When it comes to fashion, the talent in Britain is largely unrivalled. Sure, Paris and Italy have had a great crop of designers over the years, but apart from the exports coming out of those two countries, Britain really doesn’t face any competition. We have given the world the likes of Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney and Paul Smith. Here we round up our top ten.
Back in 1825 the first couturier in the world was born. Where was Charles Frederick Worth born? In Britain of course. He moved to Paris and set this as his work place, but he was very much English. Since, we have seen a whole stream of British fashion designers who have set the tone for the rest of the world and have become some of the most influential fashion designers on the planet.
The likes of Vivienne Westwood, Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney and Paul Smith have all paved the way for how fashion has turned around in the past 150 years. British designers were the ones who were responsible for Punk and the Swinging Sixties and more recently the streetwear, and the resurgence of chav culture has very much been championed by British fashion houses, influencing other designers across the globe to do the same.
What is it that is so special about British designers then? They know exactly which boundaries to push and when to push them. Vivienne Westwood was the stalwart who basically created and endorsed (and still does) the punk movement, which was revolutionary at the time. British designers are the epitome of avant-garde.
Paul Smith is undoubtedly not only one of the most famous designers to come out of Britain, but also one of the most famous men full stop. The Nottingham-born designer is this country’s most celebrated tailor and his contributions to menswear are almost unrivalled. Since 1970 Smith has been setting the tone for this country’s tailoring, sticking to his ‘classic with a twist’ way of thinking. Smith takes reference from high fashion as well as formalwear.
Smith sticks to the saying that ‘you can find inspiration in everything’, which means that some of his designs have been the most eclectic this country has ever seen. In 2000 he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for his exceptional services to fashion, and in particular to menswear.
In 1970 he opened his first shop in Nottingham. Today he has over 300 shops worldwide and an annual turnover of more than £200 million. He was the first designer to open up shop on Covent Garden‘s Floral Street and in 1993, after realising that 15% of the people buying his clothes were women, he launched a womenswear line. He now also stocks children swear. For men he has three lines: Paul Smith, PS by Paul Smith and Red Ear Japan, and he has quickly become one of the top English clothing brands. He is undoubtedly one of the best British designers that this country has produced.
There is barely a soul alive who hasn’t heard of Dame Vivienne Westwood. She fronts one of the top fashion houses that Britain has ever seen. She is responsible for the progression of punk, ever since she worked on the Kings Road at Malcolm McLaren’s (of the Sex Pistols fame) shop, which was known as ‘SEX’. The band wore McLaren’s and Westwood’s designs and obviously they quickly gained attention.
Westwood was impressed by the shock value of punk and how someone could put a spanner in the works. She went on to open four stores of her own in London, before expanding across the country. Everything she sold had a heavy political reasoning behind it and this is what has made her one of the biggest fashion designers of all time. She was the architect of punk and said “”I was messianic about punk, seeing if one could put a spoke in the system in some way”.
Today, she is still this country’s most famous designer. She puts her personal and political views into all her designs for men and women. She is a supporter of the Green Party and her designs have been worn by everyone from Marion Cotillard and Pharrell Williams to the Duchess Of Cornwall.
The late Alexander McQueen was one of the best designers in the world. From 1996 to 2001, he fronted Givenchy, while also founding his eponymous label. After graduating, it was famed fashion stylist Isabella Blow that paved the way for his career. She was his mentor and soon he was putting out collections. ‘McQueen’s Theatre of Cruelty’ and ‘Birds’ are two of the most famous fashion collections ever made and cemented Alexander McQueen as one of the most famous fashion houses.
Throughout his career he had some stellar moments, including designing David Bowie‘s tour costumes. At the beginning of his career he was met with controversy due to the care-free nature of his collections and designs. He was known for a theatrical staging of cruelty, focusing on the hardships of life and he became known as ‘l’enfant terrible’ and the ‘hooligan of English fashion’. He was famous for creating the ‘bumster’ which defined his menswear. It was a low-rise trouser which spawned the rise in low-rise jeans and became celebrity favourites all over the world. He combined technology with fashion and his catwalk shows were famed for their extravagance.
In 2010 he committed suicide, but his house has continued to reign.
Stella McCartney had a rocky start to her career, being blasted with claims of nepotism (her father is Paul McCartney and mother is Linda McCartney). However, since then she has grown to become one of the best British fashion designers in this country. She graduated from Central Saint Martins in 1995 and her graduation show had the likes of Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss and Yasmin Le bon walk in her clothes. It was then that people knew she was going to be a big name.
In 1997 she was appointed creative director of Chloe, before founding her own company in 2001. Today she has 18 stand alone stores across the world, has a menswear line as well as womenswear, a lingerie line, a skincare range and Stella McCartney Kids. In 2004 she launched a long-term collaboration with Adidas, designing a range of womenswear for the brand which is still going strong today. In 2012 she designed Team GB’s 2012 Olympics’ uniform. She was reappointed again for the 2016 Olympics.
McCartney supports PETA and refuses to use fur in her designs.
Although relatively new on the seen, Craig Green has already made waves. Initially mocked by David Gandy, his debut collection was like nothing else, which he presented for Autumn/Winter 2013 as part of Topman’s Fashion East. In 2014 he returned to the London Fashion Week Men’s schedule and this was his first ever solo show. He was recognised by Comme Des Garcons, who allowed him to showcase his work in the Dover Street Market windows in London.
Nick Knight, the famed fashion photographer, has said that Green has paved the way for more designers to be as open in their designs. Green puts outfits down the catwalk that one wouldn’t usually expect to see, but this has now become the norm with the likes of Skepta and Rihanna wearing his pieces. He has won numerous awards including the British Fashion Award for Emerging Menswear Designer.
Christopher Bailey is the chief creative officer and president of Burberry. He started out as the womenswear designer for Donna Karen before moving to a design role at Gucci. He joined Burberry in 2001 and has since gone from strength to strength. He is thanked for changing Burberry’s vision and taking away its negative connotations that the fashion house was plagued with during the Noughties. He is famed for turning its fortunes and making Burberry the leading digital fashion brand in the world.
In October 2017 it was announced that Bailey would be leaving Burberry after 16 years, to pursue other projects. Whatever happens next, it will never be denied that the Christopher Bailey era of Burberry was its best and probably always will be. He is the reason models such as Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell have become so well associated with the brand.
60’s British fashion designer Mary Quant is one of the fashion industry’s icons. She was instrumental in the 1960s, especially with regards to the creation of the mini skirt, hot pants and the Mod movement. Ernestine Carter, an extremely influential fashion journalist at the time, said of her: “it is given to a fortunate few to be born at the right time, in the right place, with the right talents. In recent fashion there are three: Chanel, Dior and Mary Quant.”
Quant is thanked for encouraging people to have fun with fashion and to just treat it as a big game. In 1963 Quant was the first winner of the Dress of the Year award and became one of the best British dress designers. She was awarded an OBE in 1966, before having it renewed in 2015 and has been given a place in the British Fashion Council’s Hall Of Fame.
Christopher Kane as a label was started in 2006, after Kane graduated from his MA at Central Saint Martins. He joined forces with his sister and the pair created the label. He is recognised now as the man who brought high fashion back the British fashion industry, something it was lacking.
While the styles of his collections may vary, his aesthetic and design is instantly recognisable and he has become a figurehead of some of the finest fashion that this country has to offer. His clothing is distributed in 30 countries and since its inception the company has expanded. He has a bi-annual Spring-Summer, Autumn-Winter womenswear collections into Resort in 2010, and in 2013 introduced his first Pre-Fall offering. Menswear was a new category that was added in Spring 2011 and has been a huge success.
When she first announced that she was going into designing, ex Spice Girl Victoria Beckham’s decision was met with scepticism. She launched it as a low key presentation in 2008, but by 2011 the latest collection was being shown as a fixture in New York Fashion Week. She has seen huge success, with her dresses in particular being heralded as some of the best in the world.
Alexander Fury has suggested that her success is purely down to her designs rather than the celebrity status, and a recent guest editorship of Vogue Paris has cemented her as one of the figureheads spearheading the fashion industry at this current moment.
The 8 Best British Fashion Designers of All Time
- Paul Smith
- Vivienne Westwood
- Alexander McQueen
- Stella McCartney
- Craig Green
- Christopher Bailey
- Mary Quantas
- Christopher Kane
- Victoria Beckham
On That Note
Britain has put out some of the best designers the world has ever seen. From the likes of Vivienne Westwood and Alexander McQueen to Mary Quant and newcomer Craig Green, this list compiles some of the best in British luxury fashion brands. These are some of the major fashion designers that the fashion industry has ever had and it doesn’t look as though the exports coming out of Britain will end anytime soon, with plenty of fresh new talent emerging everyday.