Annette Worsley-Taylor: London Fashion Week founder whose passion for the best design helped turn British fashion into a global success

The industry owes an enormous debt to her vision and determination

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British fashion, whose leading directional designers show to international buyers and press during London Fashion Week at Somerset House, contributes £26 billion to the British economy. This current global success in sales and the stellar reputation for the originality of British designers under the British Fashion Council umbrella owes an enormous debt to the individual efforts of Annette Worsley-Taylor.

In 1975 almost single-handedly, Worsley-Taylor created an organisation she called The London Designer Collections to provide a platform for young and emerging British fashion. Designers in whom she believed, such as Bruce Oldfield and Jasper Conran, didn’t sit well within the existing fashion trade shows at Olympia, which didn’t differentiate between the rag trade houses and the young designers who produced more edgy, forward-looking fashion.

“For a rather ‘posh gal’ Annette was absolutely feral when it came to protecting the integrity of her designer cubs,” Bruce Oldfield remembers, “and she was a complete tartar when it came to fighting for a good space in the international show calendar and making sure that London stepped up to the mark in providing services and facilities for the press and for buyers that would equal what was on offer in Paris, New York and Milan.”

Stella Sloan, who worked closely with Worsley-Taylor at the time, recalled her extraordinary grasp of minutest detail. “She went to Olympia to check it out, for instance, and when she saw it had been painted cream, rather than the butter colour she wanted, which she knew her designers preferred, she insisted that it all be re-painted literally overnight, otherwise she wasn’t going to open. And it was.”

Annette Worsley-Taylor was born in Surrey in 1944, to Sir John Worsley-Taylor and his wife Anne (née Paget). Sir John died in 1952 aged 36, and Annette’s mother remarried, to Sir William Jaffray. Annette was educated at Downe House and subsequently did an informal season as a debutante.

In 1968, her first foray into fashion was as the owner and managing director of the chic Tsaritsar boutique in London’s Pont Street which sold designer clothes to private clients, many of whom were among her always devoted band of friends, and she also wholesaled the work of Bruce Oldfield. In 1974 she launched the New Wave Exhibition and Fashion Show, funded by the Clothing Export Council to introduce young British fashion designers she had discovered to a larger audience. A year later this had grown into London Fashion Week, with a place on the international calendar, a fashion show schedule and high-profile receptions and parties.

In 1983 she wrote a proposal for the British Designer Executive and presented this paper on behalf of the London Designer Collections to the Department of Trade and Industry, requesting official funding for a permanent London Fashion Week office. The paper was adopted by the newly formed British Fashion Council at the request of the DTI and funds were granted to the BFC for the first time.

In 1992, working from a small, two-roomed office in Beauchamp Place, she set up the London Designer Show at the Duke of York’s Headquarters in Chelsea virtually single-handedly, thereby initiating the first central industry-owned venue for London Fashion Weeks. Purpose-built tents included space for fashion shows, a press room and elegant booths for her designers, who included Oldfield, Conran, Roger Saul of Mulberry, Catherine Walker and David and Elizabeth Emanuel. Subsequently the event moved to purpose-built tents at the National History Museum, and eventually to its present location at Somerset House.

Worsley-Taylor ran London Fashion Week from 1993 until 2006, during which time she was Creative and Brand Director and consultant to the British Fashion Council on London Fashion Week. Everything came under her eagle eye, from presentation and graphic design to design, decor and the selection of designers. Fittingly, she was created MBE in 2002.

She was always an extremely elegant figurehead for British fashion. Tall, blonde, always beautifully dressed, she was to many visitors to her shows the personification of understated British elegance. But under the jewel-coloured velvets and the subtle tweeds beat a heart that always quickened when she spotted originality and daring in design, and that is what made her such a good judge of what British fashion could offer the world. She brought to everything she did great charm and enormous powers of persuasion to get everything just so, from the right flowers to the right beige for a carpet. No one ever begrudged her the extra effort.

From 2006 to 2008 she consulted and was creative director for an account of the history of her engagement with British fashion in the form of a book by Robert O’Byrne, Style City – How London Became a Fashion Capital. Latterly, having married late and very happily, she spent her time with her husband, the literary agent Anthony Sheil, between an elegant mansion flat in London, a pretty country house and long summers in Greece.

If it had not been for Annette Worsley-Taylor’s vision and determination, which should be remembered by a new generation of creative fashion spirits, London would not be the fashion capital it is today. 

Annette Worsley-Taylor, fashion entrepreneur: born Surrey July 1944; MBE 2002; married 1997 Anthony Sheil; died London 27 August 2015.