Celebrating 32 Years of London Fashion Week

British Fashion Council

Taking place twice a year in February and September London Fashion Week showcases over 250 designers to a global audience. 

Highlights from Spring / Summer 2016 London Fashion Week

A key part of the global fashion calendar, London Fashion Week is part trade show and part celebration of British fashion. Taking place twice a year in February and September London Fashion Week showcases over 250 designers to a global audience of influential media and retailers. There is a strong industry focus with an estimated £100m of orders being placed during each London Fashion Week season. However, it is the creativity of the catwalk shows and the glamour of the front row that captures the public’s imagination.

London Fashion Week takes place immediately after New York Fashion Week and is renowned for showcasing some of the industry's most exciting new talents thanks to the presence in London of some of the world’s leading fashion colleges and universities. Because graduation shows take place alongside those of global mega brands London Fashion Week has a particularly exciting and innovative feel.

London Fashion Week has given designers such as John Galliano, Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney and the more recent talents of Christopher Kane, Simone Rocha and Jonathan Anderson their debuts. Today, fashion bloggers compete with traditional journalists to spot the next big thing coming out of fashion’s most cutting edge capital.


In 1984, London Fashion Week launched in its current form with a central catwalk venue and a large designer showroom space at Olympia.

This inaugural London Fashion Week took place a year after The British Fashion Council was officially formed out of the Fashion Industry Action Group, an ad hoc group created in 1981 to better co-ordinate the London fashion exhibition scene.

London Fashion Week was championed not only by The British Fashion Council but also by Annette Worsley-Taylor, founder of London’s Designer Collective and PR expert, Lynne Frank. The energy and passion of Worsley-Taylor and Frank ensured that the first London Fashion Week was covered by the global fashion buyers and journalists who would be vital to it’s ongoing success.


The first London Fashion Week featured 15 catwalk shows presented in the Commonwealth Institute's car park in Kensington. Among the designers showing were Vivienne Westwood, David Fielden, Ghost and Betty Jackson.

Also taking part was the recent Central Saint Martins graduate John Galliano who presented his graduate collection ‘Les Incroyables’. The collection was an instant sensation among the press and buyers. The collection was inspired by the French Revolution and the new romantic movement sweeping London’s club scene. Famously, the entire collection was bought by Joan Burstein of the London fashion boutique ‘Browns’.

After only one year, London Fashion Week had launched one of British fashion’s most important modern designers.


Following the success of the first London Fashion Week, the British Government provided funding to secure London Fashion Week’s long term future.

Throughout the 1980's London Fashion Week would continue to grow and enhance its reputation abroad. The global appeal of Diana, Princess of Wales, who regularly attended London Fashion Week was a huge draw for the world's press.

And back on the catwalks London Fashion Week continued to make waves. Only one year after John Galliano’s breakthrough collection the cult label Bodymap would provide the next major talking point.

Bodymap’s cutting edge designs, inspired by the vibrant club culture of London, took 1985’s London Fashion Week by storm. Stevie Stewart’s and David Holah’s anarchic collection “Barbie Takes a Trip Around Nature’s Cosmic Curves” would both surprise and delight the British public.

London Fashion Week was now firmly established as part of the global fashion calendar and the British public looked forward to each new season, eagerly anticipating the latest trends created by its newly feted designers.


In quick succession, two of Britain’s most iconic supermodels, Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss, would make their debut on the London Fashion Week catwalk.

In 1988, Naomi Campbell starred in Jasper Conran’s Spring / Summer runway show. That same year Naomi Campbell would be the first black model to feature on the cover of French Vogue, an important moment in the fight for greater diversity in the fashion industry.


Then in 1989, a 15 year-old Kate Moss had her debut show modelling for John Galliano. That same year, Kate Moss also featured on the cover of the cult magazine The Face. The editorial 'The 3rd Summer of Love' marked the start of the 1990’s and the birth of rave culture which soon swept the UK.

Together, Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss would go onto become two of the most recognisable faces of British fashion and would be part of several other important moments during London Fashion Week.


At the end of the 1980’s the UK was hit by a major recession and London Fashion Week was badly impacted by these tougher times. Government funding was cut leading to a sharp reduction in the number of shows in the early 1990’s.

Just when London Fashion Week appeared to be struggling to stay relevant a 23-year-old designer from East London would lead a revival in British fashion – his name: Lee 'Alexander' McQueen.

Like John Galliano before him, Alexander McQueen would prove to be a revelation straight from his Central Saint Martins graduation show 'Jack the Ripper Stalks His Victims'. The fashion editor, Isabella Blow famously purchased his entire graduation collection and championed Alexander McQueen throughout his career.

Alexander McQueen's first collection out of college was titled 'Taxi Driver' and was presented at the Ritz Hotel as part of a British Fashion Council initiative to support emerging designers. Inspired by the Martin Scorsese film, the collection demonstrated McQueen’s interest in experimenting with the female silhouette and marked the debut of the infamous ‘bumster’ low cut trousers. Alexander McQueen's first professional catwalk show was his Spring / Summer 1994 collection 'Nihilism', which took place at the Bluebird Garage on King's Road.

Harriet Quick, Fashion Features Director of Vogue once said of his work; "Here were capelets made out of crows' feathers, tailcoats with dramatic silhouettes. The designs were radical, disturbing and visceral at a time when taste meant sleek and minimal. McQueen's language is life, death, sex, religion - he's a true great.”


New Generation (NEWGEN) sponsorship was established in 1993, acting as a promotional launch pad for young designers. Alexander McQueen would be one of the first recipients of the NEWGEN award. Throughout the 1990’s, the careers of Antonio Berardi, Clements Ribeiro, Julien MacDonald, Matthew Williamson and Boudicca would all benefit from its support.

These designers along with the pioneering magazines Dazed & Confused, The Face, i-D and Vogue challenged what fashion could be. London Fashion Week had hit a rich vein of creativity.


A graduate of the Royal College of Art’s millinery course (founded in 1988), Philip Treacy began his career as one of a new generation of innovative, art school trained designers who revitalised the British hatmaking industry by reworking traditional hat shapes and materials.

During London Fashion Week in 1993, Philip Treacy launched his first collection. Sending Naomi Campbell down his runway bare breasted created a storm of press coverage and helped cement his reputation as one of the new fashion enfant terribles.


Hussein Chalayan was born in Nicosia, Cyprus and graduated from Central Saint Martins in 1993. His graduation show propelled him into the limelight, as he showed decomposing clothes - garments he had buried in his back garden.

In 1994, Hussein Chalayan would make his London Fashion Week debut. Again, Chalayan would burst onto the global fashion scene. His "After Words" collection in 2000, with its wooden table-cum-skirt, sealed his reputation as London's premier visionary and challenged even Alexander McQueen’s title of pre-eminent catwalk auteur.

1995 to 1998: ON A ROLL

It wasn't only the extraordinary talents of Alexander McQueen, Philip Treacy and Hussein Chalayan that lit-up the London catwalks during the 1990's. An incredible roll-call of British design talents would make their debuts throughout the decade.

Whether it was the modern take on femininity of Stella McCartney or Phoebe Philo, the technical mastery and sensuality of Julien MacDonald or the electric colours of Matthew Williamson every season seemed to launch the career of a new British fashion star.

The fashion world could not take its eyes of London Fashion Week and for a time London seemed to be the centre of the fashion universe.


London Fashion Week would become a victim of its own success in the early 2000’s. Many of the young designers who had made London Fashion Week such an important stop on the fashion merry-go-round left to take up key roles at global fashion brands in Paris.

Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney, Julien MacDonald and Phoebe Philo would leave London to head-up French houses with greater global reach. It felt like the centre of the fashion world had now shifted towards Paris after London’s period of unrivalled creativity.

The situation was only made worse by the events of September 11th 2001. New talents like Matthew Williamson, Luella, Roland Mouret and Preen that had so recently dazzled in London decided to leave the British capital to show in New York.


Two very different designers would help to re-establish London Fashion Week’s credentials as a centre of creativity and innovation: Gareth Pugh and Christopher Kane. Both would redefine how the world looked at London Fashion Week throughout the rest of the 2000’s.

Supported by The British Fashion Council’s NEWGEN fund, Gareth Pugh bought latex masks and padded coats sculpted from black PVC to the catwalk.

It cannot be underestimated how radical this collection appeared when it first debuted. A new successor to the great innovators Alexander McQueen and Hussein Chalayan had finally been found.


Also in 2006, would come Christopher Kane’s first show. This riot of neons and exposed zips would again shake the fashion world.

Straight out of college Christopher Kane created a collection that followed nobody and yet felt relevant for the newly emerging millennial youth he would come to represent.

Like John Galliano and Alexander McQueen before him Christopher Kane became an instant sensation and his entire collection was bought by Joan Burstein of Browns – the seal of approval from Britain’s fashion establishment.

Christopher Kane and Gareth Pugh would mark a new era of exciting British fashion talent; they would be followed by Erdem, Richard Nicoll, Louise Goldin, Meadham Kirchhoff, Mark Fast and Peter Pilotto. All of whom were taught by Professor Louise Wilson's MA degree at Central Saint Martins.


Celebrating its 25th anniversary, London Fashion Week would return to rude health. Alongside the new talents of Christopher Kane and Gareth Pugh, big British brand names would return to London with Burberry, Matthew Williamson, Vivienne Westwood and Paul Smith all showing again in 2009.

Not only would the fashion on the catwalks be new and exciting again but the rest of the world would sit-up and take notice with Anna Wintour returning to the front row after a two year absence. London Fashion Week was once more an important part on the global fashion season.

For the 2009 British Fashion Awards a film showing key dresses and pieces from each year of London Fashion Week's 25 years was created.


Following hot on the heels of Gareth Pugh and Christopher Kane are a new generation of designers. These designers are a cosmopolitan mix united by their British college training and dedication to the ethos of London’s innovation and experimentation.

These designers include the gender challenging creations of Jonathan Anderson, the beautifully delicate designs of Simone Rocha, the showmanship of Anya Hindmarch, the graphic patterns & prints of Roksanda Ilinčić and Mary Katrantzou. All of whom are pushing the boundaries of what fashion can be whilst creating sustainable businesses with their globally recognised brands.

The designers of London Fashion Week continue to be a draw to the rest of the world with their influence magnified even further in the digital age; London Fashion Week being the first to embrace live streaming and now leading the way in the ‘see now, buy now' revolution.

Highlights from London Fashion Week Autumn / Winter 2016

“London is always full of imagination, creativity & young designers that lead, and I think that all of us come to London to see something that maybe is a little bit different.” Anna Wintour.

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This exhibit was created by the British Fashion Council. All rights belong to the British Fashion Council unless otherwise specifically stated. All models and photographers have been credited where known.

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