Remembering the time the Queen went to London Fashion Week
CEO of the British Fashion Council Caroline Rush recalls the surreal moment she accompanied Her Majesty the Queen to a fashion show
Friday 9 September 2022 By Caroline Rush
Like so many, the immediate sense of loss and sadness has grown since the devastating news of the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Throughout her reign she has championed creativity and young people and has inspired multiple generations.
In 2018, I had the privilege to spend almost an hour with Her Majesty the Queen. It was the most closely guarded secret – a surprise visit to London Fashion Week with only five people ‘in the know’ in advance of the day.
I stood nervously awaiting her arrival at the side entrance to 180 The Strand: then home to LFW, now the home to creativity and Soho House. I was asked by the protocol team if I wanted any tips, I said ‘Of course!’ ‘The Queen doesn’t like awkward silences,’ I was told, ‘and after you’ve greeted her as Your Majesty, you refer to the Queen as Ma’am, pronounced mam, like ham.’
Her Majesty arrived, warm, smiling and curious, with her dresser Angela Kelly and her lady-in-waiting, along with a small security detail who were reassuring and very discreet.
Our first stop was to meet some emerging jewellery designers and our board of directors, which included Anya Hindmarch and Dylan Jones at the time. As we met jewellery London brand Bar, she asked about the designs. When the founder’s hand wavered as she showed her collection and how a certain ring sat across two fingers, Ma’am quipped, ‘Does it stop one’s hand shaking also?’ There was interest in Hatton Garden, the design process, sourcing of materials and the designer’s inspiration.
We then worked our way downstairs to the Richard Quinn show, the inaugural recipient of the Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design, awarded to Richard for his work in supporting a network of businesses and students through his growing print facility, coupled with his incredible creativity.
Sara Blonstein announced over the speaker, ‘Please be upstanding for Her Majesty the Queen’ (Sara produced Richard’s show). As very few people knew she was attending, there were looks of shock on the faces in the audience as we walked from behind stage to take our seats at the show. As we positioned ourselves next to Anna Wintour and Angela Kelly and the likes of Dylan, Anya, Jefferson Hack, Sian Westerman, Erin O’Connor and Jade Parfitt, we talked about the show and the purpose of London Fashion Week in attracting global fashion buyers to London to see our incredible creative businesses. We discussed the craftsmanship, the skills that our industry is known for. Richard’s models wore printed headscarves, a nod to the Queen, and of course it was noticed.
After the show and the presentation of the QEII Award to Richard, we went backstage again, where Sarah Mower, BFC Ambassador for Emerging Talent, was waiting with our NEWGEN designers (the 2018 leaders of emerging creative talent); an opportunity for the Queen to meet the next generation of creatives and hear from them about their role in London Fashion Week and their hopes for the future.
As she left, still smiling and still asking questions, she took the time to say thank you to Stacey James my executive assistant, for her role in organising and co-collaborating on the project. The warmth, kindness and sense of humour that came across on that day will stay with me and, I am sure, all who she met.
The QEII Award for British Design was a gift to our industry, in recognition of each new generation of creative designers that have an impact in the community they work in and/or through sustainable practices – what an honour it has been and a legacy we will continue.