London Fashion Week opens under Brexit cloud

Pauline FROISSART
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London Fashion Week got under way on Friday, launching spring/summer 2020 collections under a Brexit cloud and in the face of opposition from environmental activists

London Fashion Week got under way on Friday, launching spring/summer 2020 collections under a Brexit cloud and in the face of opposition from environmental activists (AFP Photo/Niklas HALLE'N)

London (AFP) - London Fashion Week got under way on Friday, launching spring/summer 2020 collections under a Brexit cloud and in the face of opposition from environmental activists.

The collections on show are set to come out after Brexit -- a divorce bitterly opposed by the UK fashion industry.

A survey by the Fashion Roundtable consultancy found 96 percent of British fashion sector professionals backed Britain staying in the European Union in the 2016 referendum, fearing customs bureaucracy and restrictions on the movement of workers.

"The fashion industry is extremely global. We need talent from all over the world to come," British Fashion Council chair Stephanie Phair told AFP.

The BFC, which promotes the industry and organises the five-day London Fashion Week (LFW), is against a no-deal Brexit on October 31 -- something Prime Minister Boris Johnson says must happen if a new deal cannot be struck with Brussels.

If business between Britain and the EU were to come under World Trade Organization rules on November 1, it would cost the fashion industry £850-900 million, according to a 2018 study by the UK Fashion and Textile Association.

The British fashion industry contributes £32 billion to the British economy and employs nearly 900,000 people, according to the BFC, claiming it was nearly as many workers as the financial sector.

In September, it urged the government to strike a divorce deal with the EU "that would guarantee the healthy and steady growth of the fashion industry".

- Blood-stained robes -

Besides Brexit, the British fashion community is being challenged to do more on the environment.

Extinction Rebellion had called for LFW to be cancelled. The environmentalist movement is planning acts of civil disobedience in protest at what it calls one of the world's most polluting industries.

They gathered on Friday in blood-stained white robes near the entrance of the main LFW venue in central London.

Their activities are due to culminate on Tuesday with a "funeral procession" to "commemorate the loss of life due to climate and ecological breakdown" -- in front of the main LFW venue in central London.

Against that background, the design duo VIN + OMI are due to show off a collection on Tuesday including textile pieces made with recycled plastic -- and even nettles from the garden of Prince Charles, the heir to the throne.

The BFC is also trying to highlight industry best practices in sustainable development and ethics with a dedicated exhibition.

First up to present his handiwork on Friday was knitwear ace Mark Fast, with some green, pink and neon yellow creations inspired by the colours of the Amazon rainforest.

Bora Aksu's collection meanwhile paid homage to the Persian princess Taj Saltaneh, a feminist and women's rights activist in the early 20th century.

"A princess but a strong one," the London-based Turkish designer told AFP after his show.

On Brexit he added: "I am optimistic but the direction it is taking is not looking very nice."

He said a no-deal Brexit would mean "a lot of obstacles" in sending garments to Europe.

- Beckham and Burberry -

Despite the sombre backdrop, designer Molly Goddard is set to sprinkle a little magic over the proceedings on Saturday.

The Londoner graduated from the city's prestigious Central Saint Martins arts and design school and made a name for herself be creating the pink dress worn by the murderer Villanelle in the British spy thriller television series "Killing Eve".

Other headline shows include those of Spice Girls singer-turned-designer Victoria Beckham.

Last year, the British star of the New York catwalks presented a collection in London for the first time to celebrate her label's 10th anniversary.

This year, she is launching a beauty products range.

British fashion heavyweight Burberry is set to be another highlight.

The label is under the direction of chief creative officer Riccardo Tisci, formerly of Givenchy, who is known for celebrating diversity in his shows.