As 4,000 elegant guests, including celebrities, titans of industry and fashion students descended on the Royal Albert Hall last night (5 December) for the British Fashion Council’s annual high-level shindig – traditionally held on the first Monday in December – there was a lot of discussion about who took home the best dressed accolade.
But, once the red carpet strutting ended and the scantily clad fashion kids began to thaw inside the cavernous concert hall, attention shifted to which of the nominated designers, creators and innovators would take home one of 23 glittering fragments of the night- like trophies, each designed by Yinka Illori and set with an ethical diamond.
Balenciaga’s Demna (dropped his last name) was originally nominated for Designer of the Year, but was removed from the British Fashion Awards website last week in the wake of the child pornography controversy swirling around the brand. “Balenciaga has decided not to be at the awards this year,” was all BFC CEO Caroline Rush was willing to say on the matter. Not only was Demna himself absent, but his branding was nowhere to be seen on the red carpet.
Demna’s loss was Pierpaolo Piccioli’s victory, who was awarded the most prestigious title of the evening: Fashion Designer of the Year 2022, for his work at the helm of Valentino. British actress Florence Pugh presented the Italian designer with the accolade, which was voted for by an international jury of over 1,000 industry experts, and saw Piccioli face stiff competition from Jonathan Anderson for his eponymous label, and Loewe, Matthieu Blazy for Bottega Veneta and Miuccia Prada.
Among the other winners were many of London’s most senior guard, who first made it to success in the 1990s. Charlotte Tilbury presented her good friend Katie Grand with the Isabella Blow Award for Fashion Creator, and Tilda Swinton is thrilled to have presented her friend Jefferson Hack with the Special Recognition Award for Cultural Curation: “When I imagine the culture of not only this country , but even of an intergalactic without Jefferson’s wisdom, perspective and vision, all systems crash.It is simply not imaginable.
Despite receiving the model of the year award in absentia via a pre-recorded video message, Bella Hadid gave one of the most moving speeches. “As the daughter of a refugee father from Palestine and an immigrant mother from Holland, there is a strong work ethic running in our blood… It’s not about being better than others, it’s just about being successful because our ancestors never had an opportunity like this in their lifetime.” She dedicated her award to “Palestinian children, Dutch children and any child, immigrant or refugee who has ever had a dream… I want to share this award with all the models who show up every single day and work hard with little to no recognition. I know it’s not easy and I see you.
Alongside the bigger names, the British Fashion Awards focus on spotlighting and promoting smaller brands. Indeed, the event itself is the main fundraiser for the British Fashion Council’s Foundation (last year’s event raised £1m), which financially supports young British design talent. “The UK is very different from many fashion nations in having more small independent businesses on the cutting edge of creativity and sustainability,” says Rush, who notes that the event is “a way to bring them to the fore and center on a global stage alongside luxury brands”.
London’s young but burgeoning menswear scene has been presented with gongs for two of its stars: SS Daley has received the BFC Foundation Award, signifying a cash injection for his pandemic-born label, while the 32-year-old Grace Wales Bonner, who was awarded an MBE earlier this year took home the award for Best Independent British Brand. Presenting the latter was Nigerian hitmaker Burna Boy who, in a struggle to read the teleprompter, dragged his Burberry-clad friend Stormzy onto the stage to assist.
Even The Crown star Elizabeth Debicki, looking sober in a white shirt and black chinos, had trouble reading the too-distant prompter as she handed the Outstanding Achievement Award to Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard, who famously donated his $3 billion company and all of its profits to fund climate change programs in September. Accepting the award on behalf of Chouinard, Patagonia charmain charmain Charles Conn said, “There has been incredible progress over the past two decades and many of the innovators are in this room, and much of it has occurred in this wonderful city. I know that if Ivan were here with us tonight he would say: ‘Good stuff, good start, we can do better’, and what I hope is that we will all have an incredible night tonight and then tomorrow when we wake up, we will do better.”
And moving on from The Crown stars arrived in homage to the Crown proper, as 30 London designers, including Alexander McQueen, Burberry, Erdem, Halpern and Stella McCartney, gathered to give a “fashion salute” to the late Queen Elizabeth II. The Queen’s Royal Hussars stomped out, beating their drums, before a mini show featuring tribute looks from each brand and a bagpiper to bring the segment to a Balmoral-inspired close.
“We were all ready in September, of course, for a full-blown London Fashion Week but, unfortunately, it coincided with the sad passing of HM The Queen, and so this [the Fashion Awards] It is the moment. This is the industry’s opportunity to come together,” Rush said, describing the event as “our equivalent of the Met Gala, the fashion industry’s Oscars.
“It’s what’s really needed to put the spotlight on the UK and London.”