Britain’s fashion awards has taken place with all the usual signs of glamour for such an event: 4,000 guests, including top models, designers and celebrities dressed up to the nines, being tended to by 260 butlers and surrounded by 8,000 Swarovski crystals at the Royal Albert Hall as the comedian Jack Whitehall compered.
But this year’s event – now called simply the fashion awards, the “British” bit dropped – was also the inaugural fundraising gala for the British Fashion Council’s Education Foundation charity, which provides scholarships for students to design, and supports apprenticeships. £10m is expected to be raised in the next 10 years.
Worthy cause in place, the fashion industry did what it does best – celebrating itself. The big hitters of 2016 were rewarded: Alexander McQueen was named British brand of the year and Vogue received a special recognition award for its centenary year. But, in keeping with the awards’ new cause, it was youth that dominated. This was evident in the case of Jaden and Willow Smith, 18 and 16 respectively, the winners of the new fashion icons award. The 21-year-old Gigi Hadid, up against her sister, Bella, was rightly crowned international model, as her 26.2 million Instagram followers would no doubt attest.
The design awards felt like they were focusing on youth and zeitgeist too. Craig Green and Simone Rocha – both 30 – won the British menswear and womenswear awards, which traditionally have gone to more established brands. The loudest voices in the current fashion conversation were also acknowledged.
The reworked, newly fashionable Gucci won two awards – international accessories designer for its creative director, Alessandro Michele, and international business leader, an award introduced this year, for its chief executive, Marco Bizzarri.
Demna Gvasalia, fashion disruptor du jour, was named international ready-to-wear designer for his work for Balenciaga. Vetements, the Paris-based collective where he is head designer, was the recipient of another new award, international urban luxury brand, which has been introduced to address growth of sportswear in fashion. It was somewhat incongruously presented by corset and makeup fan Marilyn Manson. Gvasalia, on message as ever, was in a GAP baseball cap.
The fashion awards emphasised the international in a post-Brexit-vote world – as ditching the “British” in the awards’ title seems to suggest. Two US giants received hefty awards. Photographer Bruce Weber, who has been taking pictures that define American style for five decades, won the Isabella Blow award for fashion creator. Designer Ralph Lauren, a regular Weber collaborator with an equal talent for American style, received the outstanding achievement award, perhaps in mind of 2017 marking 50 years of his brand.
Natalie Massenet, who chairs the British Fashion Council , described Weber as “one of the foremost photographers and creative talents of our age”, and praised 77-year-old Lauren’s “outstanding legacy”. Lauren’s award was presented by another global brand name, David Beckham, who received a huge cheer from the audience. The fashion crowd, full of those who once reserved such enthusiasm only for one of their own, is learning that wider international recognition has its charms.
The fashion industry is estimated to employ 880,000 people in Britain and generates £28bn a year for the UK economy, so focus on the next generation makes sense. The awards coincided with the launch of a British fashion platform on Google’s arts & culture site.
With content on Kate Moss’s first ever show at London fashion week and the ability to zoom in on the embroidery on an Alexander McQueen dress, it is designed to make fashion accessible. “We hope this legacy project will not only inspire but also educate,” said Caroline Rush, the chief executive of British Fashion Council.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010