When you think of fashion, where does your mind take you? Paris? Milan? New York? Emerging markets such as China and India have been making waves with the creations on their fashion week catwalks over the last couple of seasons. However, scratch beneath the surface, beneath the chic Parisian sophistication, beneath the hard-edged glamour of New York, and you’ll see that London’s fashion scene has been at the heart of the industry since the very beginning.
The birth of Haute Couture
The history of fashion begins with the birth of the human race. Ever since there has been people, there has been clothes, and ever since there has been clothes there have been certain rules to follow. As early as 1281 London’s fashion scene was dictated by the Sumptuary Laws – laws dictating what fabrics and colours it was acceptable for various ranks of society to wear. Women had to dress according to the status of their husband and no servant was permitted to wear clothing worth more than a few pence.
It was in the late 19th Century though, that Haute Couture was born. Fashion historians name Charles Frederick Worth as the father of Haute Couture. The first fashion designer to show his clothes on the catwalk, he was born in Lincolnshire and became famous for his fashion creations in Paris, but it was in London’s exclusive drapers shops that he cut his teeth. Even earlier than that, Savile Row, in London’s upmarket Mayfair, was busy supplying only the highest quality suits for the well-heeled gentleman, and setting the tone for men’s fashion for the next century.
Over the following centuries, it has always been London’s fashion scene at the heart of every fashion revolution. Take the swinging sixties. Mary Quant was single-handedly responsible for the liberation of ladie’s legs with the invention of hotpants and the mini-skirt, and had huge influence in Mod culture.
Turning from designers to the clothes horses themselves, some of the world’s most famous and influential models have come out of London. While the “supers” of the eighties had a largely American bent (Christy Turlington, Cindy Crawford), the 90s belonged to London, be it Naomi Cambell’s long limbed glamour, Kate Moss’ effortless cool or Jodie Kidd’s so-called Heroin Chic. The noughties brought us Agyness Deyn, eponymous in her time, and Lily Cole, still just 24 and fronting campaigns for brands such as the Body Shop as we speak.
London: heart of fashion
What of London’s influence now? Well, some of the most famous and influential designers in the world today hail from London’s fashion scene. Brit Designer Stella McCartney may have cut her teeth on French label Chloe, but as a designer in her own right, her flagship shop is on London’s upmarket Bruton Street, just past Matthew Williamson. A little further down on Conduit Street you’ll find Vivienne Westwood and iconic British brand, Burberry. The most talked about dress in the world in recent years, Kate Middleton’s wedding dress was designed by London-based designer, Sarah Burton, for London label Alexander McQueen.
Wherever fashion goes, be it to Paris, or to Milan or even to the Far East, it always comes home, to London.
Picture: Diorgi – Fotolia