February enthused about LFW “turning its back on black” and the “blinding colours”, bold prints ,textures and silhouettes on display – some shows ( for instance, Bora Aksu and Spijkers en Spijkers) did nonetheless feature a few somewhat subdued (though elegant) shades of grey ,brown – and black. Despite the continuing controversies about “size zero” models (many of whom were depicted by Guardian columnist Tanya Gold on 14th February as “ thin, starved, exploited ,exposed children who sell clothes” some of those seen on the LFW catwalks definitely looked in need of a good meal and at risk (in the words of Dave Barry, the American humourist and writer) of slipping down between the grates in the street”. A photojournalist at LFW remarked that he’d seen some of the models smoking both before and after shows – presumably to stifle any temptation to eat and so avoid marginally increasing their weight.  One well-received innovation at the Jena Theo Show  (Embankment Gallery Show Space, 17th February) was that the models didn’t just (as is usually the case) walk the length of the catwalk, pose for the mass of official photographers, then turn around and disappear. They paused at intervals so the audience (who had queued for at least half an hour to get in) could also take “non-blurred” photos .

Catwalk shows last for an average of  ten minutes – but , as writer Karen Dacre emphasised in her “Fashionomics” article in the ES on February 16th  –  they can be expensive to put on: Her analysis of the probable total cost of £79,240,00  included  £30,00 for “design staff” (models, casting director and stylist), £6,000 (set design), £12,100 (venue hire), £13,000 (lighting/ photography), £4,500 for sound (PA system, radios ,DJs and music permit), £5,500 (invites/seating), £2,750 ( backstage manager rails, mirrors , monitor, catering and carpet) and £750 for “extras” (wooden benches, fire extinguishers, fabric covers and seating plans). Two participants in the exhibition at Somerset House (the main LFW venue) who may not have received much media coverage but merit a mention were the innovative shoe designers Atalanta Weller and Kat Maconie. Meanwhile,  LFW continues with (among others) shows by Ozwald Boateng, Emilio de la Morena, Tata-Naka and a joint collaboration between Bally & Central Saint Martins College on Tuesday 21st February.  The final day of this LFW (Wednesday 22nd February) will be totally dedicated to menswear and the latest in male fashion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Filed under: Society | Posted on February 21st, 2012 by Colin D Gordon

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