Why London Is the Red-Hot Center of Fashion Right Now

Issue 32 STY London - H 2013
Sylvain Sonnet/Corbis

Issue 32 STY London - H 2013

Move over, New York: London Fashion Week, once an also-ran, is a must-stop thanks to hot designers (Kate Middleton favorite Jenny Packham), shows (Tom Ford) and celebrity fans like Rooney Mara and Emma Watson.

This story first appeared in the Sept. 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Sure, London swings, but the pendulum of the British capital's fashion influence has swung as many times as Elton John has changed eyewear. During the 40-plus years since the U.K.'s shagadelic '60s heralded Twiggy, London and its biannual Fashion Week have gone from hot to fashion flyover zone (to be skipped on the way from New York to Paris) to hot again.

Bright new British design stars -- Roksanda Ilincic, Mary Katrantzou, Erdem, Peter Pilotto, Christopher Kane and Antonio Berardi -- are lighting up the London firmament, along with Americans who show there such as Tom Ford and L'Wren Scott. Returning prodigal prodigies include Burberry's Christopher Bailey, Vivienne Westwood, Temperley London's Alice Temperley and Matthew Williamson

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Factor in stalwarts Paul Smith, Julien Macdonald and John Rocha, and London is the new Milan (which has a dearth of young blood), if not the new New York (whose Fashion Week precedes London's, which takes place Sept. 13 to 17). The Big Apple's most recent burst of excitement launched a troop of talented young Asian-American designers, from Derek Lam to Phillip Lim -- but that was more than five years ago.

What has led to London's shiny moment? Hollywood embracing the clothing helped: Ilincic has been worn by Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett; Katrantzou by Diane Kruger and Keira Knightley; Kane by Chloe Moretz; Erdem by Emma Watson and Rose Byrne. Credit also goes to a British Fashion Council program called London Show Rooms, which began in Paris in 2008. Three years later, young British designers began displaying collections to important stylists in a giant Wilshire Boulevard showroom, resulting in celebrities wearing the clothes.

"The BFC team has done an incredible job guiding new and established brands," says Temperley. "With Net-a-Porter's Natalie Massenet appointed BFC chair, it is an exciting time for London Fashion Week."

"I said no a few times!" says Massenet. (In 2010, the Net-a-Porter founder sold her shares to fashion giant Richemont for about $75 million; today, the site is worth more than $500 million.) "But now British designers are standing out with vibrant original collections and can broadcast to virtually every fashion consumer in the world. London has come into its own as the place for creativity and youth."

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The Global Language Monitor, an Austin-based analytics company, found that increased scrutiny of Kate Middleton's wardrobe contributed to making London "the most fashionable city in the world" in 2011 and 2012. It doesn't hurt that three top international runway models -- Cara Delevingne, Edie Campbell and Charlotte Wiggins, who do campaigns for Chanel, Lanvin and Burberry, respectively -- hail from and reside in the U.K. There haven't been this many iconic British faces since the '90s' Kate Moss and Stella Tennant.

"There is so much exciting energy coming from London," notes Harper's Bazaar editor-in-chief Glenda Bailey (also British). "It's relevant now as customers want special, original ideas" -- such as Kane's futuristic fabrics, Bailey's restructured jackets and Westwood's sexy fits. "We brought our Red Label collection back to London from Paris in 2008 after almost a decade of absence," says Christopher Di Pietro, senior vp marketing at Westwood.

"Attendance at our London shows has never been so good." Massenet says the BFC is posting a full-page "Dear London" letter in the Evening Standard just before showtime, urging residents to support LFW through social media and attendance.

New York, Milan and Paris: You might want to take notes.