ROYAL TREATMENT: On behalf of Her Majesty The Queen, HRH The Duchess of Cornwall awarded Bethany Williams the Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design after a runway show of Williams’ fall 2019 collection, her first outing in catwalk format, at London Fashion Week today.
After being formally welcomed to London Fashion Week by Caroline Rush, chief executive of the British Fashion Council, Her Highness paid tribute to Karl Lagerfeld before commending Williams’ work.
“It is a huge pleasure to be here for fashion week today. Although, like all of you, I was greatly saddened to hear of the death of Karl Lagerfeld, who was such a towering figure in the fashion industry for so many years,” she said.
“This year marks the second presentation of the award, which goes to a designer with a social and environmental conscience. She brings ideas and people together, and puts change for the good at the heart of her business,” the Duchess said, presenting Williams with the trophy, which was designed in 2018 by Ms. Angela Kelly, who is personal adviser to Her Majesty and has been overseeing her wardrobe for 26 years.
They then exited the catwalk trailed by attendants for a drinks reception where the Duchess met with young designers, members of the British Fashion Council and industry ambassadors.
Williams is the second recipient of the award, following Richard Quinn, who last February was presented with the accolade by Queen Elizabeth herself immediately after his fall 2018 show.
The award recognizes the role that the fashion industry plays in society and diplomacy and the movement of young designers that are both talented and making a difference to society through either sustainable practices or community engagement.
London-based Williams, 29, was raised on the Isle of Man, where she inherited her love of textiles from her pattern-cutting mother. She nearly didn’t go into fashion because of social and environmental concerns but, in the course of working with a Goodwill store for her final-year project for her London College of Fashion Menswear MA course, she discovered a calling.
She addresses both social and environmental causes through her work, which has seen her partner in recent seasons with charities supporting social change across women’s empowerment, homelessness, successful rehabilitation of female offenders back into society, and improving literacy in among the most vulnerable members of society.
She has an ongoing relationship with modeling agency TIH Models, which stands for There Is Hope. The agency works with London youth affected by homelessness, casting them in campaigns and shows at market standard rates. There were two such models in her show today.
Her sustainability practices involve developing new textile manufacturing techniques that make use of materials that would have been destined for landfill at traditional textile manufacturing facilities. She devises ways to recycle or repurpose waste product into new usable textiles, utilizing waste from industries including publishing, wine bottling and tenting.
Female inmates at Her Majesty’s Prison Downview produce her jersey pieces as part of her work with Making for Change, a fashion training and manufacturing initiative established by the Ministry of Justice and London College of Fashion.
“It’s paid employment and training and [Making for Change] is setting up a factory in Poplar in East London,” she told WWD. “And that’s so that there is somewhere to go to once you have left prison and you need a job. It’s really hard because, at the end of the day, you’re giving them the skills but then what?”
For her fall 2019 collection, which was originally shown in a presentation at the Town Hall on London’s South Bank during the men’s collections in January, she was inspired by Liverpool and its progressive history in women’s empowerment. “Liverpool was the first city to have social housing and it’s had a lot of female Members of Parliament,” she explained.
She named her collection “Adelaide House,” after a women’s shelter in the city that offers support for up to 20 women at a time, addressing their most urgent needs, including domestic abuse, homelessness and post-imprisonment — one of only six such facilities in the U.K. Williams will donate 20 percent of the profits from the collection to the charity.
Williams employed the talents of artist Giorgia Chiarion to create a series of portraits of Adelaide House residents and abstract paintings of Liverpool’s landscape in bold primary shades that Williams incorporated into her coed collection.
She worked with the Liverpool Echo newspaper, making use of its newspaper waste, coating thin strips in wax then weaving it into a richly textured material that Williams put to work in a nice A-line coat with patch pockets and a boxy shirt jacket and matching trousers, all of which were made by residents of San Patrignano, a drug rehabilitation center in Italy.
Old denim pieces, sourced from Chris Carney Collections, a sorting factory in Kent, were unpicked and put back together again in jackets and jeans by a family-run business in North London. They were printed with Chiarion’s abstract shapes or in a clean off-white boiler suit featuring the delicate line-drawn portraits of Adelaide House.
The star looks of the lineup were the wonderfully cozy knits, made from donated and deadstock yarns. The lovely cream sweater and blouson track pant ensemble, was hand-knitted by Williams’ mother, Cecile Tulkens.
With such a hands-on take on production, costs of Williams’ pieces are fairly lofty but the trickle-down effect of that outlay is what matters. Prices range from about $700 for a sweatshirt to $970 for a jacket, or upwards of $5,500 for one of her more intricate coats.
Stockists include Galeries Lafayette, Farfetch, Yoox and Odd92 in New York, and Williams has been inundated with interest from new retailers since the announcement of the award two weeks ago but she is wary of growing too quickly. “I just want to make sure that I grow sustainably and make sure that I stay true to my ethics and my essence,” she said after receiving her award. “Hopefully, I am really clever with my decisions…Especially working with the different small projects, I have to be mindful.”