As London Fashion Week kicks off today, British Fashion Council CEO Caroline Rush is helping established brands and emerging talent stay ahead of the game.
Rush—second from left above with designer Anya Hindmarch, BFC’s #PositiveFashion model Adwoa Aboah and London’s Deputy Mayor for Culture, Justine Simmons—and her team are proud to see campaigns such as the giant red hearts by Hindmarch that have taken over the city as the fashion industry’s love letter to London.
Introducing Chubby Hearts over London! Conceived by @anyahindmarch in collaboration with the BFC, @mayorofldn, @citywestminster and other partners as a love letter to London. Giant Chubby Heart balloons will be suspended over (and sometimes squashed within) famous landmarks across the city throughout the next seven days. To continue the celebration of #LFW, we will be giving away one @anyahindmarch purse! For your chance to win, be sure to follow the official @londonfashionweek account and look out for the Chubby Heart that will be hidden in one picture posted during the week, commenting #ChubbyHearts on the post when you find it. The winner will be notified next week via DM. Find out more at www.chubbyhearts.com
The British Fashion Council is also promoting emerging designers by showcasing their AW18 collections in the #NEWGEN pop-up showrooms at The Store Studios at 180 Strand.
See the @britishfashioncouncil's #NEWGEN designers who will be showcasing their AW18 collections in the #NEWGEN pop-up showrooms at The Store Studios, 180 Strand this season; including @halpernstudio, @martajakubowski, @sadiewilliams_uk & @paulakn.rr. Catch @richardmalone's collection today from 10am-7pm, and see the full schedule at londonfashionweek.com
Rush (right) has worked with the British Fashion Council for almost two decades and has been at the helm since 2009, playing a key role in establishing London as one of the anchors of the international style calendar. The BFC is a passionate champion of British fashion at home and abroad, supporting designers and attracting international buyers and investors. During her tenure, new stars like Christopher Kane, Erdem and JW Anderson have emerged from the city’s design scene, joining powerhouse heritage brands like Burberry (which will see designer Christopher Bailey’s final collection this London Fashion Week), Pringle of Scotland and Mulberry. Rush has also supported the industry-wide #PositiveFashion movement that inspired Bailey to introduce the Burberry rainbow check (below) in support of LGBTQ+ organizations.
The BFC’s other game-changing initiatives under Rush have included the LONDON showROOMS, which showcase the city’s designers in markets all over the world; the annual British Fashion Awards, one of the industry’s most prestigious annual events; partnerships with publications like Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, GQ and Elle to help launch and support new talent; and expansion into livestreaming and other digital innovations to bring the UK’s fashion creativity to the world.
The Antonio Berardi show during London Fashion Week SS17. (Photo by Kris Mitchell Photography for BFC)
The BFC’s efforts have helped burnish London’s status as a serious player in the global business of fashion, and that reputation continues to build in profile, scale and reach.
On the eve of this London Fashion Week, Rush shared her insights in a Q&A with John-Michael O’Sullivan, Associate Director of HMKM:
During your tenure with the British Fashion Council, the industry has seen profound change. What has made the biggest impact in Britain, and how has the BFC responded?
The fashion industry—just by nature of the number of collections that come out—challenges itself to change. But when you have larger organizations adapting to that change, it can be somewhat of a greater challenge.
The big one, when I look back over the last 10 to 15 years, has been how online luxury has changed consumers’ shopping habits, and how that’s had an impact on brick-and-mortar stores. But when you look at how British retailers have adapted to that, it’s incredible—from Selfridges, which has become an emporium for experience, to Matchesfashion, which started as an independent boutique and is now a global online retailer, and the birth of the likes of Net-a-Porter, Farfetch, etc.—all from the UK—have really helped empower a lot of the business here.
Back when I first started working in the fashion industry, a lot of the power came from the U.S. department stores and their buying power. A lot of that buying power is now based in London. You have Net-a-Porter, Farfetch and Matches; you’ve got all these significant retailers talking to global audiences; as well as the incredible department stores that we have here—all of which is a huge opportunity for us to leverage.
London Fashion Week was formerly critically loved but not taken seriously as a commercial proposition. How did you go about transforming LFW into an essential part of the global fashion calendar?
London’s always been considered one of the top four, but it hadn’t necessarily received the best response from the media in terms of its positioning. And that was very much because we were known for our incredible emerging talents, our creativity and innovation.
What’s changed is that creativity is now matched by business. What used to happen is that you’d have stars like Alexander McQueen who would come through but then they might go off to Paris, so you’d have to wait for the next superstar. And other businesses that were part of that same peer group didn’t have the skills or support to aid their development.
What’s significantly changed over the last decade has been the belief that London should be a base for business while retaining its reputation for creativity and innovation. That global reputation—even for established businesses like Burberry and Mulberry—plays very well. Who wouldn’t want to be known as a leader in creativity and innovation?
When we talked to Christopher Bailey and Angela Ahrendts back in 2008 about this repositioning, it was a time when they were thinking about what Burberry stood for and its values. Bringing Burberry back was a significant game-changer, because they brought with them the advertising power. It also meant that everyone started taking London much more seriously in terms of business.
Behind the scenes, we put into play a significant support system, including grants and mentoring, which have helped businesses like Christopher Kane, Erdem, Roksanda, JW Anderson and Simone Rocha, to name but a few. It helped them grow and develop their businesses into ones that now have both online and brick-and-mortar stores, are stocked in the best retailers, worn by first ladies and appear on red carpets around the world.
It’s building that strength of business underneath the significant advertisers as well as having this exciting new talent from our brilliant fashion colleges every season. London has a depth to its fashion scene that, actually, no other fashion city has. That’s something that you can build on and sustain.
Fashion’s focus is shifting from an industry-driven agenda to a more customer-centric one. How important is this for the BFC, and how does it affect your future plans?
Well, it’s certainly changed our business support and mentoring, because we’re challenging some of the younger names to consider the kind of businesses they want to be, and looking at the opportunity to go direct-to-consumer. Social media—whether it’s Instagram or Facebook or Snapchat—is like a gift to a young designer. Particularly Instagram—it’s so visual. Being able to engage that customer and then to help translate that into sales is incredibly exciting.
Only ten years ago, our business support would have been very focused on building a wholesale strategy, being in the right stores, attracting investment then opening an online boutique—doing it all bit by bit—whereas now, young businesses coming out of college might be already online, might have social media accounts, and already be in business.
Because of social media, the general public is much more engaged and much more interested in fashion week than it ever used to be. For an organization like the British Fashion Council, it means that we can leverage events like London Fashion Week and London Fashion Week Mens to inform the consumer audience about these brilliant young businesses that we’re supporting and working with.
For the first time, The Commonwealth has come together to showcase a wealth of design and artisan fashion talent across its 52 countries. Participating designers, including major names such as @burberry and @stellamccartney will collectively represent all 52 commonwealth member countries in a major new initiative ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London this April. The 'looks' created through the Fashion Exchange will be showcased at a special reception at Buckingham Palace during #LFW February 2018. Find out more at eco-age.com
How do you sustain the rising profile of British Fashion internationally and keep getting new messages through to audiences?
Well, the same message comes through around London being this capital of diversity, creativity, and innovation; Diversity played out in terms of the multiculturalism of the country, particularly in our capital. Making sure that we’re engaging with young international talent is incredibly important for us. Many of the designers that you see on the London Fashion Week schedule aren’t necessarily British natives, but they might have studied here, or have just chosen to start here because there is so much support for young businesses to develop and grow. There is an idea that if you’re a creative business, you should be based in London because being part of the creative community breeds more creativity.
All of our businesses are selling to international audiences, so there is that additional advantage—if we’re working to bring Chinese businesses to the UK, they come with a whole fan base of retailers and media who are very proud of them showing in a fashion capital like London. And while they’re here, they have an opportunity to see the other incredible talents we have.
This helps when thinking about different channels to engage different audiences. Traditionally, you would have gone to the key magazines—and we still do that. But when we think about audiences, we maybe think about some of the influencers in each market. South Korea is a really great example—where musicians and soap stars have their own Naver channels that reach millions of people, not just in South Korea but throughout Asia.
This is a great opportunity to introduce young businesses not just to a trade audience, but to engaged consumers who want to do what their superstar influencers are doing, and wear what they’re wearing.
What’s the next big challenge for the BFC, and where does the fashion industry as a whole go from here?
The biggest challenge facing us as an organization—mostly because we’re representing the voice of businesses in the UK—is Brexit and its uncertainties. When you talk to any of the CEOs, of course they’re looking at challenging retail climates, the shift in demographics, or at economic challenges in different regions. But the number one thing they want surety about is what’s happening with Brexit, so they can start to plan. I think we’ve made very clear what the ideal would be for the fashion industry. But whatever the outcome is, we need to know so that businesses can plan accordingly.
The next big challenge for fashion industry? As I said, it’s an industry that goes through constant change. There’s a lot of talk around whether the dates of fashion week should change. That’s an ongoing conversation with our designers, and with my counterparts around the world. But it wouldn’t be a challenge if I had an answer, would it?
Get more insights in our Q&A series.
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