The World is Changing. Isn’t it Time the British Fashion Industry Collective did the Same?

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Classic Models in designs from the London College of Fashion and JD Williams, at Fifty-Plus Fashion Week 2016, with Daphne Self (centre) (Photo courtesy of JD Williams)

There.  I said it.  But I certainly wouldn’t be the first.  It just needs to be reiterated a few times until it can marinate and eventually set in.  Well that’s the intention, anyway.

Fresh off a protest staged outside London Fashion Week A/W 2017 yesterday, and after a few hours of mental wrestling and revisiting the event I had just experienced, I found myself wondering about the future of the British Fashion Industry and its need to maintain the Status Quo.  My mind then began to wander (as it often does) into philosophical mode.

I was contacted by my agency, Mrs Robinson Management in London, who asked if I would be interested in taking part in an event staged by fifty-plus fashion company JD Williams, which would be presented as a PR stunt-cum-fashion protest outside of the London Fashion Week hub on the Strand in central London. This was part of their GrowUpLFW campaign.  I was in two minds as to whether to do it, as the first thing that jumped to mind was, would people think this was a case of the older model crying sour grapes? Or would they champion the idea?  On reflection, and seeing as we are currently and unavoidably living in the age of protesters, I am really glad I attended.  It generated much to think about and reflect on, in terms of our British Fashion Industry and where it seems to be heading.

I recently returned to modelling after a 19 year hiatus (having had a few other careers in the interim, such as motherhood, going back to University, taking a BA and MA in Media – Radio and Film respectively – followed by a further Teaching Degree, a period as a Lecturer of Media and a plethora of other media and education sector related jobs), I thought to myself, this is actually a great time to return.  I was beginning to witness what appeared to be a growth change in the Fashion Industry, in that many of my contemporaries from the 1980’s and 1990’s were either still modelling or were now returning to the industry as ‘Classic Models’.  And they were getting work.  The 20-something model was no longer ‘on the shelf’.  The term Classic Model (particularly for women) had become the new buzz word, as had the use of more silver haired models in the fashion and beauty sectors.  All the while, men had not really been that dramatically affected.  Perhaps work had thinned out a little bit.  But as society dictated and as they had grown older, they became ‘more distinguished’ and there was a great and lucrative advertising market out there for them.  But alas not so for women.  Until now.

Thoughts of whether to return to modelling myself had begun to swirl around my head.  They wouldn’t stop.  I took that as a sign.  (I told you I was philosophical)  So after some enquiries, sending in some snap shots (that my now husband had taken of me), Mrs Robinson Management model agency took me on.  Photo shoots ensued.  Awkward old fashioned, organic-looking model poses needed to be revised and brought up to date.  A new classic model look was created.  Pleased as Punch, yet still rather nervous, I set about rekindling my modelling career.  If I am honest, it felt extremely weird at first.  The industry I had once known like the back of my hand had now changed almost beyond recognition.   I was being sent on castings that required models of all ages for one job, rather than one specific look.  Gone was the large, heavy (and cumbersome) model portfolio and in its place was the iPad.  Cast aside too was the trusted Model’s Travel Guide, aka the well-used and dog-eared London’s A-Z.  Smart phones with Google Maps was the way now.

With some trepidation, I would enter the castings and see mile-long queues of teenage models (of which I had once been one), which suddenly made me feel really old.  Well, naturally, one would internalise those feelings of insecurity, especially having left the industry nearly two decades previously with a somewhat youthful appearance.  I am not going to lie and say that it was easy to get my head around it all at first.  I felt like the aged runner, whose brain was still flying at 10-point-something seconds in the 100m dash, but whose body now refused to comply.  In much the same way, passing a mirror and catching my close up reflection – especially whilst getting ready for a casting – would create all kinds of ego-monster-voices in my head, that would taunt me cruelly, “Who do you think you’re kidding? What are you trying to prove?  What makes you think you can do this?  Stop this madness now and get a normal desk job!”

Needless to say, it took some time to be able to quieten down the ego and stop listening to it altogether.  I had been taken on by an agency.  I was being requested for castings.  I had begun to get bookings for jobs. QVC, JD Williams, fashion supplements in British newspapers, fashion magazines that were looking for more classic model looks.  Some people obviously had faith in my abilities and what I had to offer. And for that I was, and still am, really grateful.  Yes, ego.  You just pipe down.  I’m not listening to you anymore.  What do you know, anyway?

Last year, as I approached the doorstep to my 50th birthday, I was sent by my agency to a casting for models who were of similar ages and beyond, to take part in Fifty-Plus Fashion Week, which would run in tandem with London Fashion Week.  This was a new concept that was created by champions of fifty-plus fashion collection company, JD Williams (you might have seen their adverts that feature ageless wonder and TV presenter Lorraine Kelly with a group of friends, in various locations, wearing JD Williams’ clothing), production company ZPR and my agency, Mrs Robinson Management.  JD Williams teamed up with the London College of Fashion, whose third year students created a collection that would appeal to the fifty-plus demographic.  The students’ creations were fantastic and the models concluded that they would certainly buy the clothes, should they reach the high street.  The intention for this was that it was to become a seasonal event, something that would hopefully grow with an ever-expanding fifty-plus market in the fashion industry.  The show was a roaring success, featuring an eclectic collection of older models, whose total of ages added up to 700.  Famous old time models such as Daphne Self and original Supermodel Marie Helvin, among others, also took part in the show, which was attended by a plethora of well-known actresses, singers, designers and celebrities.  The press went to town on the event.  It seemed that this was the beginning of something great. Something that would change the face of the industry.  A change that was long overdue.

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Fifty-Plus Fashion Week 2016, hosted by JD Williams and ZPR, in conjunction with Mrs Robinson Management. (Photo courtesy of JD Williams)

 

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Fifty-Plus Fashion Show. (Photo courtesy of JD Williams)

Click here to watch video of Fifty-Plus Fashion Week 2016, hosted by and courtesy of JD Williams

In reality, the growth process has been far slower than it ought to be.  The fashion industry is filled with thousands upon thousands of Creatives, yet instead of thinking outside the box, breaking boundaries and setting the tone, as it claims to, it seems some of the industry still feels it has to keep colouring within the lines.  And colouring by numbers at that.  Instead of thinking ‘Great British Oak’, it is stuck in ‘Bonsai Tree’ mode, clipping and limiting, miniaturising and maintaining the Status Quo.

Much of Britain wanted Brexit.  Brexit is what Britain got.  So in light of this, shouldn’t the British Fashion Industry make the most of this and become true leaders (as it has been claimed)?  Our current PM, Mrs May, is reportedly very keen on fashion.  Anyone who hasn’t noticed how her fashion sense and style has changed since she came into office has either switched off their television set or been fast asleep.  Does that not place her within the same demographic as a huge percentage of the population – Fifty-plus, more affluent and more fashion conscious?   Why then, is she not thinking along these lines for the country’s Cultural Industries?  Should not Mrs May then be knocking heads with the Rt. Honourable Karen Bradley MP (Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport), Mark Garnier (Minister, Department for International Trade) and Matt Hancock (Minister of State for Digital and Culture)

On Gov.uk’s website, Mark Garner was quoted as saying of London Fashion Week,

“From street style to haute couture, some of the most iconic brands and trendsetters in contemporary fashion hail from the UK- so it’s no surprise there is a high demand for British heritage and luxury fashion”

He went on to add:

“The UK sits at the centre of the world’s fashion design talent and we are proud to be sponsoring such a prestigious event, showcasing the very best of British fashion designers.

And:

Through this trade-matching programme we are giving UK designers a tailored fit with their counterparts abroad, with the scope to boost trade by millions of pounds.

If trade is to be boosted, how should it be done?  Wouldn’t a good starting point be to be inclusive of all demographics?  After all, which are the affluent demographics that spend the most money on fashion and luxury goods which in turn, keep the industry going?

Hancock, too, made claims that:

The UK’s creative industries are a tour de force, contributing £87 billion a year to our economy. British designers are now represented on catwalks all around the world, and our industry’s alumni reads like a roll call of the fashion world’s most talented stars, including Alexander McQueen, Thomas Burberry and Alice Temperley.

London Fashion Week is a tremendous celebration of the best of British fashion, and a reminder of the incredible pool of talent that we are committed to nurturing and supporting.

Whilst many designers are creating garments that target the younger age bracket and with the catwalk being currently spilling over with models averaging the age of 17, according to a JD Williams Press Release, little thought goes into who is still funding the acquisition of these fashion garments that are targeted at this younger demographic.  It would be the parents of said demographic, whilst also fumbling through limited fashion rails and funding their own.  If many other top British designers followed in the footsteps of JD Williams, among others in other areas, who are already there, such as Saga Magazine, Simply Be and Fifty Plus, it would make for healthy competition in the industry.  It needs to be kept on its toes, to keep its grey matter going by perpetuating something new.  If you keep studying and focusing on the same genre, you will come to know or see nothing else and then you get stuck.  You start comparing your product to others within that genre. Pretty soon, you become lost and, whilst trying to keep up with your contemporaries, you will find yourself rehashing even weaker versions of your product to the next generation of instant gratification-ers, that effectively have no substance and will simply be discarded tomorrow.  Why sit on a hamster’s wheel when you can have a run of the industry?

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London Fashion Week A/W 2017 protesting outside LFW Hub on the Strand, central London. L to R: Jane Felstead, Jilly Johnson, Gina Michel, myself and Lizzie Cannons. (Photo and outfits courtesy of JD Williams)

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London Fashion Week A/W 2017 Protest March (Photo and outfits courtesy of JD Williams)

Former British Supermodel Jilly Johnson (pictured in pink jacket), now aged 63 and looking fabulous, echoed what so many of her demographic would also argue:

“Women don’t suddenly stop wearing or buying clothes after their twenties, so why isn’t this reflected in the models used in fashion shows?”

“We’ve started to be more inclusive when it comes to ethnicities and disabilities on the runway – which is fantastic – but why not all ages?”

 

Just to make this perfectly clear.  This is not a case of sour grapes.  If it weren’t for the likes of JD Williams, QVC UK and many of its featured products and designers, various British newspapers’ fashion supplements and fashion magazines such as Woman & Home,  Fifty Plus and Saga, I guess many of us would be out of work.  Well, in this field of work, anyway.  Many models have other career pursuits and nobody seems to do just one job anymore.

But fashion is a wonderful thing.  Creativity is a gift.  Inclusion rules.  So, for once and for all, come on British  Fashion Industry and London Fashion Week – catch up – can’t you see that the world is changing?  It’s time to change with it.  People are living longer.  They are looking, feeling and acting younger.  The demographic I make reference to is borne of the age of Flower Power and Punk.  Did you really think that such a demographic, rebellious in its very nature, agents of change, a nation of protesters and eclectic fashionistas  would slink away into the corner?  I think not.  Perhaps our beloved British Fashion Industry had better make like Dickens’ Fagan and start reviewing the situation.  More fifty-plus Pret-a-Porter, Haute Couture and designs on the high street… oh, and models of the same demographic on the catwalk please.

Britain loves to get in there first.  It likes to lead.  So lead. Be agents of change.  If you build it, they will come.

Philosophically yours,

Brucella Newman-Persaud

Classic Model

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