26th February 2018
With Fashion Week season drawing to a close, Kundai Musara from Grayling Southampton looks at the important social and economic role of the British luxury fashion industry both in the past and present.
London Fashion Week – a bi annual gathering of the country’s sartorially gifted creatives, brings together hordes of models, celebrities, influencers who in turn bring additional wealth to the country’s coffers.
The UK luxury fashion industry alone is responsible for a direct contribution of £26 billion to the British economy. The sector is estimated to support an astounding 880,000 jobs nationally and has been praised as an industry that continually provides minority groups with plenty of opportunity in contrast to other creative industries.
Although heavily associated with luxury, ostentation and a hefty price tag, the UK fashion industry can be said to be the platform for free expression and protest, a notion that dates back centuries and continues to position the industry and London Fashion Week as a pioneer for freedom of speech.
The City of London, historically, has always been rich in culture and at the centre stage of social change for minorities including people of colour, women and the LGBTQ+ community. However, the 60s are thought to be the defining era that paved the way for London Fashion Week and many generations armed both with fashion and a modern ‘open minded view’ of the world.
60s Britain, whereby the capital became to be known as ‘Swinging London’, brought with it many elements that became symbols of change. Garments like the Mary Quant mini skirt, psychedelically patterned shift dresses by Biba, the pixie cut and of course the emergence of the fashion model with it-girls the likes of Jean Shrimpton and Twiggy Lawson became known as the symbols of sexual revolution and liberation for women of all colour.
Miniskirts, winged eyeliner and shift dresses became some of the city’s best exports, alongside the ‘British Invasion’ of popular bands including the Beatles and The Who eventually placing London as the fashion capital of the western world and bringing in an era of conspicuous spending – a result of the post war economic boom.
The 60s, which also saw the emergence of the teenager, was also well known for starting various movements with fashion being used as a weapon; with subcultures ranging from Mods, Skinheads, Hippies through to punks in the 70s protesting their thoughts through fashion and music. A major example being the anti-Vietnam war protests which saw thousands of youngsters of all subcultures come together to march from Trafalgar square to the American Embassy at Grosvenor Square to express anger and sadness of the innocent lives that were being lost.
Fast forward to today and the London fashion scene continues to be the centre of cool creatives of all genders, colour and sexual orientation. Still contributing a remarkable amount of money to the economy, the industry also attracts young creatives the world over with ambitious students applying for places at universities with creative offerings. Southampton Solent University and Winchester School of Art lead the way around Southampton, with world renowned institutions in the capital, such as UAL’s Central Saint Martins and the London School of Fashion.
Whilst the industry is still heavily stigmatised as being elitist, expensive and unattainable, the UK’s fashion industry and London Fashion Week continues to be a voice for the minority. Designers like Vivienne Westwood, the Godmother of punk, has been endlessly campaigning for a greener planet and Christopher Bailey who recently staged his last show at London Fashion Week has introduced the ‘rainbow check’ to Burberry’s palette as an ode to the LGBTQ+ community that is still fighting for equality all over the world today.
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