France has its storied couture houses, Italy its renowned luxury-textile mills. American style is awash in denim and sportswear. Canada’s fashion industry has made great strides in recent years, with the introduction of the Canadian Arts and Fashion Awards in 2013 applauding our homegrown heroes. But for all the activity and ideas flowing in and out of the various fashion markets, there’s one place that has remained unmatched in its flair and unbridled creativity. The United Kingdom rules when it comes to producing artistic ingenuity; and like the glorious Blenheim Palace grounds where we shot our fashion feature, the landscape of current British fashion is equally marked by elements of grandeur and wit. U.K.-based designers have honed an unmistakable aesthetic, one that sees a clash of iconic principles that are essentially oppositional – the heavy use of patterns from wild florals to stolid checks; precise tailoring pitted against eccentric, occasionally rebellious detailing – yet have come to symbolize the cheeky, charming vibe of British style.
Britain “is a buttoned-up society, but [Brits are] very receptive to the eccentric, the dandy,” says British fashion champion Nicholas Mellamphy, vice-president and buying director of The Room at Hudson’s Bay. “They celebrate that person.” While the initial idea of Britishness may conjure up a conservative three-piece suit, you could be sure that just as quickly Mary Quant’s miniskirt or Alexander McQueen’s “bumster” trousers would jump to mind as well. Renowned English designers such as Ossie Clark and Dame Vivienne Westwood looked to Great Britain’s storied design history for inspiration – whether it be William Morris’s artful patterning or the irresistible frippery of Elizabethan attire – but turned these elements on their head to create something daring and new. The current crop of U.K.-based fashion stars featured in The Globe are no different, using reworked iconic design concepts to offer new points of view.
The consistent ability of designers from the U.K. to reinterpret the core elements of “British” style is the reason why I – a self-confessed Anglophile – felt compelled to showcase the exciting offerings of contemporary British design in a lush editorial; the irreverence and attention to detail of the pieces played brilliantly off the Palace’s intricate interior and charming grounds. There was also a desire to pit the fresh ideas of U.K. design talent against the storied Palace as a way to highlight how important a mix of elements (grand and street, punk and prim) is to British style.
Just as the notion of Westwood being damed by the same queen she had a hand in helping the Sex Pistols rally against in the late 1970s seems like an incongruous idea, so too are the underpinnings of a design by Roksanda Ilincic, one of our featured designers. The Serbian-born, London-based industry darling has captivated the fashion crowd with her elegant-yet-quirky clothes thanks to a careful incorporation of novelty (bright pops of colour, cartoonish detailing) into otherwise exceptionally tailored pieces. Style influencers like Cate Blanchett and Yasmin Sewell have worn her pieces – coveted endorsements for any designer. Ilincic and her contemporaries, including Christopher Kane and Montreal-born, London-based Erdem Moralioglu, says Mellamphy, “take the best of the history of British fashion and rework it.” The Room was highly instrumental in introducing these designers, whom Mellamphy calls “the new establishment,” to the Canadian consumer. Net-A-Porter’s founder Natalie Massenet has similarly been a consistent champion of U.K. style. She made fledgling faux-fur brand Shrimps an overnight success by picking up its candy-coloured coats and clutches after one season. She also serves as the chairperson for the British Fashion Council. Mellamphy uses that group to highlight the enthusiasm U.K.-based designers are being met with in the international marketplace. “The British Fashion Council holds a dinner for international buyers. At the first dinner there was six of us, now there’s around 40.”
The aesthetic identity (a.k.a brand U.K.) that these designers are cultivating is key to a growing consumer interest in their work. Though diversity does reign throughout London’s fashion week calendar, one would be hard-pressed to not find an inkling of Britain’s history woven through all the collections – a history that many can immediately connect with and find value in. Holly Fulton’s spring line, as seen at the top of this story, showcased a wealth of folk art patterns that harkened back to the days of the Arts and Crafts movement; the decorative detailing gave vibrancy to the collection’s more demure silhouettes. Brazilian-born Lucas Nascimento, whose punchy update to the shift dress is featured in our shoot, is primarily known for his knits, and this season he diversified with more finely tailored pieces. The influence of London’s famous Savile Row suiting was unmistakably present. And the show-closing, idiosyncratic combination of Sibling’s outsized crochet skirt, intricately beaded bodice and bold bow hat lends our story the ideal amount of eccentricity and regal stature.
There’s perhaps no more obvious example of how heavily the fashion industry relies on the ideas of U.K. designers to lead the way than the fact that Central Saint Martins, a London design college, has an MA presentation on the city’s official fashion week calendar. The mood of the crowd at the runway show in February was electric; some of the best British designers (and Kanye West) have emerged from the iconic school – and it’s where many insiders look to for a sense of who will produce fashion’s great new ideas in the years to come. And if the recent buzz generated by CSM graduate Christopher Kane’s subversively embroidered dress – worn by burgeoning style icon FKA Twigs – at the MET Ball this month is any indication, there seems no conceivable end to Britannia’s reign over the fashion world.
Photo shoot credits
Styling by Odessa Paloma Parker. Makeup and hair by Kenny Leung at Carol Hayes Management using Bobbi Brown and UNITE.
Shot on location at Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England.
Accommodations and additional support were provided by Visit Britain and The Feathers Hotel. None approved or reviewed this article prior to publication.