September 2009 was a turning point for British fashion, at designer level at least.
That was the season London Fashion Week started its transformation into the fashion authority it is today. You all know the drill by now: LFW was always known as the “creative” one, which was just a polite way of saying the “less influential” of all four international fashion weeks. But then in 2009, Burberry made a comeback, announcing it would leave Milan to show its Prorsum collection in London.
The impact of that decision was huge. Other designers, notably Matthew Williamson, Jonathan Saunders and Pringle, joined Burberry at LFW. At the time, no one knew whether the move was a one-season wonder, designed to attract some PR, before the brands returned to the proper business of Milan, Paris and New York.
But they stayed, and LFW flourished.
The reason for bringing this up now, of course, is due to the news this week that Burberry is to do the same for its menswear line. The British brand will leave Milan for London Collections: Men, our capital’s relatively new, but growing, menswear show.
LCM never suffered from LFW’s poor reputation, so it doesn’t need rescuing. But it’s up against established men’s fashion weeks - Milan and Paris - and, on a practical level, Florence trade show Pitti Uomo, with which LCM clashes over dates.
While LCM’s line-up is already impressive, with many designers including Jonathan Saunders and Richard Nicoll showing their collections, some of the big commercial names such as Tommy Hilfiger and Paul Smith have only dipped their toes in the water, preferring to do special events (marketing, really), rather than proper catwalk shows. Burberry’s influence on the wider fashion industry could certainly help to encourage these big names to do more here.
If that were the case, London could catch up with Paris and Milan, and leave New York for dust (not that it’s a competition…). New York still tags its menswear show to the end of its womenswear fashion week, a time when many buyers and editors are making their way to London.
With a growing consumer appetite for menswear in the UK, Burberry’s decision shows support for British fashion, as well as being a canny business move.
The only concern, of course, is Pitti Uomo. If LCM becomes all too powerful, then Pitti could suffer, as some of the more premium and luxury buyers choose to attend the former. But that’s the nature of a competitive industry. And I know Pitti thrives on innovation.
Like LCM, it will continue to think creatively and commercially, and attract the right buyers for the show. For truly great businesses, competition is a good thing.