“Keep calm and carry on”.
It’s the definitive slogan of the United Kingdom. With their controversial departure from the EU set to take place in just a few weeks’ time, the catchphrase is more significant than ever – especially at London Fashion Week.
Brexit, the argument that has split the country in two, is a huge and potentially dangerous question mark hovering over the world. Leaving the EU could change everything for the UK, including how freely things can move in and out of the country: people, food, medicine, and yes, fashion. For the UK’s fashion industry – a £32 billion economy – close relations with the EU have been key to its success. Brands have enjoyed the ease of shipping to and from factories in Europe. European models have been able to quickly hop on a flight or train to come in for a shoot without needing visas. The truth is that the biggest strength of London fashion in recent years has been its diversity. It’s no surprise then that 96 percent of the industry in Britain voted to stay in the EU back in 2016 (according to a Fashion Roundtable survey). It’s also no surprise that they’re all frustrated by the response.
At the official opening of LFW, head of the British Fashion Council Caroline Rush emphasised how multicultural the lineup was and insisted that this event was a “big opportunity to prove that London is open”. Even though some have thought London has fallen behind its fellow ‘big four’ fashion weeks, the British capital can still boast the huge diversity of their designers. These creatives are known for being outspoken, using fashion as a tool for injecting new cultural perspectives into the scene.
And that’s just what they did throughout the fashion-filled five days – one month before the official Brexit. The cosmopolitan city’s most multi-culturally minded designers brought their strongest game and proceeded to show off their creations with pride and pizzazz. ‘Keep calm and carry on’ – they’ve all been in London long enough to know how. But keeping calm doesn’t mean downplaying their designs. Far from presenting anything that depicted fear, pessimism, or servitude, designers decked the runways with loud glamour, unashamed maximalism, and bright hopeful colours. Here we look at some of what Europe-influenced designers have brought to the streets of London during this politically uncertain time. Brexit may be looming, but all are carrying – no, strutting – onwards.
The light and luminescent colour palette of the AW19 collection was a very deliberate choice from the Turkish designer. Opting for optimistic pastel shades that lightened the pervading mood in London, particularly during a dreary winter, Aksu set out to subvert the dark shadow cast by Brexit with splashes of white, mint, and peachy pink.
The backlash against Brexit was always going to be loudest at Vivienne Westwood’s AW19 women’s show. Models spoke out over megaphones criticising the leave while wearing political slogan tees. This was only natural of course – from environmental campaigns to female empowerment, Westwood was never one to forego an opportunity to use the catwalk as a political stage…
Formerly of Givenchy, the head of Burberry called his LFW show ‘Tempest’, which just might be a reference to the current political climate. The Italian designer had quite a dilemma before him. Burberry is a luxury brand famous for its traditional Britishness. How can he continue the Burberry heritage and yet be relevant to modern times? In the Tate, where the Burberry show was held, Tisci divided the space into two: one room was concrete, dimly lit, with a metallic fence; the other was like a theatre with shining wood and plush seats. The collection was also divided into two. On one hand was streetwear: rugby shirts, trainers, track pants. On the other was the traditional: the classic Burberry trench, long dresses, floaty scarves. What was the point? It was a show that strove to be all about contrast, and couture that strove to be all about inclusivity rather than exclusivity. Remembering his own status as an EU migrant, Tisci knew he had to show Burberry had another perspective to Britishness.
London-based dynamic designer duo Peter Pilotto and Christopher de Vos have often been inspired by their travel destinations. For London Fashion Week, their native Europe was the muse. Pilotto – half-Austrian, half-Italian – and the Belgian de Vos presented clothes that were based on Hungarian Zsolnay ceramics. Set in the historical splendour of the Reform Club’s rooms, the whole theme meant a collaboration between European artistry and British grandeur. And it was decadently beautiful.
Another dynamic duo, Italian designers Marco Capaldo and Federica “Kikka” Cavenati met while studying together in London. They showed an impressive collection inspired by German pop culture, particularly the works of pop artist Richard Lindner and actress Marlene Dietrich. Demonstrating the unrestrained mood of European artistic pride, the two presented dramatic and ambitious pieces: there were multi-coloured ostrich feathers, velvet and leopard print suits, and exaggerated platforms.
Buzzing up all over social media, Katrantzou’s show was a rainbow jungle of brilliant intarsia knits and dresses that looked like birds-of-paradise. But while it was a fantastic spectacle, it was also a tribute to her roots. In her show notes, the renowned Greek designer quoted ancient words from her native land, referencing Empedocles, the Greek philosopher who described everything as made up of earth, air, fire, and water. Every jacquard detail, billowing feather, vivid colour, and cascading ruffle on the runway was a reminder of these four elements. They were also a reminder that Katrantzou’s origins were what made the foundations of her creativity.
Brexit clearly hasn’t stopped the show from going on. Quite the contrary, designers seem to be putting on even showier shows than ever before, with celebration of multiculturalism and European influence being the ultimate party starter. All in all, this season might have proved London’s credentials for being the “open” city it claims to be. But it’s going to be next season that will be the real test of the British capital’s place in the fashion industry.