By WWD Staff
LONDON – Fashion industry figures across Europe expressed their dismay at the U.K.’s shock decision to exit the European Union as market losses widened and the pound fell to its lowest level against the euro in three decades.
Britain’s pro-Europe Prime Minister David Cameron has revealed plans to step down in October, arguing that he is clearly not the man to finesse the raft of new trade deals that will be required with the EU, while Bank of England governor Mark Carney has assured the country there are contingency plans in place to keep the economy humming and financial markets moving.
British designers, universities and related institutions were very much in favor of the country remaining in the EU, arguing the freedom of trade and flow of citizens was a boon for business – and creativity.
Many in the industry throughout Europe immediately took to social media to express their disappointment in the result, which saw a record turnout of 72.2 percent, with 52 percent voting in favor of Leave and 48 for Remain. Analysts also warned that the result could impact luxury goods and fashion firms that do business in Europe, given the drop in the value of the pound against the euro and dollar.
“A dark day indeed,” wrote Christopher Raeburn, who took his bow during London Collections: Men earlier this month in a T-shirt that trumpeted his pro-Europe stance. “Heading to Paris for SS17 sales, to continue to meet and work with our European friends and to work out how this will impact in the longer term.”
Sibling’s Cozette McCreery, who took her bow at the men’s collections with co-designer Sid Bryan wearing an IN T-shirt, wrote: ‘I’ve never been more disappointed in my own country. A divided country. An idiot Prime Minister. A fool waiting in the wings.”
Adrian Joffe, chief executive officer of Comme des Garcons and Dover Street Market, told WWD: “F–k democracy, we’re back in the Middle Ages. For me, it’s a step backwards, it’s not the modern world. The modern world is about being together and working together. I’m devastated. I want freedom of people, freedom of movement. For me it’s anti-creative thinking.”
Speaking at his spring 2017 men’s presentation for the Spanish brand Loewe, Northern Ireland native Jonathan Anderson expressed sympathy for the young people U.K., many of whom voted to Remain in the EU. “Their voice will now not be heard,” he said.
“I think it’s very, very disgusting, this situation,” Anderson said. “We’re really just voting here about immigration. To be honest, we should never have voted on this in the beginning.”
He said he was puzzled about Brexit’s potential impact on his eponymous London-based business. “I have no idea,” he said. “It’s very worrying to be at this moment…I really hope American looks to a situation like this and takes note. This is the world we live in. It’s that radicalized.”
“Beyond the economic impact, there’s a political and cultural aspect,” said Pascal Morand, executive president of the Fédération Française de la Couture, du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode – French fashion’s governing body. “It’s an inward-looking instinct. Fashion is at the opposite of anything inward-looking. Fashion is about open-mindedness and fashion is at the forefront of modernity, internationally, digitally and esthetically,” he said before adding: “We have to be even more tight-knit than before and move forward. It’s a question of values.”
“It’s a very bad news,” said François-Marie Grau, managing director of the French Women’s Ready-to-Wear Federation. “The U.K. is our fifth client in terms of clothing exports. French apparel exports to the U.K. were up 16 percent to 750 million euros [or $832 million at average exchange] in 2015.
“We see two impacts in the short term, plus one big uncertainty: firstly a monetary effect with the plunge of the British pound that will make our collections more expensive. Secondly, we’re bracing for a challenging export market with a decrease of consumption in the U.K. Then, the U.K. has two years to negotiate the free-trade agreement. If there’s a customs union, it won’t change anything. But if customs tariffs are being restored, that will make our collections even more expansive. Typically, the U.K. has a 12 percent customs tariffs for countries outside the E.U.”
Early this morning, French designer Anne-Valérie Hash posted a photo of European country flags accompanied by the hashtag #Whatasadday, while Felipe Oliveira Baptista posted a photo of David Cameron with a caption that read: “You’re history #DavidCameron.”
Caroline de Maigret put online a quote from Nelson Mandela – “May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears” – on a black background with a broken heart emoticon as a caption. Diane Kruger and Yaz Bukey were among those posting a map of Europe with scissors cutting the lines linking the U.K. to the European Continent. Meanwhile, public relations executive Lucien Pagès posted a photo of a dark tunnel with the hashtags #eurotunnel #intothedarkness.
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo reacted on Twitter, writing, “I just heard the grave news about the the U.K. referendum. It’s a sad day for Europe and all European cities. I want to pay tribute to my friend @SadiqKhan [the new mayor of London] who fought with courage to remain in the E.U. Friendship between our two cities will remain powerful.”
“I feel strongly about building bridges between Paris and London, favoring solidarity and exchanges, instead of creating competition.”
The fashion photographer and media entrepreneur Nick Knight of Show Studio wrote: “Xenophobia, ignorance, stupidity and fear are now the forces driving this country. The politicians both left and right have totally let us down.
“This completely unnecessary referendum was called for self-servicing political reasons by Cameron who has now fled, leaving the country in the hands of nationalistic bigots and fools. I am ashamed, disgusted, heartbroken and very angry.”
The British Fashion Council took a measured stance, as did University of the Arts London, UAL.
While BFC chief executive Caroline Rush said there will “no doubt be upset and dismay at today’s result” the organization has a role to play in keeping government abreast of the industry’s priorities “and keeping the designer community updated on any likely impact to business as our country prepares to leave the EU over the coming years.”
Although the BFC never took a stand on Brexit, it released a survey earlier this month showing overwhelming support for the Remain campaign. As reported, the fashion industry sees itself firmly as part of a great international community and relishes London as a capital of finance, tech, creativity and innovation. It also views the country as a beacon of generosity, open-mindedness and progressiveness — all arguments Cameron has been making for reasons to stay.
Earlier this year, 198 business leaders — including Burberry’s chief creative and chief executive officer, Christopher Bailey; Kurt Geiger chairman Neil Clifford, and Jacqueline Gold, head of the high-street lingerie chain Ann Summers — signed a letter stating they wanted to remain part of Europe.
Last month, more than 280 British creatives signed another letter voicing their support for the Remain camp. They included designers Vivienne Westwood, Patrick Grant, Bella Freud, Katharine Hamnett, Hussein Chalayan and Daniel Fletcher. British Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman has also been vocal in her support of Britain staying put.
Fashion designers and creatives immediately took to social media Friday to voice their discontent with the referendum result.
Westwood posted a Sex Pistols’ “No Future” sign.
Sibling posted a “No Comment” picture, accompanied by the words: “#SIBLING ARE #EUROPEAN #SIBLINGsquad IS STRONG THROUGH UNITY & WILL CONTINUE TO BE #PEACE #LOVE #ACCEPTANCE #HOPE WE WILL NOT BE DEFINED THROUGH THE ACTS OF OTHERS #SIBLINGsquad #NOtotheReferendum #REJECT #REVOLT.”
Not only the Brits are commenting the outcome – Italia Independent’s Lapo Elkann wrote: “Given that I’m an ardent defender of democracy in all its forms and thus respecting the freedom of expressing a vote, I am astonished for what’s happened in Great Britain. I’ve always been a supporter of Union and not of divisions. While staying united we can stimulate growth and progress, not the other way around. As an European citizen and entrepreneur I can only fear the consequences of Brexit that are already afflicting Europe and the planet’s economy and history.”
Katie Grand wrote: “I’ve never been so unproud to be British,” while the official Instagram account of LOVE magazine asked ironically “Trump next?”
Blogger Susie Bubble posted a picture of a puzzled U.K. flag, writing: “A broken and fractured 🇬🇧 puzzle of pieces that may not ever come together again. This is not the country I know and love. Let the chips fall where they may, but I’m doubtful it will be a place I want to stay in or have my children grow up in.”
Other brands expressing their concern via social media included Alexander Lewis, Erdem, Roksanda, Shrimps, Fausto Puglisi and Nicholas Kirkwood.
Bella Freud posted a picture of the now famous Bristol street-art kiss between Donald Trump and Boris Johnson: “Woke up to this. RIP Europe. 💔”
Daniel Fletcher posted a black picture and wrote “Devastated.”
Kinvara Balfour tried to find the silver lining: “This is Great Britain. We have always been great. Though no longer part of the EU, we are still a part of Europe & we are a part of THE WORLD. Let’s honour that, take responsibility for that, work for that & be proud of our own powerful nation. Courage & focus are needed but this is a new chapter, not the end 👊”
Muzungu Sisters’ Dana Alikhani and Tatiana Santo Domingo wrote: “Mate, what have you done? 💔 hearbreaking and scary. Shocked this is happening. A victory for fear mongering and xenophobia. London is so out of touch with the rest of this country. Pound hits lowest level since 1985 💔 #brexit #June23.”
Toby Bateman of Mr Porter posted a screenshot from Ben Riley-Smith’s Twitter profile, where he posted the breakdown of how ages voted, and commented, “Now the next generation has to live with the decision of the past generation. Lost for words.”
According to the results, 75 percent of Britons aged 18-24 voted to remain, while only 39 percent of people ages 65 and over did.
The London college UAL said it remains committed to all of its students, regardless of nationality. It stressed that any EU students who are already studying at the university, which includes London College of Fashion, and for those starting at UAL in 2016, all fees will be held “at the same amount as is paid by U.K. students.”
EU students currently pay the same as British students at universities in the U.K., while non-EU ones often pay about double.
“Leaving the EU will undoubtedly have an impact on UAL in the longer-term. We are working on our plans for the transition period and beyond. All of our plans will reflect our ongoing commitment to European collaboration and to our student body,” it said.
Companies that do business in the U.K. and abroad also weighed in, with a L’Oréal spokeswoman saying the company’s primary commitment is to its employees and stakeholders.
“We remain focused on best serving our consumers in the U.K.,” she said.
Rubin Ritter, member of the board of German e-commerce giant Zalando, said the company believes in the advantages that result from a single European market, but also respects the U.K.’s decision.
“Of course we will adapt our processes concerning the U.K. market in order to remain compliant. We also have experiences with markets outside of the EU, and are positive that we would be able to find a good solution and establish smooth processes for the U.K. and its Zalando customers.”
A spokeswoman for German beauty giant Beirsdorf said, “We have followed the United Kingdom’s referendum to stay in the European Union and, of course, we have prepared for the various scenarios beforehand. After the vote for the United Kingdom to leave the EU we now await further decisions and will adapt to the possible new conditions. The United Kingdom is and remains a very important market for Beiersdorf. Please understand that Beiersdorf does not wish to make any statements on political topics.”
Thomas Rasch, managing director of German Fashion, the Cologne-based association of fashion producers, noted that for German men’s wear makers in particular, the U.K. is one of the most important export markets.
“A weaker British pound will immediately have an effect,” he said. Moreover, Britain’s exit from the EU means “the movement of goods will become more cumbersome and bureaucratic again. But it will affect the British themselves even more strongly,” he suggested.
“The EU has negotiated preferential agreements with many sourcing countries that will no longer apply to them. They will surely regret this gut decision.”
Norbert Lock, managing director, wholesale and retail for the German women’s wear label Marc Cain, said the company will have to accept the decision and move on: “We regret for our British customers that it came to ‘leave.’ I know that through their importer status they were against the Brexit, and now they have to cope with a weaker pound. We’ll behave as we have by other currency crises in Russia, Switzerland and other countries. We’ll support our clients and overcome the crisis together.”
He added that Marc Cain had “consciously pushed back several store projects until now, and we will examine the pros and cons, rents and costs, buying power and possible price changes. Today the U.K. decided, and we’ll consider the possible disadvantages and reactions quietly and calmly. But what remains valid is: Yes – for the client.”
By midday CET on Friday, Europe’s major markets continued their downward trajectory, with Milan’s FTSE MIB leading the downslide. The Italian market plummeted 10 percent to 16,159.09, followed by the CAC 40 in Paris, 7.9 percent to 4,110.48 and the DAX in Frankfurt, 6.6 percent to 9,578.06. The FTSE 100 in London fell 5 percent to 6021.84.
The pound recovered some ground, edging up to 1.25 euros from 1.22 euros earlier in the day, and to $1.39 up from $1.34.
Carney, the Bank of England governor, said on BBC earlier today that contingency plans are in place and that markets – and Britons themselves – should not panic. The bank had warned prior to the vote that leaving the EU could have significant negative impact on the economy, including tipping it into a “technical recession.”
“The bank has put in place extensive contingency plans and these plans begin with ensuring that the core of our financial system is well capitalized, is liquid and is strong,” he said in a TV speech shortly after Cameron’s resignation.
“This resilience is backed up by the Bank of England’s liquidity facilities in sterling and foreign currencies and all of these resources will support orderly market functioning in the face of any short-term volatility. The bank will continue to consult and cooperate with all relevant domestic and international authorities to ensure that the U.K. financial system can absorb any stresses and can do its job of concentrating on serving the real economy.
“We’ve taken all the necessary steps to prepare for today’s events and in the future we will not hesitate to take any additional measure required to meet our responsibility as United Kingdom moves forward.”
Banks said retail and luxury companies will be impacted by Britain’s exit based on how and where they trade and source.
Thomas Chauvet of Citi wrote that while movements in foreign exchange will impact luxury earnings and share prices, the bank believes that investors are focusing on the sector’s weak fundamentals and underlying revenue and earnings performance.
“Most EUR-listed companies have a relatively small exposure to the U.K., and the 4 percent appreciation of EUR/GBP today is likely to have minimal impact on EUR-denominated earnings. More importantly, the fall in EUR/USD would theoretically support gross margins and earnings per share upgrades at EUR-denominated companies and drive a gradual recovery in tourist-related demand in Continental Europe, which have significantly slowed since tragic terrorist events in Europe.”
Gian Luca Pacini, equity analyst branded goods at Intesa SanPaolo said, “The companies in the branded goods sector that Intesa follows, excluding the relevant part of Yoox Net-a-porter’s e-commerce business, have limited revenues and costs in pounds as they are diversified at a global level. Clearly, Brexit will have a temporary negative effect on stock prices.”
Moody’s said in a report Friday that it expects, over time, that the U.K. and Europe will come to an arrangement to preserve most – but probably not all – of the current trading relationships.
However, it also pointed to “clear downside risks.” It said substantial new tariff or non-tariff barriers to trading goods and services would have an adverse impact on U.K. sectors that trade extensively with the European Union market, such as automotives, manufacturing and food production.
It added the lasting credit effects of Brexit will depend on a new U.K.-EU trade model.
The referendum result reverses Britain’s 41-year history in the EU and plunges the country into new waters: Cameron will resign within three months, and said it will be up to a new Conservative prime minister to negotiate new trade deals with the EU, and trigger Article 50, the law that outlines EU withdrawal procedures.
Although no exit polls were conducted, previous opinion polls had indicated that the Remain camp was ahead by a small margin. According to a poll by YouGov, which asked 5,000 Britons how they voted on Thursday, 52 percent said they voted to remain part of the E.U., while 48 percent voted to leave.