LONDON — Britain may be walking a tortuous path as it negotiates its way out of the European Union, and risks losing its status as a world financial center, but that hasn’t stopped the flow of international fashion cash into the capital for the spring 2018 season.
For the first time in more than a decade Giorgio Armani is back in London to stage a major runway show — this time for Emporio Armani — and plans to cut the ribbon on his newly refurbished EA store on Bond Street. Tommy Hilfiger, meanwhile, has chosen the British capital for his first Tommy Now see-now-buy-now experiential runway event outside the U.S.
Off the runways, JD.com Inc. is partnering for the first time with the BFC/Vogue Designer Fashion Fund, with details to be unveiled on Sept. 18, while Chinese designer Huishan Zhang plans to open his first flagship on Mount Street in Mayfair, and the high-end French accessories brand Moreau Paris is planting its first flag on London’s Bruton Street.
As reported, Azzedine Alaïa is preparing to open his first London flagship, at 139 New Bond Street in the former S.J. Phillips jewelry space. The Compagnie Financière Richemont-owned brand is thought to be paying about 1,500 pounds a square foot for the 6,000-square-foot space.
Despite the Brexit drama, “London is still seen as a fashion powerhouse globally. The foreign shoppers haven’t gone away,” said Avery Booker, cofounder and chief executive officer at Enflux, the London-based data science firm that works with brands to spot trends and predict consumer behavior.
Harrods ceo Michael Ward would agree. Asked last month about the impact of Brexit on business, he said: “Customers really don’t think of Brexit. In the U.K. we’re fixated on it, but if you’re looking to buy and to come to London shopping, Brexit is irrelevant. The prices of all of the brands are the same as they are in Paris. What consumers are saying is, ‘London’s a cool place to be.’”
According to Visit London, an organization that promotes tourism in the city, the U.K. is forecast to be the number-one luxury goods market in Europe by 2018. Currently the third-largest in the region after Italy and France, the U.K. accounts for 15.8 percent of total luxury goods sales in Europe, or $17.6 billion. That figure is projected to grow to 19.6 percent by 2018 due to increased luxury tourism spend.
Earlier this month, London Mayor Sadiq Khan said that visitor spending in the British capital overall is set to grow by almost 50 percent to 22 billion pounds a year, up from 14.9 billion pounds in 2016.
While the news may be good, the industry isn’t resting on its laurels. Caroline Rush, ceo of the British Fashion Council, said the organization has been working hard to telegraph the message that London remains open for international business.
“We’ve continued to talk about London as a global capital and to really push it as a platform for international business — both for British businesses growing internationally, but also for international businesses that have strong retail here in the U.K. As an industry, we are very international and London is very much open and welcoming to our European partners and other businesses,” Rush said.
The organization has been working on a large and small scale. This season it is partnering with IMG Reliance on supporting a clutch of emerging Indian designers to showcase at the Designer Showrooms during London Fashion Week, which begins Friday and runs through Sept. 19.
The three labels — Ka Sha by Karishma Shahani Khan; Ikai by Ragini Ahuja, and Antar-Agni by Ujjawal Dubey — had been part of “The Indian Pastoralists,” a sustainable fashion exhibition that took place last February in London.
Rush and the BFC have also been working directly with British designers to address Brexit-related issues around manufacturing, supply chain, sourcing, sales and distribution, and with colleagues across the creative industries to make their voices heard in Parliament as the Brexit negotiations grind ahead.
They’re not the only ones on the Brexit case: Next month, Tamara Cincik, whose background is in styling and parliamentary research, plans to launch a consultancy called Fashion Roundtable, with the aim of giving members of the fashion industry a voice in Parliament.
The consultancy’s first report — “Is the Single Market the Only Option for Fashion?” — will be published after Paris Fashion Week and be first in a series that will be available to businesses for free, throughout the year.
Cincik believes Brexit is an industrywide problem that stretches far beyond Britain’s borders. “It’s a very narrow reading of Brexit not to understand the financial implications for the whole industry. We are in and out of each other’s countries, we trade, we bring in product, talent and seamstresses. We do shows in and out of each other’s domain, and now that fluidity is all threatened,” said Cincik.
“There are a lot of implications for everybody, and it is all very chaotic. What I’m trying to do is bring the focus back to the industry because there isn’t a focus in Westminster on the industry.”
In the meantime, British designers are forging ahead with business, looking beyond the runway to new show formats — or moving cities altogether.
Osman Yousefzada is leaving the catwalk behind this season and will instead host an intimate dinner and live musical performance at the new Nordic restaurant Aquavit in St. James’s Market.
“It will be a little bit of a surprise. Shows can do certain things for you, but you go in and out and it’s all so quick. This felt fresher,” said Yousefzada. “I think it’s really about intimacy and seeing the clothes in context rather than removed and at a distance.”
Gareth Pugh will also abandon the catwalk for spring and present his collection as a film to be shown at the BFI IMAX theater in Waterloo, one of the largest cinema screens in Europe. The designer describes it as his most ambitious film project to date. It has been produced in collaboration with Nick Knight and ShowStudio.
“This is about choosing to present the work in a way that hijacks the mind, where the images are expanded to enveloping proportions and connect directly with the depth of feeling behind the work,” Pugh said. “It’s an opportunity to provide a visceral, high-impact experience that communicates the feeling of the collection with no holds barred.”
Phoebe English, too, will show her clothes as part of a live performance, rather than in her usual tableau format.
Rush said the BFC is encouraging designers to think differently, and take their audience — as well as social media — into consideration.
“The designers have been looking at who the audience is, who they are talking to and what experiences they want them to have,” said Rush. She added that when designers initially switched from a runway to a presentation format, people assumed it was to save money. That’s just not true, Rush said. “It’s really just about the experience the brand wants the audience to have.”
One brand that’s switching gears — and cities — is Mulberry, which in May revealed that it was shifting to a full see-now-buy-now model. The brand plans to preview its spring 2018 collection in Paris during private appointments later this month at 51 Avenue D’Iena.
The Mulberry collection will be unveiled to the general public during the February 2018 London Fashion Week schedule, as a see-now-buy-now offer.
Depending on how Brexit evolves, however, it might not be so easy next time to take a London show on the road.