Brexit, Paris Protests & More Political Drama Will Dominate the Fashion Week Conversation

The global Fashion Week race is officially underway in New York — and while the trends are still taking shape, one thing is already clear: This season’s collections are being held against a dramatic political backdrop.

Brexit, the “yellow vest” protests in Paris and concerns about Italy’s economy will dominate the conversation in the next few weeks. Of course, the ever-changing American political climate is also a worry — with another government shutdown possible and the U.S.-China relationship fragile as tariff talks continue.

But the most pressing topic is Brexit —  and the anxiety continues to heighten. “The consequences are enormous for the U.K.,” said Robert Burke, founder and CEO of Robert Burke Associates. “The uncertainty is already taking a toll in the industry.”

Neil Clifford, CEO of Kurt Geiger, said recently that Brexit is the biggest issue his company will face in the year ahead. Burberry, meanwhile, said last month that the company was taking “mitigating actions” in preparation for a no-deal Brexit, which would see the U.K. quit the European Union with no clarity on trade.

A Burberry store on Bond Street in London.
Burberry will be one of the biggest U.K. fashion players impacted by Brexit.
CREDIT: Richard Gardner/Shutterstock

“We still remain hopeful that Britain will have the closest possible relationship with the E.U. after Brexit,” said COO and CFO Julie Brown, adding that Burberry is continuing to hold talks with government representatives and asking them to work toward a deal before the U.K. leaves the union on March 29.

The British Fashion Council, which oversees London Fashion Week, said a no-deal “is a scenario that should be avoided at all costs. “The ongoing uncertainty and confusion that leaving without a deal creates will have a negative impact on our industry, where investment is already [affected] from the uncertainty being faced,” the BFC said in a statement.

The group noted that the U.K. fashion industry comprises mostly small and midsize companies — and their fortunes are directly tied to a solid relationship with the European Union.

While Brexit could have serious long-term implications for the industry, the French furor over President Emmanuel Macron’s new economic policies have caused serious short-term problems in the City of Light.

Yellow vests protest in Paris
A scene from the “yellow vests” protest in Paris.
CREDIT: Shutterstock

The Gilets Jaunes protests — which have been going on for months — prompted several labels, including Dior and Thom Browne, to reschedule their Men’s Fashion Week shows.

Shops in central Paris have had to close down during the protests during a time when brick-and-mortar retailers are already under pressure.

“I was there in January, and police were blocking several streets. There was a feeling of insecurity,” Burke said, noting that hotels and restaurants seemed emptier than usual.

It remains to be seen how the situation will affect Paris women’s collections, but there is a good chance fewer people will travel to the shows.

Meanwhile, today, the European Commission cut its growth forecast in Italy to a five-year low — fueling fresh concerns there.

For luxury footwear firms that produce their shoes in Italy and depend heavily on the market, the health of the Italian economy is critical.

With contributions from Samantha Conti

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