Whether long-time style heroes or younger creatives, Britain’s leading fashion designers are uniquely flamboyant and are admired the world over. From Vivienne Westwood to Victoria Beckham, Paul Smith to Anya Hindmarch, these brands are very different, but they all embody a sense of cool that comes from original, thoughtful fashion
British culture has held a decades-long reputation for cool, from the mods and rockers of the 1960s and the punk rock of the 70s to the new romantics of the 80s, the Brit-pop of the 90s and the bohemian chic and indie grunge of the 2000s. Nowhere is this more evident than in Britain’s fashion, whether through long-established labels or younger designers. In fashion, the 90s catchphrase of Cool Britannia is just as valid now as it was then.
Britain’s leading fashion designers remain thoughtful, original and above all cool
In the midst of the emerging punk scene in 70s London, Vivienne Westwood began designing clothes. She opened her first store, Let it Rock (later renamed Sex and today known as Worlds End), on King’s Road in 1971 and soon began dressing the members of the Sex Pistols. So started an era of British fashion directly inspired by the designer’s unapologetically punk attitude. She became renowned in the international fashion world and remains so today.
In her spring/summer 2018 catwalk show, Westwood presented a collection as politically charged as ever. White shirts covered in scrawled statements about waste and consumerism were shown alongside T-shirts emblazoned with slogans about saving the rainforests. Raw hemmed knitwear was covered in stencilled activist graffiti and one style featured a large black footprint - a reference to the world’s ever-increasing carbon emissions.
The designer’s signature structural dresses and architectural tailored pieces were in evidence, too, in addition to blouses, shirts and trousers embellished with a new-season print inspired by playing cards. The collection was shown by a mixed troupe of statuesque models and crowd-pleasing acrobats who performed down the runway.
Another design hero who started out in the 1970s is Paul Smith, a man whose passion for British subcultures and music movements has played an important role in his much-celebrated designs. Over the years, Smith has been heavily influenced by his love of music, in particular that of his teenage idols and later friends and customers, Jimmy Page and David Bowie.
For spring/summer 2018 Smith takes inspiration from his youth, revisiting the billowing silhouettes and vivid prints that helped define the Northern Soul music and dance movement of his adolescent years and that inspired his signature floral prints. Tailored pieces for men and women (for which the brand is famous) feature notched lapels, low break points and square shoulders, giving a nod to some of the designer’s 1980s pieces. New-season Hawaiian print shirts and striped beach-style bags add a touch of resort to the collection.
Victoria Beckham has been one of the world’s most famous women for more than two decades. One fifth of the sensation that was the pop group the Spice Girls, she has had a strong influence on the style of a generation of women. In 2008, Beckham took her status as style legend one step further, launching an eponymous fashion label that would go on to win the British Fashion Award’s Brand of the Year prize in 2011. Today she is one of the country’s most exciting and respected fashion designers.
This season’s collection is one of her most celebrated to date, contrasting traditionally feminine elements - light fabrics such as chiffon and wool voile – with workwear-inspired checks drawn from technical textbooks. Bold colours, Play-Doh shades and what the designer refers to as ‘neon pastels’ saturate the standout pieces. ‘This collection is delicate, but it isn’t fragile’, notes Beckham.
Another name to celebrate is Anya Hindmarch, whose trademark handbags are so much more than accessories. Hindmarch founded her bag empire in the 1980s and has since seen great success; she was the first accessories designer to hold an on-schedule London Fashion Week show, and her bags have been worn by some of the world’s most photographed women; famous fans include Rihanna, Angelina Jolie and the Duchess of Cambridge.
For spring/summer 2018 the designer has turned her attention to the everyday. She describes her aesthetic as ‘British, humorous and personalised’, and for this collection takes inspiration from British suburban culture. Designs and materials have been influenced by the housecoats and wallpapers typical of British family homes in the 70s. Key styles include metallic clutches, tall totes and bag accessories, most noticeably oversized, cartoonish padded bag charms made with soft nappa leather.
Whether it’s the punk-infused looks of Vivienne Westwood, the striking styles of Paul Smith, the strong, feminine collections of Victoria Beckham or the eccentric accessories of Anya Hindmarch, Britain’s leading fashion designers remain thoughtful, original and above all cool. Long may their work continue.