Caroline Rush: Lessons from London Fashion Week

Ahead of Fashion Forward Dubai, Caroline Rush, head of the British Fashion Council, tells Vision why fashion matters – to a city and its economy – and the importance of being punctual

Why and how did you reinvigorate London Fashion Week?

Our vision was to showcase the very best of British fashion in a credible and professional way. London was seen as young and creative, but not necessarily about business. We have some incredible British fashion brands, but they felt they had to go and show elsewhere, such as in New York, Paris or Milan.

When I came on board in 2009 it was our 25th anniversary, which we used as a hook to reach out to brands such as Burberry, Temperley, Matthew Williamson and Jonathan Saunders. We ensured the guests had a very professional experience, so they understood we knew why there were there – not just to see the shows, but also to do business. We engaged with the buyers, speaking to them about championing new brands.

Famously, in that first season we told all the designers to start bang on time and quite a few of the big fashion journalists missed shows as a result. But that actually became a positive reputation; most of our shows start within 10 minutes of the advertised time. That might seem a small detail, but it is important in terms of changing perceptions about London Fashion Week from a disorganised and fragmented event, to something that is thought through, respectful of people’s time and professional.

Famously, we told all the designers to start bang on time and quite a few of the big fashion journalists missed shows as a result

Caroline Rush, Head of the British Fashion Council

How do you cultivate design talent?

We saw there was an incredible opportunity in British fashion that comes from our colleges. We have one of the best pools of design talent in the world; head-hunters from global fashion brands come to London to source people from the two big fashion schools, Central Saint Martins and the Royal College of Art. Both of these are art colleges, which really push designers because they study alongside a peer group of visual artists, graphic designers, sculptors and innovators.

That can be a challenge for us because it means they don’t necessarily understand what it means to be in business – that’s where the British Fashion Council comes in – but it does mean they have a very distinctive style. In a world where there are so many brands and so many new businesses, having a really unique and defined point of view is what sets you apart.

How important is the fashion industry on an economic and creative level?

The fashion industry is worth US$26bn to the British economy – that’s a similar size to the telecommunications sector and larger than the automotive sector. The British Fashion Council commissioned the first ever in-depth statistic-based report on the fashion industry in 2010, again in 2012 and we’re just updating the figures for a third report. The opportunity to commission research like that helps governments to understand the scale of the opportunity.

Fashion gives a little insight into the local culture and it can also be used as part of promotion. In the UK we have the ‘Great’ campaign, to promote Britain in other countries, and fashion is often used as a visual identity for our creativity. The fashion industry is a significant economic driver in most countries and that is why a lot of new markets want the opportunity to build a fashion centre.

The Dubai Design District is important in incubating talent and creating a hub that welcomes individuals

Caroline Rush, Head of the British Fashion Council

How important are events like Fashion Forward Dubai in enabling regional and international communities to support Middle East design talent?

You have to have a platform to be able to shout about your design talent. As much as digital is wonderful, you still need to create those moments and experiences that give people a chance to think about something new.

The Middle East’s fashion industry is interesting, albeit still in its infancy. It’s definitely going to be one to watch. The Dubai Design and Fashion Council, established in 2013, and its CEO Nez Gebreel have been forging new partnerships in the UK and doing a lot of work to put in the needed infrastructure; this is one of the challenges when you look at other fashion weeks, if there is no authenticity behind it, it is difficult to create a really strong identity.

The Dubai Design District, too, is important in incubating talent and creating a hub that welcomes individuals from the Middle East and other Arab countries to start their business here. It is exciting to see it put the message out that young designers can use Dubai as a hub between Europe and Asia. The more that happens, the more you get diversity in terms of the businesses in Dubai and the more that will inspire designers.