Stella McCartney, Philip Treacy and Paul Costelloe on what makes London Fashion Week so special

As the event marks its 40th birthday, long-standing designers share their most memorable moments

Lauren Cunningham
Friday 16 February 2024 10:49 GMT
Supermodel-studded shows, royal guests and celebrity run-ins all add to the London Fashion Week buzz
Supermodel-studded shows, royal guests and celebrity run-ins all add to the London Fashion Week buzz (Paul Costelloe)

Birthday celebrations are in order, as London Fashion Week turns 40 this season. Seen as one of the big four fashion capitals, alongside Milan, Paris and New York, it has cemented London as one of the best cities for fashion across the globe, highlighting the UK’s love of all things sartorial. In 2023, UK womenswear sales were estimated at around £31.9bn, while menswear sales were estimated at £15.6bn, according to the British Fashion Council.

But before we look to the season ahead, with 94 autumn/winter 24 shows and events taking place this weekend, including Burberry, Emilia Wickstead and Roksanda, we sat down with some of the longest-standing designers to find out their most memorable moments from the past four decades – supermodel-studded shows, royal guests and celebrity run-ins all included.

First appearing on the London Fashion Week schedule in 1984 and holding the Friday morning slot this season, Paul Costelloe is one of the most well-versed people in London Fashion Week. “One of my first shows was called ‘Witness’, and it was shown at the Olympia, London. The shows were huge back then and full of press from all over the world. No influencers or bloggers then!” Costelloe shared.

Paul Costelloe’s recent London Fashion Week highlights
Paul Costelloe’s recent London Fashion Week highlights (Paul Costelloe)

When asked about his most memorable moment, he said: “being there when the great Katharine Hamnett met Margaret Thatcher in Downing Street” springs to mind. Although, “seeing my pink and white linen dress on the catwalk, and then seeing Princess Diana wearing it a few weeks later,” is up there too. “She always had her eye on my shows during London Fashion Week. There is an iconic image of her and the star of opera Luciano Pavarotti wearing my navy silk/satin evening suit, which had only graced the catwalk a week before,” Costello added, reminding us all of the power these fashion shows have in showcasing designers’ collections to a wider audience.

Meanwhile, Philip Treacy’s London Fashion Week journey started not long after Costelloe’s, in 1993, when hosting his graduate show with a supermodel-studded line-up. “I called up Christy Turlington – meeting her was unbelievable because she was the most beautiful woman in the world, and also the sweetest. She said OK, then she persuaded all the other supermodels to come and do this show. So, that was my beginning in London Fashion Week – a fashion show where all the supermodels came to town.

“London Fashion Week has had many ebbs and flows over the years, but it's always been buoyant, and it's always full of surprises,” Treacy added, before talking about the event’s importance for those in the industry: “People explode to London Fashion Week, all the time,” he said. “We've all had London Fashion Week moments that helped our careers dramatically.”

(Philip Treacy)

But what sets London apart from the other fashion capitals? According to Stella McCartney, it’s all in the diverse blend of brands: “London has the perfect mix of heritage craftsmanship and forward-facing vision. You have the iconic locales like Savile Row, where I trained under the master Edward Sexton himself, alongside this incredible scene of schools and parties where people are pushing the boundaries,” shared the vegan luxury label designer.

“From legends like Alexander McQueen to Vivienne Westwood to the emerging generation of talent coming out of Saint Martins, what I have always loved about London Fashion Week is how edgy and experimental it is,” McCartney added. “It has a real punk attitude, which is very British and unique to our city.”

Plus, there’s no short supply of celebrity sightings. Seventeen years after showing her graduate collection at London Fashion Week in 1995, Stella came back to London with a bang. “I presented my autumn/winter 2012 collection at London Fashion Week. It was right around when we were about the host the Olympics here, when I did the costumes for Team GB, so it felt like the right time to do a show here, in this city that has raised me and supported me. I think that was the night Rihanna met Kate Moss for the first time, Shalom Harlow and Yasmin Le Bon were dancing on tables – it was iconic.”

Stella McCartney’s London Fashion week shows in 1995 and 2012
Stella McCartney’s London Fashion week shows in 1995 and 2012 (Stella McCartney)

So, as the event gears up for its 40th year, what can we expect to see during the week ahead? And how is this event different from the first-ever show? Caroline Rush, CEO of the British Fashion Council, shares there’s been a significant shift, thanks to technology: “What once existed purely as a means for a designer to showcase a collection to someone within the industry, has since transformed into an opportunity for brands to engage with both trade and consumer audiences.”

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