The Crown Of Fashion
When Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, made a surprise appearance at the Fashion Awards 2018 to present an accolade to her favourite designer – Clare Waight- Keller of Givenchy – it was yet another signal that British royals are back in fashion.
Not since Princess Diana became a style icon a quarter of a century ago has there been such a commitment by the Royal Family to the panoply of style.
It was no coincidence that the British Emerging Talent Womenswear Award went to Richard Quinn, who had Queen Elizabeth ll sitting on the front row at his Autumn/Winter 2018 show – the first time the 92-year-old sovereign had ever been to a fashion presentation.
In February, the Duchess of Cambridge, whose husband William is second in line to the throne, supported fashion from the Commonwealth, a cluster of former colonial nations dear to Her Majesty’s heart. Fifty-three different countries showcased designers and artisans who participated in the inaugural Commonwealth Fashion Exchange. Also present was the Countess of Wessex, married to Edward, Prince Charles’s younger brother.
For the last five years Sophie Wessex has been quietly working as patron of the London College of Fashion, and at the end of November she hosted a celebration at Buckingham Palace to mark 10 years of “Better Lives” – a visionary attempt to drive change within the college.
The idea of current Head of the London College of Fashion, Professor Frances Corner, has been to present a fashion degree as so much more than needle and thread – although those tools were used to commemorate a very special historic event. Students were asked to hand-embroider handkerchiefs to mark 100 years since the Suffragettes were imprisoned for demanding equal voting rights to men – and used their needlework to make a statement for their cause.
Sophie Wessex brought that story up to date. “The London College of Fashion is outward facing, and it takes its responsibilities very seriously,” she said. “For those of you who are looking for seamstresses, we create an opportunity in women’s prisons to give the inmates the chance to come out with a genuine job opportunity, having trained in prison.”
“And that’s just one example,” she continued. “Sustainable fashion as a subject is becoming more prevalent and the college is taking it very seriously, making sure that the students are aware and understand it.”
Professor Corner explained that the London College of Fashion has a raft of programmes that enrich the basic teaching typical to modern schools. By supporting an initiative to develop the traditions, skills, and knowledge of the residents of the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan – in order for them to create a livelihood from art and fashion – the scheme not only supports the largest camp for Syrian refugees in the Middle East, but also teaches its students more about global economic challenges.
Professor Helen Storey, the social artist and designer who is Za’atari’s first Artist in Residence, said of the camp: “Working in equality with the Syrian people and the organisations on the ground has given a new purpose to the way I work and live my life. In a displaced life, everything changes. It summons the previously unimaginable out of people – forms of courage and creativity that I have never witnessed before.”
For the Countess of Wessex and Frances Corner, the excitement is to bring the “Better Lives” initiative to the new building for the London College of Fashion, which was established in 1906 as a University of the Arts – before women gained the right to vote. Now the college, whose student body is 85 per cent female, will move from its current six sites to one new educational and cultural destination in The Queen Elizabeth Park in Stratford, East London, next to the new Victoria and Albert Museum.
“We have demonstrated the power and positivity of fashion in tackling and addressing equality, social mobility, diversity and sustainability,” Professor Corner said. “Through our ‘Better Lives’ agenda, we have redefined the purpose of fashion, putting sustainability and social responsibility at the heart of what we do.”
This idea of changing the fashion industry from the inside out is not too dissimilar to the way the British monarchy has developed over the last 25 years. From observer to participant and from royalty to reality, a whole new world has developed in the British fashion industry.