London can be seen as the wild child of the fashion map. Notoriously, designers cutting their teeth start out in this city known for eccentricity and edginess before graduating to Paris, New York or Milan, where the fashion industry is part of the fabric of the establishment. Yet with Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen houses announcing a return to the British capital this spring and the premier’s wife amongst industry heavy-weights fronting the glitzy British Fashion Awards, you’d be forgiven for thinking the UK is beginning to take its glad rag credentials seriously.
Seemingly, building a reputable fashion industry from the ground up in the 21st century is paying off. The clutch of top awards at the British Fashion Awards last night went to women, and rightly so. Stella McCartney picked up the Red Carpet Award, winning over Antonio Beradi; Victoria Beckham trumped Tom Ford and Burberry to win the Best Designer Brand Award and Best Designer went to Sarah Burton over Erdem or Christopher Kane.
Burton, taking over from deceased label founder Lee McQueen, designing the wedding dress of the decade and helming the brand as it reaches mass appeal, is hardly a surprising choice, but it’s great to see female achievement recognised so thoroughly. Beckham may be bona fide A-lister in her own right, but Kanye West’s over-the-top show with underwhelming, ill-fitting clothes in September reminded all of Beckham’s comparative humility and skill. A fabulous face to her own brand, the huge commercial success it has enjoyed must be attributed to her understanding of womens’ bodies and needs.
Beckham, like many female designers, designs from what she knows what she would wear; Burton’s subtle fine-tuning to McQueen’s savage beauty undoubtedly flows from being a woman herself. And no doubt many turn to celebuspawn Stella McCartney for a woman who knows how it feels to be in the spotlight. It grieves me that womenswear design is still dominated by men, on some mad assumption that, like in medicine, we ought to trust male brains to understand our anatomies better than ourselves.
Other women recognised were Mary Karantzou for New Emerging RTW, whose digital prints have made her a cult lust-list staple; Charlotte Olympia for Accessory designer, Tabitha Simmons for New Emerging Accessories. Bringing yet another iconic female into the frame, Sam Gainsbury won the Fashion Creator Award named after the late Isabella Blow. The pixie faced model-and-then-some Alexa Chung won the British Style Award.
While the boys didn’t totally lose out (Paul Smith was honoured for Outstanding Achievement, Christopher Kane nabbed Emerging talent and Kim Jones got Best Menswear Designer), Stella Tennant’s recognition as model at 40 years young is surely worth raising the glass of diversity to.