What is the London aesthetic in the fashion industry? Join Ashutosh Kukreja as he traces down the legacy of the time-tested fashion capital ofthe world, London, and what it has to offer the world in terms of its style aesthetic.
Inked on the maps of history for the past two millennia, the city of London isn’t much younger than the calendar itself – it is, however, anything but old. The city isn’t a pair of worn boots lost in the sands of time; London is a vintage shirt embellished with the future – a metaphor that’s apt to describe the fashion of London, one of the most significant forces that has kept the city so young. And that’s a powerful force too, to have crowned London as a global fashion capital, simply for the increasingly interesting and unique aesthetic the city has to offer.
Hard as it may be to define the style aesthetic of a city as fashionably diverse as London, to put it in a nutshell (or attempt to!), I’d say it is the impeccably tailored bold shapes and silhouettes with eccentricity at heart that is the signature of the ‘London fashion look’. Though this aesthetic manifests itself in so many unique ways by so many different designers, if there’s one thing London fashion represents, it is power – much in tune with London as a city. And it is that spirit of power that London is a symbol of, that London fashion oozes with: a playful and powerful aesthetic.
The huge influence of fashion on London (and vice-versa) shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering how fashion is not just a tag-along. It is a deep link in the history of London, strong enough to be embedded in its very culture and civilization. Indeed, fashion has not only played a crucial role in shaping London to what it is today, but has contributed to the world as a whole – contributions without which the face of global fashion would bear a different look.
The elements of what is today considered the ‘quintessentially British fashion aesthetic’ haven’t been a recent emergence, but have developed throughout the course of centuries of dressing [RD2] in Britain. In other words, the iconic era-defining looks scattered over history have lined up to create modern-day London fashion as we know it.
For instance, the famous (or infamous?) corsetry that became as much of a characteristic feature of British fashion as a political symbol in the 18th-19th century has contributed to the art and skill of fine structural tailoring which has only been perfected throughout the years, to form a crucial element of 21st century British fashion. Along similar lines, the opulent and insanely extravagant attires of the nobility and royalty (fashion influencers of the old days, if you will) live on in terms of their larger-than-life essence in the artful fashion collections of British designers. Having said that, it’s really no coincidence that the industry hails Charles Frederick Worth, an English man, as the father of Haute Couture! The dawn of industrialisation in the United Kingdom revolutionised fashion, hiking the speed and efficiency of garment construction around the globe, with Britain being at the centre of it all. And with the transformation of London to the metropolitan, fashion moulded itself to form and function that lay the foundation of menswear for years to come.
Even the military wardrobes would go on to inspire British fashion, as the mackintosh and the trench coat were born in the trenches of the World Wars – then, to serve as waterproof, tough outerwear for soldiers, and now, simply as iconic Burberry and Aquascutum fashion pieces believed to be a staple of any British fashion fanatic.
The post-War Londoner’s lifestyle most importantly, the establishment of the popular club culture of the working classes – became a major source of inspiration to fashion then, as well as in the future. The same period, marked by a tumultuous political atmosphere with the rise and fall of empires witnessed the influx of immigrants and gave rise to the subcultures which, needless to say, affected fashion at a mammoth scale in a city that was well on its way to becoming one of the most diverse metropolises on the planet: from the Teddy Boys to the punk kids, London became an epicenter of the fashion industry, making it the shrine of style that it is today.
And although London fashion has evolved by leaps and bounds from what it was centuries ago to what it is today, if there’s one thing that has remained constant, it is that London spirit of power in the clothing – the very spirit which lends the predominant Londonness to it. However, at the same time, London fashion does in fact distinguish itself in the way it executes this essence of authority.
If London is emblematic of power in terms of its royalty, civilisation, strength and advancement (infrastructural, technological, economical or mental), London’s fashion provides a departure from this tightly bound image to something that allows more freedom, creativity and playfulness. In simpler words, London fashion offers a form of escapism from the pristine and polished, sophisticated image of London, to a world where you’re not only free to go wild, but encouraged to. And that’s exactly what makes London fashion so powerful – in such an environment of absolute creative freedom, you either go hard or go home, case in point: Alexander McQueen, Vivienne Westwood, John Galliano and several others.
In that sense, London fashion is like the rebel under the giant’s nose, one that also exists in harmony with it. And in that way, it perfectly embodies the essence of a Londoner.
That’s perhaps one of the most interesting qualities about London fashion – the fact that it’s built around the heart of the Londoner. Quirky, experimental, bold, creative, unapologetic, stylistically inclined, risktaking and essentially, a rebel at heart: Londoners can be sure to find themselves mirrored in the fashion of their City, fashion created with them as the inspiration.
Constantly defying style norms, and daring to play around with concepts of what is fashion and so-called antifashion, it radiates the London rebel attitude, and stands as a living example of art imitating life (or life imitating art). Having said that, the aesthetic shapes itself around the London lifestyle, to retain its edge and offer functionality to travel in the Tube, survive the everunpredictable weather, and make heads turn at the club. Hence, it combines wearability with artfulness – creating practical outfits with an edge to keep you warm and dry while you catch the trains in the day, and something a little more extra for the night. It’s got something to suit every style and every function for everybody, which again gives a nod to London as a cultural hotspot of diversity.
Though backed by the past, London fashion is all about the future. It sets the trends, looks ahead, leads the path and forges new ways – and it’s the sheer creative freedom that makes it powerful enough to do so! Constantly defining and redefining the industry norms, London fashion is always developing, changing, and metamorphosing to give rise to even more beautiful forms, much like the city and those who dwell within it. And though its future is ever unpredictable, since London fashion is super dynamic and you can never know what’s coming, one thing’s for certain about the future: the London aesthetic is here to stay.
You can read more of Ashutosh’s work in the coming issues of London Runway.