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London fashion must carry on despite Brexit uncertainty

Fashion is a multibillion dollar industry in Britain and a global one. It cannot afford to grind to a halt for Brexit or to ignore it.

Looks from Molly Goddard (above) and Burberry during London Fashion Week. Goddard's signature looks are many-tiered tulle dresses and candy-pink confections. Burberry's show was called "Tempest".

Looks from Molly Goddard and Burberry (above) during London Fashion Week. Goddard's signature looks are many-tiered tulle dresses and candy-pink confections. Burberry's show was called "Tempest".


IN the British capital, it is the calm before the storm.

The country's scheduled departure from the European Union - Brexit - is mere weeks away, although no deal has been reached.

And so little is clear about what will become of Britain in the wake of its decision to leave that many people seem resigned to the uncertainty of the moment. There is a tempest bearing down. But until then?

Until then, it is London Fashion Week, which wrapped up its biannual round on Tuesday.

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Fashion is a multibillion dollar industry in Britain and a global one. It cannot afford to grind to a halt for Brexit or to ignore it.

"There's nothing we can really do," Molly Goddard said after her show. "We have a lot of European partners but beyond that I don't really know."

Goddard's signature are many-tiered tulle dresses, candy-pink confections that can each require 200 feet or more of fabric - the lady as layer cake - but this season she showed them undergirded with trousers and boots beneath, and balaclavas above. "Everything was meant to be stomped in," she said.

Like the Boy Scouts say: Be prepared. Goddard, whose dresses can look princess-y, has always understood that there is no inherent contradiction between sweetness and strength. Not for nothing is one of her most famous customers Villanelle, the deadly assassin in Killing Eve. (Never mind that Villanelle's fictional.)

It is unfair to demand that designers reflect the politics of the moment in their work, and unfair to ask them to be the representatives for the decisions of government ministers. Yet the question bubbled up repeatedly over five days in London, in the backstage scrums where they faced the news media and explained their work. "Don't you hateBrexit?" said a voice from the crowd that was facing down Riccardo Tisci, Burberry's chief creative officer, on Sunday under the hot, sharp glare of the lights at the Tate Modern after his second show for the brand.

"I cannot answer," Tisci said. "Everyone has a different opinion, of course." But he had called his show "Tempest". And he had just finished saying that "we need the younger generation to be more free, and express themselves". He felt there had been greater freedom 20 years earlier, when he was studying at Central St Martins. But two days before, London schoolchildren skipped classes to noisily protest inaction on climate change in the streets. It seemed Tisci was the less-free one, practising the diplomatic parry of the corporate steward.

He has a behemoth to consider. Burberry aspires to be all things to all people, and Tisci described the strength he felt the label "deserves to have": not only fashion, but accessories, evening wear, streetwear, underwear, expensive clothes, affordable clothes. (All things being relative: Burberry T-shirts, like the one Tisci was wearing, can cost US$390.)

"To me, Burberry is lifestyle," he said. "It's not a fashion label. It represents a lifestyle. And it represents a country."

With a remit that broad, it only makes sense that he based his collection on the idea of "including, not excluding things". In the Tate, he divided his show space into two: one room, concrete, grimly lit, with chain-link fence; the other a kind of private theatre with gleaming wood and cushioned seats.

He divided the collection along the same lines. There was a streetwear section of rugby shirts and puffers, trainers and track pants. Then came the bourgeois: the good old Burberry trench, fluty dresses, trailing scarves. (It would be nearly impossible to mistake one for the other, but if, say, you were viewing from space, the hair was the tell: gorgeous, elaborate curlicues more or less tattooed to the models' foreheads for the street; sober, severe buns for the rest, snug in their own little nets.)

It had more sharpness and more bite than Tisci's first collection for Burberry, which was washed-out in a medley of dutiful beige. But it nevertheless had more of the attitudes of aggression (familiar to Tisci's fans from his years at Givenchy) than real snap. For all its enormous breadth, it felt more styled than meant, a tempest that would fit neatly in a teapot.

Tisci played with references of Cool Britannia, rave and chav (British for lout), and the vaunted DNA of Burberry, a word fashion executives love to use in an eerily eugenic way. But the effort to be everything to everyone is enervating, and no doubt exhausting. It's no secret in the industry that "lifestyle" is the lifeblood of the business. Those that can't afford or can't wear luxury runway fashion have to be invited in with a T-shirt, a boxer brief, a perfume, a handbag or a key chain. But is that effort killing fashion?

I'm sorry. That's grouchy.

It's not Tisci's fault that fashion has grown so giant. Lifestyle is the general ambition. It is clearly Victoria Beckham's. But then, she's already a lifestyle. Beckham is an icon in a truer sense of the word than is usually meant by the term's constant invocation - images of her are studied and revered - and she has built up a line offering women a way to dress like her.

This fall, after a trial run with Estée Lauder, she intends to introduce her own makeup collection. And at a preview at her studio in West London a few days before her show, she said that skin care will follow after that.

So when a bright red she called "lipstick red" rippled through the collection, you got what she was gesturing at. But it went down gently because Beckham delivered a collection, on a sunny Sunday morning at the Tate Britain, that was focused, appealing and, most importantly, real: suits and nipped-waist blazers, slouchy trousers and longish skirts, dresses and coats and muzzy knits that women could wear, not only "out" but into the office, into the lunch meeting and into the Tube.

"We know my customer," Beckham said, and for a change, you believed it.

Real women, real clothes. They were there at Simone Rocha, whose show was all the more affecting for its casting of models of different ages and different sizes, just as her real clients are. When Chloë Sevigny came ambling down the runway, smiling, it didn't feel like a stunt, any more than when Jeny Howorth, Jade Parfitt or Tess McMillan followed... Rocha's collection has a place for them all.

And real clothes were at JW Anderson, who often strays into hinterlands of the esoteric. He didn't here, although he also didn't dull himself into normalcy either. Jonathan Anderson said he wanted to "take the noise out and focus on clothing", and the collection was a reminder that he can. That behind the theatrics and the riddles that sometimes dog his efforts, there are often very good clothes. Here they were on dazzling display, in particular, his beautiful wrap coats and puddling trousers. NYTIMES

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