At IndependentBoutique.com, we solely sell fashion and accessories from British-based designers. In a recent series of interviews we carried out with our designers, we asked; what makes fashion designed or made Britain, British? We wanted to understand what gave British design its appeal. Fortunately we have in excess of eighty British fashion and accessories designers on our website, most of which were keen to give us their views on the matter, below are some of their responses. We asked them to describe what they do and how they categorise “British” fashion. They tended to describe British design as “bold”, “daring”, “innovative”, “quirky” and “eccentric”, but were reluctant to pin the style down as having a particular look. British bag designer Heidi Mottram, describes British design as that which shows “global appeal”, when we delve a little deeper into the interview answers, it is heritage and the influence of multi-culture which seems key to making British fashion stand out on a global stage.
There is no doubt Britain’s history has done much to shape the modern UK fashion landscape. Without the legacy of the British Empire, whose colonies once covered close to a quarter of the Earth, Britain would have never enjoyed periods of prosperity through trade. Most notably the trade of exquisite world fabrics and all things shiny passing through London from the 17th to 19th centuries, spurred a demand for refined apparel and jewellery. Driven initially by royals and the land owning elite, tailored and designer clothing became both a requisite of the upper classes and something to aspire to for everybody else, we can see hints of today with in the coverage given to what is worn by Kate Middleton and the new high profile elite, celebrities. During this period of Empire, London became a hub not just for trade, but a centre for world artists and scholars, which saw the creation of world-class institutions. Carmen Woods, British leather bag designer, said in her interview the “quality of British fashion schools” is helped by having “great museums and art galleries to use as reference points”. A sentiment shared by British fashion designer Irena Lane, who identified the “melting pot of cultures, art and music movements” as key to keeping British designers’ ideas “fresh and vibrant”.
It comes as no surprise to find a large number of globally respected fashion colleges in the UK, particularly in cities like London where the arts and academia attracted people from throughout the world. Central St Martin’s college in London, was identified by Fashionista Magazine of New York as theworld’s top fashion school in 2010, the college’s graduates include Stella McCartney, John Galliano, Alexander McQueen and Paul Smith to name but a few.
At these institutions designers can develop under the nurture and guidance of those established within the industry. Catherine Marche, French born, UK -based jewellery designer believes that British fashion schools create “daring people eager to push boundaries” and that confidence creates “a love story between the public and the designers; each inspires the other”.
The British public, the context in which these designers create, must be also pivotal in characterising British fashion. Elliot Rhodes, prolific belt designer, summed it up quite nicely by saying “the UK is a permissive society that allows people to experiment with their ideas”. Bronwyn Lowenthal of UK ethical fashion brand “Lowie”, moved to the UK from Australia and she believes that this openness means the British “embrace ‘new’ fashions more readily than any other country”, which keeps the British fashion scene at the forefront of trends. So whilst the designers are allowed to experiment and the public are keen to embrace new styles, Peony and Moore UK handbag designers, believe that the real key to success for British fashion, is that UK designers “bridge the gap between pushing the boundaries, with eccentric style on the catwalk, and implementing commercial designs which people want to buy”.
Elliot Rhodes reasons in his interview that “we harness the past and reinvent it for the present effectively”. This rich history serves British designers; much like an extensive and well rehearsed repertoire serves a musician. The old classics can be pulled out and re-engineered when needed; the strengths of past hits can be built upon, and when new instruments and genres come about, the British are well equipped and eager re-invent themselves in order to embrace new methods and styles. To carry on the comparison of designers and musicians, the audience of a musician is just as important; the successful artist understands what his crowd wants and what makes them respond: as the crowd evolves so must the artist. With exceptional musicians, it is they who evolve without alienating their audience and it is the crowd who catches up.
If there is one answer that summed up the interview responses, it was an answer given by handbag designer Lucy Clayphan of Peony and Moore “we mix and match from different cultures better than anyone else in the world, seamlessly!” as if the history of interaction with different cultures has become a current advantage. She concludes that “it also helps that the British are fashion junkies which means we have “fast” fashion on the shoulders of established brands!” This heritage and cultural hunger is difficult to emulate or even fully characterise, yet it is what UK-based designers believe sets them apart from global competition.
Simon Prato-Scarlett, Business Development Director – Independent Boutique Ltd