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Reflections on BREXIT

Reflections on BREXIT

6 July 2016
Author: Anton Dell

As things begin to settle after Brexit, shell-shocked Europeans are trying to take stock of their new environs. What does the new England hold for us all? 

As someone who has worked in fashion for decades – in fact if I cut myself no blood flows, just an outpouring of fashion - I understand the industry in all of its manifestations; from manufacturing to agents to brands.  I take the pragmatic view that in the long run, nothing major will have changed in the business once the ripples quiet.  Of course, we are living within the changing nuances day-to-day - and are ourselves affecting them - so must have a careful, clear-eyed look at what is happening around us.

There is no doubting that people in fashion were not the biggest supporters of Brexit before the fact. Of 500 member designers polled by the British Fashion Council, 290 of whom cast their opinions, a tiny 4.3% were behind leaving with 90% opting to remain.  Among luminaries who prominently lent faces, names, and voices to Remain in one form or another were Vivienne Westwood, Christopher Bailey of Burberry, J.W. Anderson, and Sibling, according to Grazia (Firth, 2016). 

The increasingly globally iconic Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld had this to say about Brexit, according to Dazed: “Look who voted, it was the people from deep in the countryside, the big cities didn’t want it at all.  I don’t think it is a good idea. They may have another vote…  The analysis of the vote shows that it is a bad decision,” (Stansfield, 2016).

Motivations for these views seemed to be rooted in both the creative impulses and in sober business logic – both utterly necessary in our line of work.  The New York Times reveals that 70% of the Austrian-Italian designer Peter Pilotto’s team, which is based in London and known for their imaginative prints, is international; the Scottish designer Christopher Kane has numerous Italian and European seamstresses helping to materialise the wonderfully bold visions of his French-owned company (Friedman, 2016).  London’s renowned colleges of fashion such as Central Saint Martins and the Royal College of Art draw students from all over Europe, eager to dip their toes into the truly cosmopolitan zeitgeist that London has offered.  All of that may change now that European students may no longer be entitled to discounts on tuition and European talent may have to endure complicated visa applications in order to work in London, among numerous other things.             

Further, the impact of Brexit on trade will undoubtedly have an effect on how feasible and affordable it is for designers to purchase fine fabrics from Italy and send garments off to be made in France, on top of the overall uncertainty about how the British economy as a whole will be affected in the long term.  As Brun Monteyne, senior analyst at Sanford Bernstein, said to the Financial Times, “The cost of a weaker pound impacts all retailers, so it will be passed on to consumers,” (Friedman, 2016).  The Business of Fashion states that the fashion industry was responsible for £26 billion injected into the UK economy in 2014.  Add Brexit worries to the already solemn year 2016 has been for the industry, with the collapse of BHS and Austin Reed thought to have contributed to negative growth in the fashion industry – which has not happened for the past six years, according to City A.M. (Cahill, 2016) and you come away with the sense of shakiness which seems to characterise the industry at this moment in time.  No one (or very few) will go naked, but the extent to which all kinds of people feel able to express dreams, aspirations, feelings, and character through what they wear is closely linked to the economy.     

On a slightly more attenuated but no less tangible level, Brexit has already changed the cultural landscape in the UK in an undeniable way. Samantha Cameron, a champion of young designers and herself a member of the creative industries through her work for luxury stationers Smythson, no longer has an official role. Incidentally, she is said by the Telegraph to be setting up a new fashion label herself after her husband stepped down as Prime Minister (Criddle, 2016).  The similarly colourful, albeit in their very different ways, Boris and Nigel have made their goodbyes; as the nation waits to see who assumes the mantle, we currently contemplate the mood that the sober, elegant Theresa May - famous for her shoe collection - or the sensible Andrea Leadsom would bring to Britain.

Amidst all of this, I recall the very different times that the brightest luminary of contemporary British fashion, Alexander McQueen, emerged into. He was closely touched by Thatcherism; the London that he trained in was much less international.  Talent will out, no matter what, and the essential character and contrary spirit of London will endure if in differing ways – and there is an excitement and vitality to the unpredictable times that we live in right now.  It may well be an energy that will turn up interestingly in next season’s collections. With a population of 68 million people, we are still a great place to do business in. 


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