LONDON — After a depressing day for Britain, when the financial and political future of the nation remained unsure and the battle over how you can go away the European Union tore politicians aside, the annual Fashion Awards (Britain’s reply to the Met Gala) got here as one thing of a glittering balm Monday night time. A crimson carpet scattered with Swarovski crystals led the way in which to a night full of fairy tales and magnificence, escapism and surprises.
Starting with the arrival of a beaming Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, sporting a one-shouldered black velvet night robe and stroking her pregnant stomach. Almost all of the four,000 company assembled contained in the Royal Albert Hall, one of London’s grandest buildings, have been surprised when the duchess emerged to current Clare Waight Keller, the inventive director of Givenchy, with the award for British designer of the 12 months for girls’s put on. The pairing did make a certain quantity of sense, on condition that Ms. Waight Keller designed the gown the duchess wore when she married Prince Harry in May.
Still, royalty doesn’t usually make an look on the Fashion Awards, organized yearly by the British Fashion Council.
“It is such a pleasure to be here, celebrating British fashion and designers, in my new home, the U.K.,” the duchess stated, drawing cheers from the gang. “We have a deep connection to what we wear. Sometimes it’s deeply personal, sometimes it’s emotional. And tonight it is about supporting and empowering each other, especially as women.”
Praising the “vision and creativity, but also incredible kindness” of a visibly surprised and tearful Ms. Waight Keller, the duchess added that “the culture of fashion was shifting, it feels, from one where it was cool to be cruel, to one where it is now cool to be kind.” The two girls, each showing elated, then embraced.
While the general environment was one of celebration and optimism, this 12 months was additionally marked by heightened feelings (maybe understandably, given the unease that surrounds the longer term of each British trade, together with vogue). Richard Quinn, winner of the award for British emerging talent in women’s wear, cried softly as he accepted his prize and thanked his parents. Not so quiet was Vivienne Westwood, who was presented with the Swarovski award for positive change in recognition of her work on humanitarian and environmental issues.
“I have a plan to change the world, but I really do need you to help me, I can’t do it on my own,” Ms. Westwood said in a rambling speech that touched on issues as varied as the rotten financial system to climate change, the shortcomings of the president-elect of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, and the recent “Yellow vest” protests that have swept through Paris and other French cities in recent weeks.
“Nothing will work until we urgently change the system, the system is totally broken and time is running out,” Ms. Westwood declared, before being gently ushered offstage by the model Jerry Hall.
And so it went. The fashion photographers Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott, who received the Isabella Blow award for fashion creators from Kate Moss and Penélope Cruz, spoke to the hundreds of fashion students sitting in the rafters, pushing them to follow their passion at a time when London’s ability to maintain its reputation as a melting pot of young talent seems up in the air. (The fashion awards ceremony is also a fund-raising bash for the British Fashion Council’s Education Foundation, which provides design scholarships and supports apprenticeships).
“I came to Britain as an immigrant with dreams of being an artist too,” Mr. Alas said. “Your guts are your guns. Keep fighting for your vision and have fun, like I did.”
It’s a sentiment that was echoed by Miuccia Prada, who received the outstanding achievement award after 40 years as the creative leader of her family company; Pierpaolo Piccioli of Valentino, designer of the year; Kim Jones, Dior Men’s artistic director, winner of the Trailblazer award; Kaia Gerber, surrounded by her family, who scooped the prize for model of the year; and Virgil Abloh, artistic director of men’s wear at Louis Vuitton, who took home the Urban Luxe award for his work at Off-White.
But it was Ms. Waight Keller who summed it up best. “This is just an incredibly special moment,” the British designer, 48, said, after paying tribute to Hubert de Givenchy, and honoring her team at the French fashion house, as well as the Duchess of Sussex.
“This woman is so amazing,” Ms. Waight Keller said as guests whispered about the possibility of seeing more “Markle Sparkle” in the fashion world in the future. “I have got to know Meghan on such a personal level. And to have someone like that trust you in an incredible moment in their life — their wedding day — is just the most unbelievable honor. I can’t thank you enough, but thank you again. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”