London Fashion Week’s Frock Tactics

There is no escaping the fabulous spinning wheel of fashion, or its politics.

Fashion trends come and go as swiftly as Nick Clegg’s political ideals, however the rules by which fashion abides are as entrenched as our two-party democratic system. Fashion and politics are becoming intrinsically linked, with David Cameron having been voted one of the world’s best dressed men by GQ Magazine a few years back, while his missus makes headlines with her sartorial style, favouring Philip Lim and Vivienne Westwood over the frumpiness often reserved for first ladies.

Even more astounding – some might say alarming – was Boris Johnson appearing on the cover of ELLE in 2009 as well as penning the editor’s letter for the same issue, which commemorated 25 years of London Fashion Week. Had the crazy-haired mayor suddenly become a style icon by swapping Marks & Spencer for Marc Jacobs? No, the reason for his starring role in the fashion press was that he spent £40,000 (from the GLA’s budget obviously, not his personal piggy bank) on flights and accommodation for 30 international buyers to attend LFW.

Undoubtedly this unexpected concern on the part of politicians makes fashion insiders around the world sit up and take note when the show rolls into town, but while British politicians’ relationship with fashion is only now rising to prominence, fashion has always been highly tactical.

The up-and-coming designers being touted as the next big thing by the style press around the time of LFW usually have something in common: an MA from Central Saint Martins, a qualification so common it’s almost a prerequisite. The second, marginally less obligatory factor is contacts, thanks to which many will have already done an internship with a renowned designer, giving them a giant footstep in the door - pick up any copy of Vogue and you’ll find the most hype surrounding those who happen to have an aunt working as a creative assistant for Tom Ford.

Speaking of common threads, (obvious pun intended), how do fashion designers miraculously have the same ideas for trends each season (this month: tangerine – everyone from Christian Dior to Paul & Joe has tango’d up their collections) which then filter down from the shows at Somerset House to a New Look in Croydon? It’s not down to psychic powers unfortunately, it merely depends on what fabrics happen to be cheap when the designers begin thinking about their collections.

Designers and buyers from the fashion houses attend fabric shows, where exhibitors eagerly display their wares – one can only imagine the snooping, trying to ascertain whether it’s chiffon, lambswool or hessian that’s going into a rival shopping trolley. If Burberry Prorsum spots Stella McCartney tucking metres of purple velour under her arm he may not want to miss out on the scoop, and hence one of next autumn/winter’s key looks is born.
The world of fashion has its altruistic moments too. Each year the British Fashion Council alongside the Vogue Designer Fashion Fund awards £200,000 to a deserving designer to further his or her business. The 2011 winner is Christopher Kane, who remarkably happens to be a former Central Saint Martins student. After graduating in 2006 Kane set up his label along with his sister Tammy, a label that has been lauded by the fashion world and trend-helping celebs Alexa Chung and Emma Watson ever since.

Additionally, Kane has a handy sideline designing for Versus, Versace’s diffusion line. There is no doubting Kane’s talent, who is responsible for reviving body con dresses and introducing neon to a post-rave audience, however does someone who was selected to design outfits for a Kylie Minogue pop video really need a handout, and wouldn’t the money be more fairly spent on one of the young, gifted and broke souls who had the misfortune of graduating from say, Kingston University? Before getting carried away with anti-elitist rants the fact remains that the purpose of this award is not to give new talent a helping hand, but to assist established designers in developing their brand worldwide. Eligible recipients of the award must already have a UK-based business as well as British and international stockists, and support from key media i.e. Vogue,, etc.

It’s no surprise that there is such enthusiasm towards turning our designers into global stars, LFW takes place twice a year and makes a lucrative £20m for the capital’s economy, as well as creating orders of around £40 million for the participating designers. Just imagine how much money the success of the next Galliano, Westwood or McQueen could generate. However, despite being one of the ‘Big Four’ along with Milan, Paris and New York, the London shows were cut down to just four days in 2008 to prevent a clash when New York snapped its fingers and decided to run a week later, something that had London fashionistas angrily stamping their patent winklepickers against the floor.

Furthermore, LFW attracts 5,000 foreign visitors compared to New York’s 100,000, hence Boris Johnson’s bulk plane ticket purchase.

At the end of the day who cares? Why does a four day parade of mostly unwearable creations shown to an audience of celebrities and members of the press matter to Londoners? Well, the answer is simple, as immortalised by Meryl Streep in the epic film ‘The Devil Wear Prada’: the clothes we wear “represent millions of dollars and countless jobs and so it's sort of comical how you think that you've made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you're wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room.” There is no escaping the fabulous spinning wheel of fashion, or its politics.


[i]Author:[/i] Leila Hawkins