There would be no fashion without immigration

22 Mar 2017 , 10:45am

With London Fashion Week having taken place last month and with the next round of shows in autumn, we need to ensure that the brightest and best global talents continue to choose the UK as their destination for growth.

London Fashion Week is adored by buyers and press, with an international reputation as the most innovative and experimental fashion event. The buzz around London Fashion Week increases every year, a clear sign of the creative and commercial importance of fashion. With a schedule designed to showcase the world’s most innovative emerging talent, it’s no surprise there’s excitement everywhere.

Just like music, fashion can define a generation. Tunisian born Azzedine Alaïa defined the 1980s with his bodycon dresses (still loved by socialites and celebrities alike). Malaysian shoemaker Jimmy Choo became a household name when his shoes were immortalised by Sex and the City in the late 1990s.  The late fashion legend Oscar de la Renta (born in the Dominican Republic) dressed scores of first ladies, socialites and starlets – his who’s who ranges from Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush to Sarah Jessica Parker and endless Oscar nominees.

One thing in common 

These designers have one thing in common: they are immigrants or children of immigrants. Immigration has shaped fashion.

Samantha Cameron also likes to extend a helping hand to a new generation of foreign talent and is a big fan of Serbian born Roksanda Ilincic as well as Erdem, Osman, Peter Pilotto and a host of other names. Our very own Theresa May is also not afraid to stand out from the crowd when it comes to clothes; our Prime Minister keeps up with trends and is not ashamed about her love of fashion – even though she is frequently criticised and teased by the press. This April we will see her follow Michelle Obama, America’s former first lady, as she features in US Vogue.

Across the pond, Michelle Obama is known to wear clothing designed by foreign designers Narciso Rodriguez (son of Cuban immigrants), Vera Wang  (daughter of Chinese immigrants), Carolina Herrara (Venezuelan born) and Prabal Gurung (Singaporean parents of Nepalese descent), to name but a few.

American fashion legends Donna Karan (DK), Calvin Klein and even Levi Strauss, an iconic brand practically synonymous with the USA and a life of freedom and independence, were all children of Jewish immigrants. Even Ralph Lauren (born Ralph Lifshitz) was born in the Bronx to Ashkenazi immigrants from Belarus. He is ubiquitous in fashion, heads a powerful $13.5 billion global empire and designs all of its products with an aura of casual American comfort, British class and the WASP establishment. In 1973 Diane Von Furstenberg (DVF), another Jewish migrant, introduced the wrap dress and even after 40 years her dresses remain a popular staple amongst women of all ages.

The next generation 

Following on from their Jewish predecessors, a new generation of immigrants are now breaking through from Asia such as Jason Wu (born in Taiwan) who designed Michelle Obama’s famous inaugural gown. They are bringing new energy and an eye for trends. Their success is a function of their immigrant story.

If the UK is to remain internationally competitive it should be looking to broaden and not limit opportunities for international graduates to stay on, work for a period and contribute to the economy. The UK needs a robust system that does not inadvertently shut out skilled workers. The UK remains a global hub but it is now as imperative as ever that British culture does not lose a generation of talent.

Sarah Gogan is an immigration partner at Fladgate LLP.