CEO letter | Global Britain: What London Fashion Week says about British Luxury

Inspired by Amy Johnson, the record-breaking British aviator of the 1930s, Temperley London’s Autumn/Winter 2018 show at London Fashion Week was as thought-provoking as it was beautiful.

Amongst the haute-glamour of Temperley’s embellished, emblematic dresses there was an intriguing theme taking flight: a khaki flying-suit and military style blousons featured appliqued airmail stamps, stars, a ‘She Who Dares Wins’ slogan, riffing on the famous SAS motto; a shearling aviator jacket; a recurring hint of fine parachute cords in decorative embroidery; lithe bias-cut evening dresses cinched at the waist with safety-buckle belts; all worn with lace-up jump boots in coloured satin. More than a celebration of strong, trailblazing women, the show seemed to signal an adventurous, pioneering mood, inviting us to look outward, to focus on the far horizon.

I spent all of last week immersed in Walpole’s work on international trade – not least the first dinner for the Walpole Export Strategy Group and Consumer Goods Group with Antonia Romeo, Permanent Secretary of the Department of International Trade and Investment, herself a strong, trailblazing woman – emerging only on Friday afternoon, blinking into the bright lights of Fashion Week.

Perhaps I may be forgiven for sounding a little feverish, but I found it hard not to read everything I saw at the shows in allegorical terms, each in its own unique way saying something powerful and intriguing about the value of British luxury: how it is perceived by its customers overseas; what it says about the Britain we want to be, as well as what we are; and about acknowledging how British culture, heritage and Made in Britain appeals to the luxury customer.

Beyond Heritage, Mulberry’s show and weekend pop-up at Spencer House, offered a romantic and compellingly modern take on Creative Director Johnny Coca’s love of English classics, history and figures, of “British culture, English culture”, referencing Edwardiana and garden parties, Ascot Ladies’ Day and country houses, yet reworked for today. As Coca says, “…a heritage [is] something you can pass down, and something for the next generation to make their own.”

A brand with a 220-year history, Johnstons of Elgin showed a whole new way to inspire a new generation with its London Fashion Week debut. Creative Director Alan Scott’s Autumn/Winter ’18 collection was an inspiring example of provenance, quality and design, brought together in an alluring, highly covetable collection of cashmere, vicuna and merino, all made at the Johnston’s mills in Elgin, Newmill and Hawick in Scotland (eat your heart out, Brunello Cuccinelli).

Temperley London, Johnstons of Elgin, Mulberry: these Walpole members are perfect examples of why British luxury is such a beacon of export excellence, with nearly 80% of production value destined for overseas markets. As the UK government prepares its first independent trade strategy in over 40 years, it’s clear our sector has a rich narrative of export success to contribute to the conversation, not least in its success in markets outside the European Union – America, China, the Middle East.

The magical richness of our heritage, the authenticity that comes with provenance, the maverick imagination underpinned by highly skilled craftsmanship, the ability to weave new, exciting stories to delight and intrigue a discerning customer, all of these have enormous, proven appeal for an overseas consumer and should give us real confidence in making the most of opportunities in a post-Brexit world. Like Temperley London, let’s put Amy Johnson’s example front of mind; we can fly out to worlds we know well, faster, better, more boldly, and fly to new worlds in expectation of success – she who dares, wins.

helen.brocklebank@thewalpole.co.uk