A no-deal Brexit might be the least of London Fashion Week’s concerns
24. september 2019
This may be the last London fashion week before the United Kingdom severs ties with the European Union.
With BoF breaking the story of a potential loss of £900million to the British fashion industry in the event of a no-deal Brexit literally hours before the first model walked, brands decided to put their best look forward and continue with proceedings, almost in defiance of the volatile news cycle that has dominated most of our thoughts for the past 3 years. Strikingly, despite being a following act to Boris Johnson’s illegal proroguing of parliament, protests in the House of Commons and John Bercow’s sensational threats to “rip up the parliamentary law book” to prevent Johnson from crashing the UK out of the EU without a deal, LFW felt decidedly removed of anything ‘Brexit’ – reflecting the tone of a city exhausted by the endless uncertainty this referendum has brought.
Of course, Brexit has been a dark cloud on London fashion week’s horizon for the past three years that parliament has been squabbling over how to enact such a destructive referendum result. We’re still yet to fully understand what a post-Brexit, post-apocalyptic London fashion week will look like after a bitter divorce: Shows barren of guests because the European press no longer wishes to attend? Empty seats are hastily filled with the 1st-year fashion design students found hanging around outside, but chairs outnumber people 3-1 and the humiliation burns the designers’ faces as they run out to take a hesitant bow; Tartan inexplicably becoming the Next Big Thing after a season that saw designers almost exclusively use Scottish wool because it’s too expensive to import from Europe now; The same ten models walking every show because the rest are held up at customs in Heathrow – who really knows??
The hardest thing is, it’s all speculation. Honestly, no one really knows what’s going to happen. This is keenly felt by designers and developers who continue to work with factories around the continent, unaware of any type of contingency plan and without any knowledge of what a disruption could do to the brand. It’s hard to be the only one pulling your head out of the sand, after all, when cognitive dissonance seems to be working so well for everyone else.
There is one horse I’m willing to back, however, in this race towards the end of days. Any financial hit will be felt first and foremost by those at the bottom of the pile. There may well be less money in the industry, but the people at the top will still take the same cut. The funds will just dry up before they reach the bottom – with the abuse of internships already at crisis point, you can bet on Satan himself that unpaid labour will be exploited harder than ever.
It’s an industry that’s already struggling with the erosion of entry to mid-weight positions, lost in favour of unpaid internships. With most companies finding loopholes to avoid restrictions around post-grad internships, restrictions put in place to avoid the exploitation of unpaid labour.
The fashion scene in London has always been a tough nut to crack. It’s almost exclusively reserved for those with the means to work unpaid for six months at a time while still paying rent, or with parents who can bankroll the first collection. That this is an industry that favours those with huge financial reserves isn’t news, the concern is that a no-deal Brexit could signal the death knell for any real diversity in the industry.
Already, if you’re working class, the best chance you have of entering the fashion industry is as a reference point on a mood board than as a paid member of staff. Due to the prohibitive costs of studying fashion design at university (some graduate collections cost upwards of £10,000 to make) and of living in London without paid employment, many cannot break into the industry without huge financial support from parents or caregivers.
Despite being overwhelmingly voted in by some of the most financially vulnerable members of society, Brexit will harm them the most. I don’t doubt that it will cause a temporary loss of funds to the industry as a whole, but financial turbulence is a storm many major fashion brands can weather. What it cannot lose is the creativity and diversity London is so rightfully proud of.
Victoria Beckham and Burberry may have been crowned “most influential” at London fashion week respectively, but never forget that ‘Posh Spice’ was a misnomer for a woman born in Essex to working class parents and Burberry was once co-opted by “chavs” (council housed and violent, as surmised in the 2010 book Stab Proof Scarecrows by Lance Manley) to the point it almost went bankrupt. Christopher Bailey may have saved it from financial ruin, but he did so by subverting fashion’s demonisation of the working class into a fetishization – a baton that has been passed to Riccardo Tisci, a designer with a streetwear nous famed for taking Givenchy from Audery Hepburn to Hybebae.
To summarise: You can take the industry out of the working class, but you can’t take the working class out of the industry. Brexit, any version of it, no-deal or otherwise, would be remiss to try.
Image via Shutterstock.com