“It is undoubtedly a difficult time for British designers”, sighs Stephanie Phair, president of the British Fashion Council (BFC). London’s first post-Brexit fashion week took place from February 19 to 23, 2021; fully digital, it was also 100% mixed and loaded, with 95 events scheduled.
This avalanche of videos – some of which are very convincing – does not dispel the concern across the Channel since the implementation of Brexit on 1er January. “We anticipate 240,000 job losses [dans le secteur de la mode] and a decrease in contribution to GDP from 35 billion pounds in 2019 to 26 billion [30 milliards d’euros] “, says Stephanie Phair who saw in 2020 “Many creators have difficulty keeping afloat”.
“You can’t imagine how much Brexit impacts us, breathes Alice Temperley, whose new collection combines evening dresses and suits. The slightest delay, even for a zip, is lengthened. Certifications and procurement are becoming more complex. It’s a real minefield. We have even just hired a broker to help us make the right decisions in terms of manufacturing. ”
“In the future, will European customers still want to buy our clothes if they need to pay high tariffs and have to wait weeks to receive them? “ worries the young designer Edward Crutchley who this season has not been able to receive all the fabrics he thought he was using on time.
To Brexit is added the weight of a strict confinement that has lasted for nearly two months during which the BFC bombarded the government with requests to facilitate the organization of fashion week, asking for quarantine exceptions for models, photographers, directors and other creatives in charge of virtual parades.
As for designers, when the sky is darkening on all sides, what fashion can we offer? They first refocus on the local and the British identity. “Usually, I’m inspired by my travels around the world, but there, I haven’t moved all year”, relates Molly Goddard. To overcome this, the designer has seized The Europeans (Steidl, 2005), a beautiful book of photos by Tina Barney which shows families seized in their living environments. “I love the mix of generations in the photos, the clothes, the sets. “ In her collection, her voluminous tulle dresses can be worn with large socks or metallic boots; a ruffled shirt intersects with rolled-up jeans and crossed coats. But, at the time of Brexit, we inevitably notice the typically British elements that it sprinkles: colorful kitsch sweaters, tartan coat and good old kilt …
There is no doubt that you are in Anglican England when you watch Simone Rocha’s video, shot in a listed Gothic church near Hyde Park. There parade young women half-devout half-punkettes in white shirts, rich deconstructed dresses, mini skirts and leather jackets. Elsewhere, English embroidery is booming at Temperley London, scarves on the head like Elizabeth II for a hunting party are invited to Edward Crutchley, when Dunhill plays punk by touches (padlock clasps on the bags, straps on platform shoes).
In this British house known for its masculine suit, Mark Weston is repositioning this season on easy to adopt. “I really wanted to focus on clothes more than telling a story”, assures the artistic director. Either knit tank tops, shearling jackets, a down-jacket-style trench coat, zipped shirt or colored striped scarf, in memory of those his mother knitted for him and his brothers. He pushes the refinement with double-sided cashmere coats or ultra-graphic reversible shirts of very high wear. “Practically sewing for men makes sense today”, assures Weston.
In fact, imagining very rare or even unique pieces is one of the recipes of the moment, also on the program at Bethany Williams, who has collected old woolen blankets across the country to rework them into noble quilted coats, or at Harris Reed. This twenty-something that the fashion world has known until now as an androgynous model for Gucci or for having dressed singer Harry Styles in Vogue (instant Instagram hysteria), debuts in London with unique clothing capsule “Fluids”, half-dresses big evening half-strict suits.
“Creating demi-couture is my way of re-enchanting the period: we want more unique clothes that allow you to dream bigger”, smiles the beginner. Maybe produce less but better? “Since people have to stay at home, they think more about what they wear”, notes Edward Crutchley who highlights in his video the craftsmanship hidden in his coats, tracksuits or shirts with leopard, lemon tree or ostrich feather prints: we discover the backstage of the manufacture of 100% cashmere tweeds, organic silks from Manchester, moiré fabrics from Lyon or Como (Italy) …
At Burberry, Riccardo Tisci returns to a form of sobriety. After having organized several seasons of river catwalks mixing men’s and women’s fashion, here he is back with a uniquely masculine collection of twenty-nine looks. The staging is sober: a room hung in beige, the eternal house color.
Few streetwear references and few logos, but reworked classics: the trench coat loses its collar and belt (replaced by a colored silk scarf), the duffle coat gains stripes and additional pockets, the teddy jacket is worn without sleeves. Some models carry large backpacks crowned with umbrellas. “For my first collection centered on men, I was inspired by the British communities of the early twentiethe century who came together to explore the countryside while respecting nature ”, explains artistic director Riccardo Tisci, whose talent blossoms in this minimalist vein.
Even more affected than fashion by the pandemic, culture is another source of inspiration on which British designers are converging. Roksanda brought together three generations of actresses. Vanessa Redgrave, daughter Joely Richardson and granddaughter Daisy Bevan are filmed on iPhone at their country home “A Friday in February” during containment. They appear in sumptuous hand-painted tunics, opulent puffed dresses cut from a silk so shiny it looks like liquid metal, in an explosion of vermilion, mustard and lilac. Ballroom outfits to play cards, read Shakespeare sonnets, contemplate the (gray) sky through the window: and why not?
For Emilia Wickstead, the cinematographic reference is less about the choice of the protagonists than about the shape of the clothes: her collection for elegant is inspired by three films. The golden silk brocade mixed with purple and pastel blue recalls the sixties interiors of Theorem (1968) by Pier Paolo Pasolini. A turquoise rose print refers to Grace Kelly’s outfits in Window on courtyard (1954) by Alfred Hitchcock. Villa Necchi present in I am love by Luca Guadagnino (2009) inspired the decor.
At Bianca Saunders, it’s The Blood of a Poet (1930) by Jean Cocteau which served as the starting point for a black and white short film, while Marques Almeida invited the hip-hop singer Nenny to put on psyche dresses with rounded shoulders or puffed sleeves and perform a song . Priya Ahluwalia, for her part, invited musician Cktrl and choreographer Holly Blakey for a moving performance where the models with black skin undulate slowly, in graphic sweaters, reversible down jackets and tracksuits with geometric inserts, on saxophone tablecloths.
On February 23, the sportswear designer, fan of recycling, who often uses references borrowed from her Indo-Nigerian heritage was awarded the British Fashion Prize “Queen Elizabeth II” which distinguishes each year a young British designer. And although the ceremony was reduced to a Zoom reunion with Caroline Rush (CEO of BFC) and the Countess of Wessex (wife of the youngest son of Queen Elizabeth II), celebrating a fashion hope amid the harsh circumstances of the moment can’t hurt. “Despite Brexit, London remains a major cultural and economic hub based on diversity. This is what ensured the international success of the UK fashion industry. And that will not change ”, assures Stephanie Phair. That’s all we want them to do.