Tailor-made to take fashion into the 21st century

Richard Northedge talks to impresario Harold Tillman, the man who boosted London's haute couture reputation

As the last models strutted off the London Fashion Week catwalks, Somerset House launched into London Fashion Weekend, a shopping showcase in which the public can snap up designs that have been on display over the past seven days.

And today, Harold Tillman, the rag-trade entrepreneur who has revitalised the industry, can look back on another job well done. He estimates that the delegates and department store buyers who attended pumped £30m into London and will place £100m of orders for the designer brands they saw on the catwalks.

With a general election looming, the party leaders' wives, Samantha Cameron and Sarah Brown, welcomed an opportunity to be photographed beside top models and top designs. But if fashion is politics, it is money too, and the Chancellor's wife, Maggie Darling, invited the dapperly dressed Tillman and the industry's elite to breakfast at 11 Downing Street.

"Fashion is about more than just the clothes people wear or buy," she said. "It plays a key role in our economy and culture, which is why today's meeting is so important." While her husband read the headlines about his "forces of hell" interview the previous evening, she introduced designers such as Ozwald Boateng to trade officials and ministers.

Lord Davies, the former chief of Standard Chartered bank who resigned to become a trade minister, says: "I am fiercely proud of UK fashion. London Fashion Week is innovative, urgent and revolutionary. However, the contribution that this explosion of creativity makes to the UK economy is not fully appreciated or understood."

British designers export two-thirds of what clothing they still produce and the UK footwear industry sells more than 90 per cent of its output overseas. That's why UK Trade & Industry, the government body that promotes exports, is one of Tillman's sponsors for Fashion Week.

Tillman, 63, became chairman of the British Fashion Council, the trade body behind London Fashion Week, two years ago, succeeding the Marks & Spencer chairman, Sir Stuart Rose. To coincide with the week's quarter-century he has launched a "25-year legacy plan" to give the event a new strategy. After years when the week shifted from Chelsea to Battersea to South Kensington, he found it a new home in central London, beside the Thames at Somerset House.

His reconstruction of the fashion council brought in two full-time paid chief executives and a determination to make the London show rank beside Paris, Milan and New York.

"In September, we celebrated our 25th year and our schedule is arguably the most exciting, and certainly the most diverse, of the four international fashion weeks," says Tillman. "One of our most exciting initiatives this season is the launch of London Fashion Week's digital schedule to stream their shows live."

Twitter and Facebook carried updates on the week while website visits jumped by 30 per cent. Burberry's show was broadcast live in 3D to Tokyo, Dubai and Los Angeles and, pointedly, to New York and Paris.

Some 68 designers had runway shows last week with another 29 showing elsewhere, electronically or in person. The Fashion Week exhibition featured 200 designers selling and showing their collections.

And prominent among the labels is Jaeger, the 125-year-old company bought by Tillman in 2003. The retailer was close to collapse then but now sells through 765 outlets worldwide and made over £6m profit in its latest reported year on turnover of £86m. He recruited Belinda Earl, the former Debenhams boss, as chief executive and she sits on the British Fashion Council's advisory committee beside rivals such as Jane Shepherdson, the one-time Topshop director who now heads Whistles. Last September, Tillman added Aquascutum to his portfolio, buying it back from its Japanese owners. He admits: "We are pleased to be able to return this global luxury heritage brand to British ownership."

His business interests also include chairing Complete Leisure Group, the sports marketing company where Lord Coe is a director, and Allders, the Croydon emporium that claims to be the world's third-largest department store, plus a restaurant group.

But his career has not always been so successful: after bringing Lincroft Kilgour to the stock market at 24 – the youngest person to float a company – he came unstuck when he sold out and bought into another textile group that went bust. Department of Trade inspectors were critical and proposed his disqualification as a company director: Tillman settled for spending three years outside the boardroom. He says his greatest achievement is the complete recovery of his reputation.

The Londoner came from a textile-trade family and after training as an accountant he studied at London College of Fashion – which he now supports with a £1m scholarship fund. He rose from apprentice to managing director at Lincroft Kilgour, employing the young Paul Smith at the Savile Row firm.

That background has allowed Tillman to make the week more commercial while it remain a showcase for cutting edge design. "Talent is at the heart of London Fashion Week," he says. It is what attracts sponsors such as Canon, BlackBerry, Mercedes, Tesco and Coutts.

The UK clothing and footwear industry's output is around £9bn a year, with exports totalling an impressive £6.4bn. However, they are dwarfed by imports: UK consumers spend £46bn on such items. The designer end of the market is worth £2.1bn and makes an estimated annual net contribution to the British economy of £450m.

Tillman hopes fashion week can help redress that trade imbalance. His latest project is to chair a designer fashion fund that will give £200,000 and mentoring support to help turn an established designer from a developing talent into a global fashion brand.

The shortlist includes Christopher Kane, Angel Jackson and Nicholas Kirkwood; the winner will be announced in May. Tillman has recruited sponsors including HSBC, Marks & Spencer and Harrods. He is still looking for additional backing but says: "The industry support that we have received so far has been fantastic. I strongly believe this scheme will play a key role in developing business in the future."

Meanwhile, trendsetters eager to wear what will not be in the shops for several months have their chance today at Somerset House before the Fashion Weekend ends. Discounts of up to 75 per cent mean that high fashion from 100 designers, including Vivien Westwood, Versace and Lulu Guinness, is on offer at low prices. Tillman will be counting his success.

Arts and Entertainment
Sheeran arrives at the 56th annual Grammy Awards earlier this year
musicYes, that would be Ed Sheeran, according to the BBC
Sport
Rio Ferdinand, Alan Shearer, Alan Hansen and Gary Lineker during Hansen's final broadcast
Sport
News
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll has brought out his female alter-ego Agnes Brown for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
filmComedy holds its place at top of the UK box office
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
people
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Eminem's daughter Hailie has graduated from high school
music
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
One Direction star Harry Styles who says he has no plans to follow his pal Cara Delevingne down the catwalk.
peopleManagement confirms rumours singer is going it alone are false
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Arts and Entertainment
'Deep Breath' is Peter Capaldi's first full-length adventure as the twelfth Doctor
TVFirst episode of new series has ended up on the internet
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Life and Style
Once a month, waistline watcher Suran steps into a 3D body scanner that maps his body shape and records measurements with pinpoint accuracy
techFrom heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows, Network Security)

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows...

Service Desk Analyst (Windows, Active Directory, ITIL, Reuter)

£35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Windows, Active Dire...

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?