The history of UK Fashion and Vivienne Westwood– in collaboration with RLBS

In collaboration with UCL’s Retail and Luxury Business Society, LBSS presents you: The History of Fashion in England. If you want to know how luxury evolved in Italy, go check out RLBS’s site for the other half of the series!  

Throughout the latest centuries, the United Kingdom has always been a distinctive source of fashion inspiration, with London being a major fashion capital of the world. Indeed, Britain is well known worldwide for launching extravagant trends whilst continuously having a wide portfolio of dressing styles. Nowadays, British fashion is considered to be ‘funnier’ and more street-influenced than that of other Fashion capitals such as Paris or Milan, which are more oriented towards elegance and heritage. 

A Royal fashion… 

Since the beginning, the British Royal Family has been a constant source of clothing inspiration. From corsets to look as slim as Elizabeth I to more simple and elegant outfits inspired by figures like Kate Middleton, the Royal Family’s dressing style is still looked upon by millions of people. Nevertheless, the 20th century in the UK saw the emergence of new trends that kept switching radically every decade. In the 1920’s, women started to emancipate and wear daring outfits that reflected the new freedoms they were acquiring after the War. Indeed, previously, women were not allowed to wear trousers because of the rationing of fabrics during the War, or to work in fields, which was considered masculine at that time. Still related to war and the Army, Burberry started dressing soldiers in the new gabardine fabric, then moved to the public and eventually to womenswear, always keeping the military apparel style.

 … evolving into sexual liberation 

The 1960’s marked a turning point in fashion and London became an iconic influence in the whole world. Inventions such as Mary Quant’s miniskirt encouraged women to dare being more adventurous in their way of dressing, by wearing bright colours and unusual materials such as PVC. Clothing was important to express identity and as a consequence, additional styles also emerged with rockers and mods. At this point, a huge gap emerged between people who were raised in a stricter war mindset and those who enjoyed the bolder style of sexual liberation. 

Evolution towards a punk, rock, and extravagant fashion 

The 1970’s then saw the rise of punk, with Vivienne Westwood as an icon. In the 1980’s, decadence was at its pinnacle and dressing styles were influenced by electronic music trends. It marked the beginning of extravagant hairstyles and big shoulder pads. Finally, in the 1990’s, Britpop, an alternative rock music genre inspired by the American grunge, widely influenced British people’s clothing. Iconic British pieces such as bucket hats and DocMartens boots came back into style and are more popular today than ever. In current times, London British fashion keeps its influential primacy with two Fashion Weeks per year, displaying a unique mix of clothing styles. 

Vivienne Westwood: A revolutionary woman and brand

Going back to the 70s, Vivienne Westwood – herself the main asset of her brand – managed to radically mark the fashion world by introducing a triggering innovation coming from the Punk world.

Dame Westwood’s success began at 430 King’s Road in London with her shop then called Let It Rock, known today as Worlds End. She, supported by her partner and collaborator Malcolm, decided to cross-pollinate fashion with music and graphic design which contributed to the stylistic and cultural identity of Punk. Clothes began to represent a segment of society, identifying London insiders and outsiders during a period of ethnic tensions and civil protests. Her style represented the desire to make a statement against the conservative British establishment. She embraced new stylistic expedients with materials that were torn, worn, personalised, unisex and held together with pins and chains. The garments would show provocative slogans, transforming fashion in a means of communication linking politics and society, ultimately functioning as a liberation weapon. Fashion was not solely a style for Dame Westwood. She had sustainability concerns which shaped her as an environmental campaigner and a critic of consumption also of those who consumed her own clothes.

The British luxury fashion house distribution now covers more than 80 countries, with 30 flagship stores and continues on the line of rebelling against taboos and the status quo. However, the orb logo, resembling a crown, recalls a desire of rediscovering and reminiscing about the past. This is visible also in the collections, from the Pirate Collection in the 80s up to today by spotlighting revamped period costumes. The idea of the fashion house is to bring styles that characterised the past into the present, not to forget what came before, and, without losing touch with a quintessential British nature that keeps being celebrated through tartan fabrics. 

“[…] You recognize what we make because it is not fashion, it is a story about her, and her reaction to the world”. 

If you want to read The RLBS article written in collaboration with us chick here:

Sources: ( Clarke JS, Holt R. (2016). Vivienne Westwood and the Ethics of Consuming Fashion. Journal of Management Inquiry. 25(2):199-213, )

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