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News Fashion Weeks

The Business of London Fashion Week Part I

giovedì, nov 25, 2010, 14:48 / London, United Kingdom

This is the first of three installments focusing on the business side of the London Fashion Week.

She may only be sixteen, but millions of pounds rest on the way she walks. Hands on her hips, she sashays down the runway past eagled-eyed buyers who calculate profit margins faster than she can talk. All she has to do is return safely backstage without toppling over in her vertiginous heels, and the fashion house’s future will be secured – for another six months.

Behind the theatre, glamour and celebrity, London Fashion Week provides a serious business platform for designers to showcase and market their collections. The biannual trade event, organised by the British Fashion Council, is more than just a culmination of creative dreams: buyers, news agencies, sponsors and retail outlets in the capital are all looking to benefit from their equally dedicated work.

London Fashion Week is the youngest of the “big four” international catwalk influencers. First held in 1984, the event has helped launch the careers of several iconic figures in the industry. The star of the inaugural event was a young Gibraltarian-British fashion student called John Galliano who presented his unforgettable degree collection entitled Les Incroyables, inspired by the French Revolution.

Over the years, London Fashion Week has inspired many revolutions. While the innovations on the catwalk are often met with worldwide critical acclaim, the organisation of the event and the business it generates for the fashion retail industry – the second largest employer in the UK – are seldom recognised.

The British Fashion Council aims to support and promote leading British fashion designers in the global market place. Its greatest challenge is attracting big spending foreign buyers to the event. London lacks the commercial appeal of New York, renowned for big money. Neither can it compete with the allure of Milan’s offer of Italian manufactured aesthetics nor Paris’ hold on haute creativity and hegemony.

In 2007, the London Development Agency awarded the BFC a grant of £4.5m over three years (2007 – 2010) to provide specialist business support to emerging London-based designers and raise the profile of London Fashion Week in international markets. The BFC also receives generous sponsorship from its members, which include leading publishers and retailers like Condé Nast, IPC Media, the Arcadia Group and Marks & Spencers.

The funding allows the efficient staging of the six days of shows. Only a few years ago, London Fashion Week was under threat due to a slump in interest from influential foreign buyers. One of the key projects funded by the London Development Agency and UK Trade and Investment is the International Buyer Programme, which provides subsidised or complimentary travel and accommodation for selected journalist and buyers.

For the 25th anniversary of London Fashion Week, last September, the BFC spent around £40,000 on subsidising the cost of targeted buyers, which included Saks Fifth Avenue and Barneys as well as Printemps and Galeries Lafayette. Sponsors British Airways and The May Fair Hotel also offered their support to the programme.

The BFC has a particular interest in buyers from the United States and France. In order to ensure British designers have access to these lucrative markets, it has appointed a specialist New York-based fashion PR agency to promote London Fashion Week in these regions. The International Buyer Programme also extends to growing buying powers like China and Dubai. It is claimed the investment in the programme helped to generate orders in the region of £100m last season.

Pascale Camart, head of buying for women’s fashion at Galeries Lafayette has been coming to LFW for the last seven years. When asked what brings her to the capital she said: “London Fashion Week is much more ‘underground’, offers alternative to the classical fashion and is a good inspiration source.” This season, she is planning to spend four days in the city to “discover a new, young designer who makes an elaborated and different fashion with a sharp point of view compared to the other designers.”

Another revolutionary business strategy is the introduction of high street fashion to a previously exclusive high-end apparel event. In 2005, Topshop made history by becoming the first high street brand to present a collection at London Fashion Week. The company’s then brand director, Jane Shepherdson, had recently helped change the firm’s fortunes from that of a flopshop to a business generating £100m in profit for the year. However launching a high street collection alongside the likes of Julien Macdonald and Paul Smith was, at the time, deemed a risky venture.

Today, Topshop serves as one of the finest examples of what can be achieved when high street and high-end fashion collaborate. The marketing exposure and revenue generated from Topshop’s association with London Fashion Week is worth million of pounds for the Arcadia Group. Topshop in return offers generous support to young designers through its sponsorship of the NewGen programme.

NewGen recipients include Alexander McQueen, Matthew Williamson, Christopher Kane, Marios Schwab and Erdem. Their talent, nurtured through the sponsorship programme, has helped the designer fashion sector achieve a net contribution to the UK economy of £450 million per annum. As for its own catwalk presentation, the Topshop Unique show is one of the most sought-after tickets at LFW.

The London Development Agency supports the BFC as part of its role in ensuring London’s economic growth. LFW alone generates millions in tourism and retail. “Fashion, like the other creative industries, plays a vital role in London’s economic success,” said Mayor of London, Boris Johnson.

According to a report commissioned by the BFC London Fashion Week is worth £30m annually to the capital in terms of direct spend. In addition, pictures, catwalk reports and front-row celebrity gossip are circulated across the globe, generating £50m in worldwide media coverage each season.

As for the young model, she, too, is enjoying the financial rewards of London Fashion Week. Once she has made it safely backstage, a knowing smile will cross her lips. Surely getting paid hundreds of pounds to walk a few metres is much better than working at McDonalds for £5.75 an hour. That is, until you see the heels she has to wear.

To be continued.

Ian Morales | TribaSpace

Interested in reading more stories like this? Keep an eye on the TribaSpace Magazine:

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