Sykes, Tom, Newsweek
Byline: Tom Sykes
Can London Fashion Week grow up without selling out?
The last time I was in London for Fashion Week was in the spring of 2001. I was working for GQ magazine in London and blagged a few tickets off the girls who toiled upstairs on the pages of Vogue. The event struggled so badly to attract financing that shows were held in cheap and drafty tents on the lawn of the Natural History Museum in South Kensington.
Cheer up, vets of the scene scolded me, the tents were better than the car parks where the shows had once been held.
The most exciting show--to which I did not have a ticket--was by a young designer named Alexander McQueen, who exhibited in a desanctified, abandoned church in the East End, the front row dotted with skeletons. After the show McQueen promptly announced that he had sold 51 percent of his label to Gucci and wouldn't be showing in London again--he was off to Paris.
The depression in London was palpable, but the old hands were unsurprised. McQueen was only the latest to follow a well-trodden path. The story of London fashion designers still tends to follow that same trajectory: young designer goes to Central Saint Martins College (alma mater of McQueen, Stella McCartney, and Zac Posen, to name just a few); young designer thrills crowds with degree show (insert here the possibility of the late Isabella Blow buying entire collection) and receives acres of press coverage (but few sales). Young designer gets it together to have own show in London. Young designer gets investment, starts selling product, and promptly relocates to Paris, New York, or Milan--"proper" fashion capitals where actual money (as opposed to reputations) can be made, either on his or her own or working for one of the big fashion houses--never to darken London's streets again.
London has always provided the best and freshest talent, but, frustratingly, the talent has always then left, putting London Fashion Week in perpetual fourth place behind Paris, New York, and Milan.
As Luke Leitch, deputy fashion editor of The Daily Telegraph, points out, "Milan sits at the center of high-quality manufacturing, so for pret-a-porter it will remain a hub. And the two biggest fashion multinationals are French, so until that changes, Paris will stay at the apex."
Then, of course, there is New York. I moved to New York myself in 2003, and covering the shows for the New York Post, I couldn't believe the glitz and glamour and money that sloshed around Bryant Park during Fashion Week.
But this year, back in London, reporting on Fashion Week in the lovely, posh, draft-free tents as good as anything Bryant Park has to offer, London didn't feel like the poor relation anymore. Instead, we found ourselves sitting among the most powerful American fashion editors (including Anna Wintour), watching the likes of Tom Ford, Burberry, and Christopher Kane bring forth staggeringly inventive, starry, and exceedingly well- financed collections.
As Tony Chambers, editor in chief of the magazine Wallpaper*, says, "It was a huge leap from previous years, but there is still room to go. There is a certain amount of slickness missing. But creatively, it's all there. It is ingrained in London's DNA, slightly quirkier, a touch of anarchy, that eccentric flair. A few more designers might think about coming back to London."
Such words will be music to the ears of those who for the past five years--since Harold Tillman was appointed chairman of the British Fashion Council--have striven tirelessly to have London taken more seriously as a commercial as well as creative center of fashion. …