WORDS BY STEPHEN YU, HOLLIE MOAT & JOSEPH FURNESS
The first-ever couturier was British. Granted, Charles Frederick Worth worked in Paris, however, he was born in Bourne, England in 1825. When Worth turned 21, he headed to the French capital to become the favored designer of Napoleon III's court by drawing upon the history of costume to create luxurious, lavish gowns.
Since the mid-19th Century, fashion has moved way beyond Worth’s spangled silk dresses and corsets, but British designers are still at the forefront of the industry. Join us below as we celebrate Britain’s contributions to the world of fashion by spotlighting the best British fashion designers – from Thomas Burberry to Mary Quant to Bianca Saunders.
British designer Molly Goddard burst onto the London fashion scene circa 2015 with her big, bold and beautiful tulle dresses that encourage powerful women across the globe (including Killing Eve’s Villanelle) to get in touch with their inner princess.
Over the last few years, Goddard has proved that she’s much more than just a one-trick pony by creating a range of hype-worthy garms and accessories – including bonny bow-adorned cardigans, ruched leather handbags and balloon sleeve blouses. Who knows where she’ll take her namesake brand next.
Twenty-something-year-old Bianca Saunders – winner of the ANDAM 2021 Grand Prix – may’ve only launched her eponymous label four years ago but fashion folk already consider her one of the best designers in the UK. Her MO? She adds sophisticated, subtle details to minimalist pieces to create tailored wardrobe staples with a twist.
Informed by an eclectic selection of inspirations – from dance to modern masculinity to North East London – Saul Nash’s collections are invariably ultra-modern and unconventional. Typically, pieces created by the CMS alumnus are made with technical fabrics to sculpt the body.
The British designer is known for showcasing his sophisticated sportswear through fashion films. The 2021 Saul Nash film ‘Twist’, directed by Fx Goby, showcases his label’s AW21 collection whilst telling an essential story of acceptance.
Over the last decade, Craig Green has changed the face of fashion with his genderless collections for his namesake label and his collaborations with adidas and Moncler. Now, the British designer counts the likes of Rihanna, Miguel and Kendrick Lamar as fans of his brand. His approach? Essentially, Green takes utilitarian workwear pieces and updates them with voguish hues and conceptual details.
Let's begin with the most influential British designer of them all. Not only has Dame Viv had a career that’s spanned five decades, but she also played a part in the creation of punk clothing.
Inspired by S&M, bondage and bikers, Westwood began designing pieces during the 1970s that she sold at her esteemed Kings Road store. In her later years, Westwood has become known for her curve-hugging, corseted dresses, but she’s a rebel at heart; thus, she still regularly adorns her looks with clashing tartans, safety pins and disruptive graphics.
Stella McCartney had a rocky start to her career, but after a few seasons as creative director at Chloé, she found her groove designing sexy, feminine and quirky pieces.
Subsequent to her tenure at Chloé, McCartney launched her eponymous label, where she embraced a mature, tailored aesthetic that attracted those of the upper echelons of society. Throughout it all, she’s stayed true to her beliefs by refusing to work with fur or leather.
Grace Wales Bonner
Grace Wales Bonner has a unique perspective of her hometown of London. Shrewdly, the bi-racial designer uses her outlook to fashion modish collections for her namesake label that stands out from the crowd.
Since 2020, Bonner has collaborated adidas to rework some of their most popular silhouettes – from three stripe-adorned tracksuits to Nizza Lo sneakers. Her unlikely muses for the collection? Her father and his friends – stylish members of the British-Jamaican community who were in their prime during the 1970s.
Burberry, one of Britain’s oldest labels, didn’t start out as a luxury fashion label – it began as an outdoors wear company renowned for its hard-wearing, waterproof fabric: gabardine. Invented by Thomas Burberry in 1870, the material captured the attention of thousands, including polar explorers like Roald Amundsen and Ernest Shackleton.
In 1900, Thomas Burberry was asked by the British War Office to design a lightweight military coat for the British Army. Famously, the designer used his gabardine material to produce the timeless trench coat. Ever since this moment, the trench coat has been rocked by millions worldwide.
Alexander McQueen had a whirlwind life: he studied at Central Saint Martins, cut his teeth as a tailor on Savile Row, established his own label in 1992, had a spell as chief designer at Givenchy and even partnered with Gucci.
Sadly, Alexander McQueen passed away in February 2010 and was succeeded at his eponymous brand by his former assistant, Sarah Burton. The Lewisham-born designer will forever be remembered as the hooligan of fashion: a man who brought his collections to life with sex, gothicism, activism and a whole lot of attitude.
Scottish designer Christopher Kane’s rise to fame was rapid thanks to his Spring/Summer 07 collection that showcased glittering, body-sculpting dresses in bright neon shades. Swiftly after the smash hit show, Kane was hired by Donatella Versace to help out at the Italian brand.
Instead of settling on an aesthetic, Kane allows his label to evolve. Over the past few seasons, we’ve seen the designer play with everything from florals to metallics to minimalist sensibilities, and, most recently, we’re witnessing Kane explore the darker sides of his sartorial visions. We and the rest of the industry can’t wait to see where he goes next.
Mary Quant brought fun and fantasy to fashion during the mid-20th Century with her revolutionary mini skirts, hot pants and flower power dresses. She was also one of the first to rock Vidal Sassoon’s five-point cut that became all the rage during the early 1960s.
And although it wasn’t long before Quant switched her focus to homeware and cosmetics, her fashion line will go down in history as one of the most seminal collections ever created. There’s no denying that there’s a little bit of Mary Quant in every contemporary fashion collection. Case in point, new season Prada.
Nottingham born designer Paul Smith is one of Britain’s most famous contemporary tailors whose contributions to menswear earned him a Knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II. Smith opened up his own store in 1970 and has never looked back since.
Paul Smith’s bright and inventive approach to shirts and suits proved immensely popular; quickly, his business expanded to London and, eventually, across the globe. Now, Smith is the man behind twelve different collections, each of which celebrates his quirky yet classic personality.
From Posh Spice to revered fashion designer and businesswoman, Victoria Beckham is the queen of rebrands. Her debut collection of ten dresses was introduced via an intimate presentation, and, overnight, VB became a key player in London’s fashion scene.
14 years after the brand was established, Beckham is still dressing the beau monde in her subtle and sophisticated pieces. Thinking of investing in a VB piece? We’d recommend the British designer’s unparalleled collection of cashmere jumpers.
As with many designers, Jonathan Anderson wears two hats – he splits his time between his eponymous label and Loewe. At the former, Anderson excites fashion insiders with his chunky metal details, British insignia and agenda-pushing graphic-adorned pieces; at the latter, the British designer is putting his own stamp on the Spanish fashion house’s signature pieces.
Notably, Jonathan Anderson is blurring the lines between gender conventions. In turn, it’s not uncommon to see women sporting masculine silhouettes and men wearing lace and skirts in an Anderson-designed collection. Needless to say, we’re here for it.
Famous Parent Syndrome can be one hell of a curse, but, just like Stella McCartney, Simone Rocha has turned her situation into a superpower. Daughter of Hong Kong-born, Ireland-based fashion designer John Rocha, Simone interned at her fathers brand at a young age. Even back then, it was evident that fashion was in her blood.
Now a mother of her daughter Valentine and a fully-fledged fashion label, Rocha is recognized as one of the hardest-working British designers. What does a Simone Rocha collection look like? It's traditional femininity meets modern masculinity meets romanticism. In other words, it’s a sartorial love story.
After reaching out to Virgil Abloh, British fashion designer Samuel Ross was offered an assistant role at Off-White. Whilst working at the high fashion streetwear label, Ross started on his own brand: A-COLD-WALL*.
With ACW, Samuel Ross turns the idea of utilitarian styles on its head to create pieces that are as sleek as they are versatile. By adding functional details to sculptural garments, the designer is quite literally shaping the future of fashion.
After her 2007 debut, British fashion designer Martine Rose was snapped up by Kanye West to work on his Yeezy collection. Following this, her work captured the eye of Demna Gvasalia, who ended up recruiting the designer when he took charge at Balenciaga.
Today, Martine Rose focuses on her own line: one that's praised for its references to British subculture, comfortable silhouettes and unconventional runway shows. The moral of Martine’s story? Hard work will get you everywhere.
Bradford-born Daniel Lee is one of the most sought after designers in the world right now. Recognized as the mastermind behind ‘new Bottega’, Daniel has worked hard to get to the position he’s in today – most famously by being Phoebe Philo’s right-hand man during her tenure at Celine.
At Bottega Veneta, Daniel Lee has reinterpreted the brand’s house codes to create fresh, novel garments and accessories. From the uber functional Puddle Boots to the intrecciato leather accessories, almost every Lee-designed Bottega piece is coveted by the tastemakers of the globe.