Between the seams of the British Fashion Awards

Kate Hudson and Stella McCartney at the British Fashion Awards 2011. AP/Jonathan Short

Kate Hudson and Stella McCartney at the British Fashion Awards 2011. AP/Jonathan Short

The powers that be are spinning the British Fashion Awards (see report from my colleague Carola Long) as the triumph of the women – Victoria Beckham took home designer brand of the year; Stella McCartney, the red carpet award; Alexander McQueen’s Sarah Burton, designer of the year; Mary Katrantzou, emerging talent women’s wear; Charlotte Olympia, accessory designer of the year; Tabitha Simmons, emerging talent accessories – but as far as I am concerned the real stories are elsewhere.

I mean, let’s think about this for a moment.

Of the above, only one – Mary Katrantzou – shows in the UK (McCartney and McQueen show in Paris, and Victoria Beckham in NY; Tabitha Simmons presents her collection in Paris, as does Charlotte Dellal of Charlotte Olympia). Meanwhile, two (Simmons and Dellal) are actually shoe designers. And a third (Christopher Kane) won a new award invented for this year’s ceremony: the New Establishment Prize. So what does this tell us?

Well, that despite all the verbiage devoted to pumping up London Fashion Week, the major British designers still leave British shores to become major; that the UK is extremely strong in footwear; and that awards ceremonies are about a lot more than just rewarding talent: they are about promoting home industry to the fullest extent possible, no matter how loosely defined. Last year, for example, Burberry won for Digital Innovation, a prize that doesn’t exist this year, which leads cynical minds like mine to suspect it was created to get Burberry on the podium, which then leads to thoughts that maybe the New Establishment was created to get smaller designers like Kane on the podium.

But as anyone who has ever been on an award committee knows, you do what you can to get the buzziest names to show up, with the buzziest friends (Stella McCartney and her guest Kate Hudson was a picture that went ’round the world – it landed in my inbox at least six times), so as to get the biggest bang for the sponsor buck. Put another way: sometimes an award show is just an award show, but all times, it’s a marketing opportunity.