Suzy Menkes remembers a founding member of British fashion
I was sad to hear that Annette Worsley-Taylor, the founding spirit of British fashion as an entity, died this week aged 71. Her enthusiasm for helping and uniting upcoming designers laid the foundation of today’s British Fashion Council – although Annette has never been given her full dues.
Annette Worsley-Taylor MBE, originator of London Fashion Week, with her @100ladyleaders portrait at Somerset House, October 2014
The idea of bringing together as a single creative force the young fashion talents who dressed the English upper crust, alongside the burgeoning new spirits born of the social upheaval of the miniskirt era, was the skill and imagination of Annette. Inspired by the boutique Tsaritsa that she set up with a friend, tapping the talent of the then unknown Bruce Oldfield, London Fashion Week was born.
‘My earliest memories of Annette were immediately on leaving Saint Martins – she became a strong ally and a good friend,’ says Oldfield. ‘I showed my first collection for her at Tsaritsar in November 1973 by candlelight – not from choice but because of the three-day week! [Due to the industrial action in Britain that year.] Such fun times.’
In 1975, Annette founded the London Designer Collections (LDC), an invention of her own to create different aspects of the promotion of British fashion on a curatorial basis. Using a mixture of charm, chivvying and dedicated effort, she brought together designers who soon became the fashion stars of the Princess Diana years in the 1980s, including Jasper Conran, Wendy Dagworthy, Roger Saul of Mulberry, Catherine Walker and David Sassoon of Bellville Sassoon. And not forgetting Elizabeth and David Emanuel who created Diana’s wedding dress in 1981. For a great number of these designers, their fashion lifetime was brief, but they made up the kaleidoscope of the LDC, with the aim of promoting British talent internationally.
Annette Worsley-Taylor with designer Victor Edelstein
Designer David Sassoon of Bellville Sassoon and Princess Diana
David Sassoon remembers Annette for her dedication and vision. ‘She was very selective – she knew who she wanted and she really created a good team of British designers in the 1980s,’ said the designer, who felt that Annette was the inspiration of what the British Fashion Council later became.
As director of the LDC, Annette not only produced the first exhibitions and planning for runway shows, she also lobbied Margaret Thatcher’s government for official funding. Perhaps the most famous image of the era was of designer Katharine Hamnett, invited to the prime minister’s official residence at Number 10, wearing a T-shirt with the slogan ’58 per cent don’t want Pershing’, referring to nuclear proliferation. That exposure for British fashion with all its recalcitrant energy, would have engendered Annette’s wry, wide smile.
Victor Edelstein, who ultimately gave up fashion to become an artist, says that he rates Annette as the founder of London fashion, describing the designers selected to show at London’s Hyde Park Hotel in the 1980s as ‘the only edited collections’ on display.
‘She was uncompromising and such a completely honourable person – she told people what she thought,’ Edelstein said, remembering their ‘power walks’ in Hyde Park – he ambling, she purposeful.
Katharine Hamnett with Margaret Thatcher in 1984
‘But she has been so sidelined,’ the artist says, having remained constantly in touch with Annette and her husband, the literary agent Anthony Shiel.
If not totally ignored – for she received an MBE for services to British fashion in 2002 – Annette Worsley-Taylor was no longer considered at the centre of fashion week, although she was creative and marketing director and consultant to the British Fashion Council for London Fashion Week from 1993 to 2006.
As the BFC gained international traction and entered the digital age, Caroline Rush, who had worked with Annette from 1998, took over. The BFC has had a powerful fashion presence in the new millennium, especially under the chairmanship of Natalie Massenet, the founder of online fashion retailer Net-a-Porter.
Fashion people seldom dig for the source of success and Annette slipped gracefully away from the London shows she had brought to life. She was a consultant to the book Style City: How London Became a Fashion Capital, by Robert O’Byrne. It was typical of this feisty fashion figure that in the book, as in her life, she let someone else wear the laurels that she had planted and nurtured.
Annette was a consultant and Creative Director to the book Style City: How London Became a Fashion Capital by Robert O’Byrne
A statement from Caroline Rush, chief executive of the British Fashion Council.
‘Annette played a significant role in making British fashion a globally recognised industry. She was the go-to person for designers for many years and the interface between designers and the British Fashion Council. She was a great personal mentor and will be missed immensely. Her impact and influence on the British fashion industry was immeasurable and she made many significant strides forward in raising the profile of British fashion to the government as well as international media and retailers.’
Designer Victor Edelstein
Designer Bruce Oldfield