London Fashion Week AW17: The Catwalks Adapt To The Brexit Era:

IMG_1025Should fashion be completely separate from politics? Is that even possible? Marta Represa, a Paris-based writer who contributes to (among others) ,L’Express and Rolling Stones magazines, doesn’t think so. As she has pointed out in “AnotherMag”, there has been a long tradition – ever since the couturier Paul Poiret in 1906 freed women from the corset and was immediately hailed as a pioneer of the Women’s Liberation Movement –for designers to use the catwalk to express their views about society: “In an ultra-connected world, where news goes instantly global thanks to the internet, it has become impossible for designers to ignore their political conscience”.

A current example of this has been the announcement by the American Tom Ford that, although he has designed for Michelle Obama on a number of occasions, he “will not participate in dressing or associating in any way” with the new First Lady, Melania Trump. The New York-based French costumier, Sophie Theallet – who has also designed for Michelle Obama and reality star Kim Kardashian, has taken a similar, even more forthright, position. By contrast, the editor of American Vogue, Anna Wintour, who openly supported Hilary Clinton’s presidential campaign, has acknowledged that she will probably feature Melania Trump in future issues: “Vogue has always covered whoever is First Lady and I can’t imagine this time will be any different” – though she did add the comment that “Designers don’t live in a vacuum and are not blind to what is going on”.

Political and economic considerations were indeed not far below the surface during the latest London Fashion Week (17th – 21st February at The Store Studios, 180 The Strand). Between 2009 –2015, LFW was located at nearby Somerset House, lauded by “London Town. Com”as “feeling like a palace with its great courtyard, elegant fountains and riverside terrace”. The British Fashion Council (BFC) then moved the event to Brewer Street Car Park in Soho, citing its “close proximity to major retail spaces”, but where it also created considerable traffic chaos in the surrounding narrow thoroughfares. The new venue at 180 The Strand has been described by Kate Abnett in “The Business Of” as a cavernous building with concrete grey walls and rugged ceilings strung with cables and plugs”.

In its “Facts & Figures” press release prior to LFW AW17, the BFC emphasized that, with 51 catwalk shows and 32 presentations, the schedule would “once again highlight the diverse and innovative British fashion industry on display in London”. Furthermore, this sector now contributes £28 billion directly to the UK economy (up from £26 billion) and provides 880, 000 jobs (up from 797,000). However, as Adam Mansell, Chief Executive of the UK Fashion & Textiles Association (UKFT) told Sky News, the possibility of a “hard Brexit” has engendered “a sense of uncertainty”. His organisation has been lobbying the Government to make sure that “any immigration system that is brought in recognises that the UK should be open for all talent”. BFC statistics confirm that 50% of the designers at the latest LFW, representing 42 brands, were born outside the UK, hence the growing concern that “the next generation of designers from abroad may be held back by stricter immigration policies”.

Jenny Holloway, Chief Executive of “Fashion Enter”, which functions from an industrial unit five minutes from Manor House underground station, admitted in an interview with the Evening Standard journalist, Jim Armitage, on 13th February, that she is “upset about Brexit”. Her skilled machinists, cutters and designers manufacture womenswear for Marks & Spencer, Asos and other big retail names. Due to the workshop’s location in the capital, she can deliver their products “quicker than a sweatshop in China, Bangladesh or Eastern Europe ever could”. However, most of her current workers are from the European Union, so “Brexit makes it even more vital that we reskill our own youngsters”.

At the Mercedes-Benz International Fashion Showcase in Somerset House on 16th February, Poland’s representatives, the “Poznan School of Form” stressed that their focus is on “finding resourceful ways to challenge the unethical, mass-produced, fast fashion which is a global reality of our times”. The Turkish designer, Bora Aksu, dedicated his catwalk collection on 17th February to the “extraordinary Princess Sophia Duleep Singh who marched alongside the suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst during the 1912/1913 protests outside Parliament, refused to pay her taxes until women got the vote and threw herself in front of Prime Minister Asquith’s car”.

The most overtly politicised Show, however, was undoubtedly the Zeynap Kartal presentation at the Turkish Embassy on the evening of Friday 17th February. Guests were first invited to a reception where an extensive array of literature about the “July 15 Coup Attempt in Turkey and The People’s Victory” was on display. In his introductory speech preceding the catwalk, the Turkish Ambassador praised his country’s citizens for having defended democracy and publicly congratulated Zeynap Kartal at the conclusion of the event. As Vanessa Friedman, a fashion & style commentator for the New York Times, has shrewdly observed: “All of us have to be aware of the new global reality DSC_0258 (3)in which we operate”. IMG_1027IMG_1028IMG_1094IMG_1073IMG_1074

Filed under: Media, Society | Posted on February 22nd, 2017 by Colin D Gordon

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