By Jane Bradshaw
For four weeks, the fashion fantasy comes alive on the runways and in the streets in the four major fashion markets. The shows are coveted by the industry and the public alike, presenting the trends we’ll be wearing the following season, whether we buy it from the designers or at Zara.
At any point in time, each one of these major cities is responsible for a large chunk of the industry, and the weight of influence fluctuates. For the past few years, this was the vibe:
New York: Fashion Month Week 1. Exciting!! New Season!! Big money and bloggers galore. If you want to make all the shows, take the metro. If you’re a model, this is the week to book an exclusive at. Specifically, become bffs with Ashley Brokaw and book the Proenza show.
London: Fashion Month Week 2. For models, if you’re not British, skip it. Media and buyers tend to skip it too, as they need to rest up (or be wined and dined) for the upcoming heavy hitters in the latter half of the month.
Milan: Fashion Month Week 3. For models, this seemed to be overwhelmingly the least popular city because the casting directors are ruthless, however, I personally loved it (probably because it was my base when I worked in Europe). You have to go because of the legends (Versace, Gucci, Armani, Fendi, etc), but the fashion world is tired of the PR-jargon, hearing the word “journey” and watching 30 girls walk to heavy techno beats or violin ensembles for fifteen minutes at a time.
Paris: Fashion Month Week 4. Givenchy! Dior! CHANEL! The end of a four-week hotel-and-party bender! Whether you are a buyer, the media or a model, the romanticised view of the fashion capital is more likely fueled by knowing you don’t have to live out of a suitcase any more than it is by the designs.
However, in the world of Trump’s America, and model regulations (which, tbh, aren’t really enforced), there’s been a shift. Skyrocketing hotel prices and barriers on Visas knock New York back a little bit. Designers are migrating across the Atlantic to set up their shows. The PLACE TO BE is – to everyone’s surprise – London.
Birthplace of the two most creative designers of late, McQueen & Galliano, London is known for being ahead of the trend. They don’t have the established houses like Paris and Milan, so influential editors are able to attend more small-brand shows. There’s now a few attractions – Burberry, Mary Katranzou, Ports 1961, JW Anderson, Simone Rocha, Christopher Kane, ERDEM – but nothing that controls the schedule like CHANEL does in Paris. We’re also seeing British designers return home: Victoria Beckham has moved her show from NYC to London, and Galliano is showing Maison Margiela at LFW instead of PFW.
As a model, you might as well “debut” in London. The Model Alliance has initiatives in New York that provide a healthier safer working environment for models: implementing an age minimum (16), getting paid in money instead of trade, and limiting working hours so girls aren’t expected to wake up at 3 AM to go to a fitting. However, these rules are not present or enforced in the other fashion capitals, to the delight of international agents and ateliers. So that 14-year-old New Face who is poised to walk in 60+ shows? Her agents are trying to land her an LFW exclusive. No visa’s or age check required. JW Anderson is now a better launch-pad than Calvin Klein for a young models career.
In recent years, it is also the first time we are seeing non-Brits hired as Creative Directors for some of the nation’s big brands. Galliano and McQueen were poached from the island to take over fashion houses in Paris, and these ateliers are known for taking foreigners in and utilizing their talent to globalize the brand. Now, that strategy has made its way back to the UK. Riccardo Tisci is now with Burberry, a quintessential Brit company that is notorious for using exclusively homegrown talent. Tisci is Italian and bringing his masterful craft to rejuvenate the iconic label, starting with a new logo and monogram.
We’re also seeing more success from British retailers, such as Farfetch, Selfridges, ASOS and Matches. The e-retailer Farfetch, which is similar to Net-a-Porter or the Canadian SSENSE, has currently filed for an IPO and has a $6 billion valuation. ASOS is reported to have over 10 million visitors monthly on their website and is planning on expanding their company, with an expected $200 million of investments this year.
The media has also taken an increase in popularity. British Vogue is highly praised since Edward Enniful became Editor in Chief, becoming a leader in diversity within fashion. For example, the recent flower-crown clad cover stars of British and American Vogue stirred up much excitement. Rihanna’s volume came out first and looked more like a collaboration between the mega-star and the magazine, whereas Beyonce’s ultra-controlled version had the faux-pas of a too-similar cover style, and appeared as more of a PR ploy on both Vogue’s and Beyonce’s part. That being said, it was extremely exciting to see a black photographer shoot the cover (a first for the publication) and for him to only be 23 years old.
Since commoner Kate Middleton married into the royal family, the monarchy’s fashion influence has exponentially increased. Many people never even heard of Issa until Kate wore their sapphire dress for her engagement announcement. Now, they’ve dressed everyone from Michelle Obama to Katy Perry. The aristocracy – however obsolete in terms of governmental affairs – has found a new place to reign: fashion. Whatever Meghan Markle or Kate Middleton are wearing, the items are instantly selling out. The Queen showed up front row to honour Richard Quinn at his show this past February, an unexpected surprise but a well-received gesture of support for the nation’s industry. And thanks to comedian Gary Janetti, little Prince George has ascended into a Fashion Police figure (albeit it’s Janetti’s personification of the heir to the throne and not the young man’s own opinions).
For years, it was widely regarded that London is always more experimental when it comes to their fashion scene. The industry’s DNA is similar to that of New York’s, but the American cities products are more representative of the way people are shopping – commercial, polished, conservative – while London fashion showcases more avant-garde looks, something that is unrelated to what is actually found in stores, but a stunning source of inspiration.
A large influence in this shift of relevancy is due to political reasons. The UK may still be figuring out Brexit, but London doesn’t have Trump. America is seeing a massive withdrawal in part because their leader is unpredictable, to say the least. While the industry there is too strong to ever completely fade, businesses are investing in the Asian market. The industry is finally waking up to the fact that there is a massive demand in these countries for designer fashion, and the wealthy customers in these countries are outnumbering that of the western world…Crazy Rich Asians may have more truth in it than you thought (see Harper’s Bazaar vid if you want an example).
In a meeting at SSENSE a couple months ago, I learned that a large portion of their sales are in the Asian market, so much so that they are considering putting a warehouse in Hong Kong. Some of their customers are spending upwards of $100,000 every other week on merchandise. It’s widely known that Trump has issues with China, and is likely unpopular in the content’s other 47 countries due to the implications of his tariffs, his fascination with North Korea, and comments he has made to government officials, which is why Anglophones are making the trip across the Atlantic.
London’s wacky, theatrical, and fantastical infusion of fashion reminds us that this wearable art form is meant to be fun. Clothes are made to be expressive, whether it’s showing off our mood, our personality, or the type of occasion we are attending. The world is continuing to become a more frightening place, with the increase of terrorism, the incessantly insane news cycle, and the unknown state of the future ahead of us. Basically, we need an escape. Some people may turn to drugs, others may turn to Netflix or Instagram. And no matter how frivolous you think fashion is, it offers the kind of escapism so many are longing for. London has established itself as a competitor in tailoring and quality but prevails in the realm of imagination. Knowing well that most of us are not fluent in the other two fashion tongues, French and Italian, London is now where we need to be. All hail Britannia.