It is one of the world’s most iconic fashion events which this year drew a front-row appearance from the Queen.
But London Fashion Week, which brings designers and their fashionista followers flocking to the capital, could become one of the most high-profile victims of Brexit.
Fashion industry bigwigs, politicians and lawyers say Britain’s withdrawal could make must-have fashion styles on London’s catwalks vulnerable to design theft.
They say the issue needs urgent attention or risks designers deserting London for Paris and Milan –already powerful rivals.
London Fashion Week: Britain’s catwalk showcase could be left vulnerable to design theft
Lord Clement-Jones, an expert in the field of copyright law, said the loss of protections for unregistered ready-to-wear designs could be a ‘massive’ blow to the UK economy and is urging the Government to avoid this major fashion faux pas.
Ewan Grist, an intellectual property expert at law firm Bird and Bird, said: ‘This could leave some designs completely unprotected in the UK after Brexit and sitting ducks for copying or counterfeits.’
The UK fashion industry’s exports are thought to total £9.1billion a year, and the industry supports around 177,000 jobs.
Concerns centre on complex but vital rules known as ‘EU unregistered community design rights’. These protections mean designs first presented within the EU – currently including the UK – cannot be copied by others in the bloc for three years.
Alex Monroe, a London designer whose jewellery is sold in Fortnum & Mason, John Lewis and Fenwick shops, said the loss of these rights is a big threat.
‘We in Britain live by our distinctive and innovative designers,’ he said. ‘We’re not as big as Paris or Milan or New York, but we’re quirkier and individual, as we have these strong designs.
‘The minute you take away these exclusive, British, forward-looking designs’ USP [unique selling point], then there’s not much left. Someone’s got to bloody well look after it.’
Fashion royalty: The Queen and Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour at a London Fashion Week show last month
Labour’s Baroness Goudie said the Government needs to ‘assure those industries that they are welcome here, and do so quite quickly. Otherwise they will look to go to Paris and Milan, because they are asking and baiting them to come.
‘Organisations such as fashion week will disappear from London,’ she said.
A survey of 500 designers by the British Fashion Council in 2016, before the referendum, found that 90 per cent of the 290 that responded wanted to remain within the EU. Just 4.3 per cent wanted to leave.
The British Fashion Council has also raised concerns in a report sent to the Parliamentary Culture Committee.
The council, chaired by Net-A-Porter founder Natalie Massenet, says the loss of protections in Britain would force many businesses to reveal their designs in the EU first in order to trigger protections, ‘effectively closing down London Fashion Week as a platform to promote British businesses’.
Caroline Rush, the chief executive of the British Fashion Council, warned in the report: ‘It is a real challenge for London Fashion Week because everyone is going to want to be able to protect their designs as best they possibly can.
‘What we are going to be seeking with Government is to understand how legally you can show as part of London Fashion Week but be seen to disclose those designs maybe digitally within the EU so that those rights are protected and they are recognised on both sides.’
Jewel in crown: London designer Alex Monroe and one of his designs
Harold Tillman, former boss of Jaeger and ex-chairman of the British Fashion Council, told The Mail on Sunday it is important to protect the ‘global showcase’ that is London Fashion Week.
He added: ‘Fashion and allied services are worth £40billion to the UK in GDP. I would hope this is recognised in the terms of Brexit and protections of design rights are reciprocal with continental Europe.’
The Law Society, which represents solicitors across the UK, has also recently issued a report warning Parliament of the potential damage. Despite the threat posed by Brexit to designers, the potential for new trade deals has been cited as an opportunity by chief creative officer of Burberry, Christopher Bailey, who describes himself as a Remainer.
In September, Bailey, due to leave Burberry at the end of the year, said the potential for post-Brexit Britain to export its design is ‘enormous’ adding: ‘Britishness resonates globally.’
A spokesman for the Government’s Intellectual Property Office said that, as part of the Brexit process, the UK ‘will establish new schemes’ to protect rights like these. The spokesman added: ‘This will preserve the full scope of the unregistered community design rights in the UK.’