The Duchess of Cambridge and The Countess of Wessex hosted a reception at Buckingham Palace on behalf of The Queen to showcase the work of the Commonwealth Fashion exchange.
Erdem snaked a catwalk through the National Portrait Gallery, Christopher Kane commandeered Tate Britain, Jasper Conran hosted his guests at Claridge’s, but the contest for most glamorous venue for London fashion week was over the moment the Duchess of Cambridge sent out invitations for a reception for the Commonwealth fashion industry at Buckingham Palace.
Monday evening’s event was in honour not of a single star name, but of the scope of design talent and craftsmanship across the Commonwealth. Fashion labels including Burberry and Stella McCartney, as well as New Zealand designer Karen Walker and Bibi Russell from Bangladesh, were partnered with craftspeople from countries with which they had never previously worked and challenged to make a collaborative dress. From the palace, the dresses will travel to Australia House, where a public exhibition will be curated by Vogue’s Hamish Bowles.
At the launch, designer Euphemia Sydney-Davies, originally from Sierra Leone but now based in London, described the dress she designed from kente cloth woven by a husband-and-wife team in Ghana. Other partnerships include an Australian designer, Kit Willow, who has joined forces with a team of three women skilled in traditional shell embroidery from the Solomon Islands. “The idea was that every piece will be a gown,” said the eco-fashion activist Livia Firth. “Not everyone has stuck to that brief, but it all looks great.”
Firth, who was closely involved in the project, has form when it comes to leveraging glamour in the name of ethics. Last year’s Green Carpet awards, starring Gisele Bündchen in a Stella McCartney gown on a green carpet made of recycled fishing nets, were the glitziest moment of Milan fashion week. The event at Buckingham Palace marked Firth’s biggest coup to date, harnessing the celebrity and glamour of the women of the royal family in the cause of improving economic opportunity for the unseen millions of the fashion industry’s low-paid, largely female workforce.
“Craft is the second largest employer of women in the developing world,” said Ashia Sheikh Dearwester of Nest, a support body for a global network of small artisan businesses. Model Arizona Muse will be a red carpet ambassador to ensure the dresses meet as many flashbulbs as possible. Fashion is a globally appealing medium to bring to life what Patricia Scotland, the secretary-general of the Commonwealth, described as the core values of “fairness, economic growth, poverty reduction and female empowerment”.
Back at the National Portrait Gallery, Erdem, an award-winning British designer of transatlantic heritage who frequently has royalty on the moodboard for his grand but modern dresses – and is a favourite of the Duchess of Cambridge – is inevitably mentioned in conjecture about which designer Meghan Markle will pick for the upcoming royal wedding. As his muse this season he adopted Adele Astaire, a glamorous American who moved from showbusiness into the British ruling class when she married the son of the Duke of Devonshire in 1932. Backstage after his show he denied, with wide-eyed innocence, that the royal wedding was on his mind.
“Adele was much more talented than her younger brother Fred, and she was a career girl who postponed her engagement because she was in a show,” said Erdem. He had brought a photocopy of a photograph of Adele and Fred at Chatsworth House, the Devonshire family seat, to illustrate the show, in which 1920s polka dots and flapper-style silk dresses were mixed with tweed coats and mannish brogues. The menswear influences, Erdem said, had lodged in his mind after he designed menswear for the first time as part of last year’s collection for H&M. Rich with detail and in sumptuous fabric, but with a racier, less buttoned-up silhouette than last season’s 1950s-based show, the gorgeous clothes will do nothing to quell speculation about a royal connection.
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