LONDON – And just like that, within 72 hours, Britain had a new prime minister, a new king, and was mourning the death of its longest-serving monarch, who fulfilled her duties until the end.
The first full week of September will be remembered by many Britons as surreal. It began with the election of Liz Truss as prime minister, her plans to tame runaway energy costs, and to keep the country’s lights on amid a stinging cost-of-living crisis.
The following day, Queen Elizabeth II, as head of state, accepted Boris Johnson’s resignation and asked Truss — her 15th prime minister — to form a government.
On Sept. 8, with that work done, the queen died at Balmoral, her beloved Scottish castle, private home and informal summer retreat where she’d famously host picnics and barbecues — and help with the clearing up, too.
Her death has shaken a country where many had suspended all disbelief and expected her to rule forever, or at least for a few more years. Why not? She’d happily served on the throne for 70 years, and her own mother, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, was nearing 102 when she died in 2002.
Few here would even remember the death in 1952 of the last British monarch, Elizabeth’s father, George VI, which means that Boomers, Gen X, Millennials and Gen Z are, whether they like it or not, born-and-raised Elizabethans.
Not everyone admired her, but many did and, according to a snap poll from YouGov, 76 percent of Britons said they were upset by her death, while 44 percent said they cried or became emotional after hearing the news.
Whether or not they shed tears, business leaders in particular described her work ethic, stamina and sense of duty as extraordinary. After all, what sort of person is still at his or her desk, and taking meetings, at 96?
“The queen exemplified a form of leadership that’s rare today,” wrote Orlando Martins, founder of one of British retail’s top executive recruitment agencies, Oresa. “When others race to drive change, she stood for stability, dignity and consistency. She moved with the times, but wasn’t blown off course by them.”
Positive Luxury, a consultancy that helps luxury businesses with their sustainability and ESG efforts, described the queen as “the very embodiment of commitment and a catalyst for global collaboration.”
Britain’s fashion and retail industries are persisting in that spirit, pressing ahead with business, and their own commitments. After two years of lockdown, double-digit inflation rates and a cost-of-living crisis that’s only going to worsen this winter, they have little choice.
Already there are those who believe that business closures on Monday, the day of the funeral, could be an added blow for the already-struggling U.K. economy. Monday has been declared an extraordinary national holiday here, although businesses are not obliged to close.
Selfridges, Liberty and Mulberry were among the stores that went dark in the immediate aftermath of the queen’s death last week. Others have postponed events until later this month, and into October.
Simon French, chief economist for Panmure Gordon and a columnist for The Times of London, estimates that Monday’s bank holiday could lower economic output by “at least” 2 billion pounds based on evidence from previous, one-off holidays. That drop could result in flat or negative growth in the third quarter, and tip the country into recession.
Retailers are not so sure the impact of Monday’s closures will be that dramatic and many are determined to pay tribute on the day by pausing operations.
Retail industry trade bodies polled by WWD were reluctant to speculate about the impact of the bank holiday as they didn’t want to be seen as exploiting the queen’s death. Some said it was unlikely that closures would weigh much on retailers, many of which are international and have robust online channels.
“I have yet to hear of any business complaining about this, and while there will be an impact, in the longer term it is unlikely to make much difference one way or the other,” said one retail industry representative.
Another added: “We have not heard of any concerns from members. Most are focused on paying their respects. Hotels will likely see an uplift in sales around the funeral, and that might spill into retail. We may see brands absorbing the cost of closing on the bank holiday, but see strong sales pre- and post-funeral.”
Retail leaders also said they were expecting a business bounce at the coronation of King Charles III, which could take place in the first half of next year.
London’s hotels, which were hit hard by two years of lockdown and the loss of Chinese and Russian tourists, have already hiked prices considerably ahead of the funeral, which more than 2,000 heads of state, royals and other VIP guests are expected to attend.
Top restaurants are booked through the weekend, and trains and the London Underground are packed with people on the move.
In the next days, before the funeral, nearly 1 million people are expected to descend on central London to pay their last respects to the monarch. The queen will lie in state at Westminster Hall until the morning of the funeral, which will take place at Westminster Abbey.
People have already been waiting in miles-long lines, through the night, and in the autumn drizzle, for the chance to pay their final respects to the monarch in her Platinum Jubilee year.
London Fashion Week, too, is going ahead, minus the frills, and with a sharper focus on business.
As reported, organizers tore up the original show calendar and rearranged all activity that was previously set to take place on the day of the funeral. Shows officially kick off on Friday morning and will run through Sunday evening. There are no shows on Monday, and they resume again on Tuesday, the last day of London Fashion Week.
Some designers, including Raf Simons, have postponed their shows, while Burberry is scheduled to present its spring 2023 collection in London on Sept. 26, between Milan and Paris. As reported, Alexander McQueen had already planned to unveil its spring 2023 collection on Oct. 11, the eve of the Frieze Art fair, which runs from Oct. 12 to 16.
Christopher Kane is one designer who decided to press on. He’ll stage a live runway show for the first time since February 2020. It’s slated to start at 8 p.m. local time on Sunday night, when the prime minister has asked for a nationwide minute of silence to remember the queen.
Brands, designers and buyers are fired up, and eager to push ahead with show week despite the sober moment. No one polled by WWD has canceled their trip to London specifically because of national mourning, or the funeral.
Tatiana Hambro, editorial director at Moda Operandi, said that London’s fashion shows “represent huge commitments — financial, creative, personal and otherwise. It is important that we acknowledge these efforts and the immense talent of the city. Her Majesty was the ultimate example of steadfastness and unwavering dedication. I grew up in London. I’m grateful to be here to witness this momentous time in our history, and I’m also proud to support the city’s fashion community during this time.”
Jodi Kahn, vice president of Luxury Fashion at Neiman Marcus, said she plans to attend the shows “to support the designers who have spent a large amount of time and effort in preparing for their shows after a very difficult last two years. I have no doubt that we will come together as an industry to celebrate Her Majesty The Queen’s legacy and the creative aspects of her life.”
Michael Kliger, chief executive officer of Mytheresa, said his team will be out in force.
Mytheresa carries a host of London-based brands including Burberry, Christopher Kane, Alexander McQueen, David Koma, Emilia Wickstead, Erdem and JW Anderson.
Kliger said the timing of London Fashion Week is unfortunate, given the mourning period and funeral, but “we feel very committed to the London fashion industry, and to the smaller, medium-sized brands in particular. The amount of effort to prepare for shows is crazy, and so if the London brands do decide to go forward with their shows, our team will be there and ready to support them.”