London Lives Series: Foreigners Frame London Fashion Scene

Jason Campbell

The future of the fashion industry is increasingly hinged on a multicultural mix of expat designers plying their wares in the world’s main fashion capitals. We’ve already chronicled the awesome success of the numerous Asians designers redefining modern American style from New York. Now, we turn to London where an influx of talents from across Europe, Asia and even Turkey are bringing a range of global uniqueness to British fashion.

London Fashion Week is seen as one of the most important and dynamic events for emerging talent in the creative industries. As one of the leading global fashion events, London’s twice-yearly event achieves orders in the region of £100 million each season. Once a manufacturing based industry, the UK’s scene has shifted more toward a focus on design in the last decade.

The unprecedented diversity of the local talent pool has helped to instigate this transformation, enabling the UK fashion industry to promote its intellectual property to the global market. Previous generations of designers including Vivienne Westwood, John Galliano and Alexander McQueen as well as more recent icons like Giles Deacon, Gareth Pugh and Christopher Kane have established London as a leading innovator, combining a distinct Britishness with an irreverent approach to branding. Now, a new generation of international designers—from Hakaan to Heikki Salonen to Seunghee Lee—are getting degrees from British schools and falling into the fold of English brands.

Central St Martin’s and the London College of Fashion are at the forefront of this new wave, followed by other colleges and universities across the country. The diversity of the applicants competing for limited places at each school represents a new standard of international quality. Canadian-born Erdem Moralioglu, a Royal College graduate, was one of the first of these successful expat designers and has proved to be the most successful of the bunch. But in the the last two seasons alone, Japanese/Danish duo Anamika Wilmott, Greek-born Mary Katrantzou and Milan native Mary Francesca Pepe have emerged with attention-grabbing collections—Pepe in particular for her strange, whimsical accessories.

Korean-born designer SeungHee Lee, meanwhile, recently showed her second collection after graduating from Central St Martin’s. After completing the famously demanding MA program, she worked for Samsung before launching her own brand last season. After the successful launch of her own label, SeungHee believes the trend we are seeing with the development of talent in UK fashion colleges will continue. “The belief in Korea is that the UK has the greatest fashion institutions in the world and the desire to be part of that has lead many of my peers to following me to London,” she argues. Among these new designers in 2008 Fashion Fringe winner Eun Jeong.

Finland-born and Royal College of Art graduate, Heikki Salonen made light of the armorial features in his double wool jersey puffa sleeve jacket with military grade hardware, attributing such diligence to the “Finnish part of myself.” Though he works with “complex construction,” Salonen explains that it all reads with effortless Scandinavian demand. With Kate Moss in the audience, Carine Roitfeld flying in especially to see the show as well as Natalia Vodianova and Natasha Poly on the runways, Hakaan was arguably the most buzzed about show this season in London. Hakaan may already be a well-recognized name in Turkey—having won a recent fashion competition at home—but London is where he’s making a mark with bodycon and feather dresses.

The globalization of fashion is set to benefit London in the immediate and long-term years ahead—from eager students to established talents deciding to come to the UK. As fashion becomes increasingly global in its appeal and origin, London hopes to capitalize on this growing opportunity.

There is one comment on London Lives Series: Foreigners Frame London Fashion Scene:

  1. As Jason so eloquently points out England, with the help of its fantastic schools and the British Fashion Council, England has successfully launched many talented designers. Sadly though launching brands is not enough to be proud of. The real question is which ones will be able to have staying power over the next decade or longer. The key of course is funding and mentorship and sadly there are only a few deep pockets like the Gucci group around and even fewer, if any, are willing to look at early stage designers (as they were in 2000 when Isabella Blow convinced the powers to be at Gucci to take on Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney). Now a decade and several tens of millions of pounds later, Stella McCartney is turning a profit and hopefully McQueen’ label is too and will endure. Unsurprisingly much of McCartney’s ability to break even has been through the degree of focus on developing successful accessories lines which drive profits. Unfortunately though the media focus in the UK (and perhaps elsewhere is disproportionately on clothing even though even for most luxury goods groups this area loses money).
    Now for the many other talented UK designers the challenge is how to maintain their individuality and vital press support while managing to grow their business by incorporating enough commercial elements to support it. Not an easy balance to achieve as the few other profitable designer businesses created in the UK can attest. Vogue has recently launched a fund (£200,000 plus mentoring and vital press support) to help along the way (resembling the CFD award in the US). While this is a great start, and Erdem is truly a deserving first recipient, this is but a drop in the ocean. Lets hope the realities of the recession with fewer brands surviving and launching, and the refocusing of much of the traditional media sector to the more experienced will lead to more attention on he still fledging brands that deserve and need continued support.

  2. @Gwendolyn
    Your comments are absolute right-Especially in the UK to much of an emphasis is put on the “clothes” not the over all brand and product scope-alot of people seem to get caught up in the hype again espicially in the UK, with all of these young designers emerging, I will be suprised if any of them actually turn it into a real business, with so many other emerging designers out there they all seem to share the same of three styles, grunge/punk, florals or futuristic -non of them tend to have a unique perspictive, It wouldnt suprise me if Chritopher Kane isnt mentioned in 4 years time, Marc Jacobs President Robert Duffy recently said the days of new super-brands are over, and UK collages seem to teach Fashion and design as an Art not as a business or industry, Im sure some of this crop of designers may go on to be CD at established houses like Galliano, but that will be about it.

  3. Hi Jason -

    Thanks so much for the information – such a fine line between the ability to create as well as market and figure out a game plan for longevity.

    My own line is about to launch in Europe for “Cruise 2011″ – a phrase I have just become familiar with.

    Your comment about Stella McCartney “cash flowing” after a decade is inspiring because after 4 years almost any penny that I make goes right back into creating next year’s line.

    Take care and please continue to provide great info,


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