The British Fashion Council, a nonprofit trade group aiming to promote British design within the UK and abroad, was founded in 1983 and launched London Fashion Week in 1984. The British Designer of the Year title was also awarded for the first time, with the full-blown annual British Fashion Awards coming for the first time in 1989.
The first LFW was held in a West London car park, with tents erected outside of Kensington’s Commonwealth Institute. Some of the young designers to debut here were Betty Jackson, David Fielden and the Gibraltar-born John Galliano, whose French Revolution-inspired degree collection caused a flurry of excitement. Five years later, a 16-year-old Kate Moss made her catwalk debut for him.
After a successful 80s, LFW suffered in the early 90s during and post-recession — in 1992, the event was confined to just a few rooms in The Ritz and a handful of designers. However, this was also the first year of Alexander McQueen aged 23, who cracked his way into the limelight two years later with his ‘bumster’ trousers.
In 1993, Naomi Campbell took to the runway topless, bringing attention back to London, while student Stella McCartney’s 1995 collection, modelled by Campbell and Moss, sold out in its entirety. Controversy struck in 1997 when Sophie Dahl, granddaughter of Roald, walked the runway; at size 14 she struck a stark contrast with the ‘heroin chic’ models, sparking a national debate about anorexia and the fashion industry.
LFW was to again encounter difficulties in the 2000s, with British talents including McQueen and McCartney absconding to the European fashion houses, and American designers reluctant to travel post-9/11, facilitating Topshop’s 2005 debut as the first high street store to be featured.
In 2009, Somerset House became the central home of LFW and the British Fashion Council succeeded in luring back major brands such as Burberry. US Vogue editor Anna Wintour returned to the front row after a two year absence, cementing London’s return as one of the hottest events on the fashion calendar.