The British Fashion Awards is typically an evening of turbo-charged air-kissing, wildly expensive party dresses and extended acceptance speeches from tearful models.
This is, of course, a very different kind of year, and Thursday night’s awards, which took place online, reflected a drastically different set of priorities.
Instead of the usual categories of fashion icon and brand of the year, 20 designers were recognised for making positive changes in the industry, with kudos going to those who had produced personal protective equipment (PPE), celebrated frontline workers and campaigned for inclusivity.
It comes amid a punishing year for the fashion industry, with profits declining by 90%, according to a McKinsey and the Business of Fashion report released on Wednesday.
It is also a year in which systemic racism within fashion was laid bare by the Black Lives Matter movement. “The fashion industry is one of the most vibrant in the world but with that platform comes responsibility,” said Lewis Hamilton, who presented a section of the awards. In a segment filmed some weeks ago, the racing driver, now isolating after a positive Covid test, said: “It is no longer enough for the fashion industry to set trends. It needs to set more important trends of creating a more equal and representative society.”
Edward Enninful received an award for pushing change through the pages of Vogue. The campaigner Aurora James was recognised for her initiative, 15 Percent Pledge, which urges retailers to commit to dedicating 15% of shelf space to black-owned businesses. Lindsay Peoples Wagner and Sandrine Charles also won awards for setting up the inclusivity coalition Black in Fashion Council.
Other winners included Michael Halpern, who made PPE for the Royal Brompton hospital and gave frontline workers a starring role as models in his London fashion week presentation, and the Emergency Designer Network, which was set up in April and has helped create 50,000 surgical gowns and 10,000 sets of scrubs for health workers.
Designers including Stella McCartney and Anya Hindmarch received awards for their work in sustainability.
The actor Maisie Williams presented those awards and asked viewers to “understand that we are all part of the problem”, while the campaigner Aja Barber urged the industry to note that “we don’t have much time yet, so it’s time to make hard choices”.