British fashion is possibly more innovative than it has ever been – but is it reaching the masses? Or, is there an undeniable gulf growing between the worlds of the High End and the High Street?
When it comes to the democratisation of fashion, Britain is king. In the last five centuries we have come further than any other nation, putting behind us the days when society determined the clothes people were permitted to wear, to become an unrivalled fashion culture of free expression.
As new generations of increasingly uninhibited and spontaneous young fashion minds make their way into the industry, we are no longer shocked when they showcase the unimaginable. There is something so magical about how fashion in Britain provides freedom of expression and an entire ocean of opportunity where (pretty much) anything goes.
British fashion is a conglomerate of snippets from our vast cultural universe. Unlike some of our European neighbours, the history of British fashion does not have a simple storyboard that moves from one iconic designer to the next.
British fashion lives and breathes culture and relies on a blend of controversy, sociology and childlike imagination to keep its heart beating. It is the markets, the second-hand shops and the art scene in Britain that make our fashion stand out.
Despite the common opinion that we are judgemental as a society, we can freely walk the streets of London donning whichever style we feel portrays our personality or makes a statement about ourselves to the world. The underground rebellion against conformity creates fashion that goes from the street, to the design houses, and back to the street again. Or at least. this is what we hope it does.
With students at British fashion schools being encouraged to take inspiration from increasingly unusual sources, high fashion is in danger of becoming more estranged from the street than ever, and harder to relate to as a form of art.
Many view the high fashion of the last few years as ludicrous, and are unable to understand its origins – or its purpose. In many collections, fashion has lost its functionality. It is a difficult discussion – to discourage innovation would be foolish, but for fashion to be accessible to an exclusive few simply does not fit with the way the contemporary world works.
Consequently, the ravine between the high street and the catwalk continues to grow. As these poles become more disconnected, should they be seen as two different worlds that exist completely apart from one other?
In previous decades, high fashion was something to aspire to, showing women how to dress to look feminine and modern. The fashion in magazines was not too different from what was available to buy in high street stores, enabling the consumer to take a snippet of high fashion into their own wardrobe. It focussed on fit, fabric and sophistication – today this agenda has changed, and fashion has become a constant search for the new, its ultimate goal being to find uniqueness.
The more that fashion design is regarded as an art form, the more elitist it becomes. Amongst students, high fashion is held in higher regard than commercial fashion, and design jobs after graduation are viewed according to this hierarchy. This is concerning, as commercial fashion is the passage through which innovative design reaches a mass audience.
University might be the time many designers are at their most experimental and challenging, it is important to encourage commercial design alongside this, to preserve on the high street the culture and eccentricity that British fashion is renowned for. Without this, the industry is at risk of becoming top heavy, without enough channels through which high fashion can filter down to the high street.
Closing the gap between the high street and designer fashion is vital if we are to make fashion a more inclusive industry. Designer collaborations are a popular way of establishing the connection between high-end and high-street. Take Isabel Marant, whose collection for H&M sold out in under an hour.
Marant is a radical designer whose designs value unusual textiles and embellishment. Her collection brought something unusual – something beyond the realm of conventional high-street collections – to the shop floor.
Offering consumers an insight into the world of designer fashion, sparking interest and intrigue, the collection showed that amongst high street shoppers, there is a strong demand for unconventional, exciting aesthetics.
Spring/Summer 2014 saw high fashion return to a modern take on ‘90s minimalism; sharp, chic and beautifully made. In the 1990s, designers such as Marc Jacobs created collections that incorporated beautiful fabrics and flattering cuts into fresh and forward-thinking designs. It was an aesthetic that high street shoppers could connect to and be inspired by.
It is possible that fast fashion has had its day; we now seek quality in what we buy and think more about the longevity of the pieces that we indulge in. High street stores with a luxe feel such as Whistles offer accessible fashion that is well-made and has a designer look without the price tag. Beautiful fabrics and techniques that focus on craftsmanship, factors that not often associated with the high street, are the base of such brands’ success.
So, perhaps the tide is turning. Perhaps there are enough figures in the industry that believe in the evolution of the high street and in bringing fashion back to the people. Perhaps corporations such as George are proving the credibility and opportunities of a career on the high street.
We have such a unique culture in Britain and such a vast, inspirational history that to let it go to waste or to close it off to all but a few would be a waste. Craftsmanship is making an almighty comeback – fast fashion is no longer fulfilling or fascinating.
Bring back innovation to the high street and let us prove why we are one of the most creative and captivating fashion hubs in the world.