LONDON – And just like that, within 72 hours, Britain had a new prime minister, a new king, and was mourning the death of its longest-serving monarch, who served until the end.
The first full week of September will be remembered by many Britons as surreal. It began with the election of Liz Truss as Prime Minister, her plans to rein in runaway energy costs and to keep the country’s lights on amid a searing cost of living crisis.
The following day, Queen Elizabeth II, as head of state, accepted Boris Johnson’s resignation and asked Truss – her 15e prime minister — to form a government.
On September 8, when that work was completed, the Queen died at Balmoral, her beloved Scottish castle, private home and informal summer retreat where she hosted picnics and barbecues – and also helped clean up. .
Her death rocked a country where many had suspended all disbelief and expected her to rule forever, or at least for a few more years. Why not? She had thankfully served on the throne for 70 years, and her own mother, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, was approaching 102 when she died in 2002.
Few people here would even remember the death in 1952 of Britain’s last monarch, Elizabeth’s father, George VI, which means baby boomers, millennials, millennials and gen Zs are, that like it or not, born and bred Elizabethans.
Not everyone admired him, but many did and, according to a YouGov snapshot poll, 76% of Britons said they were shocked by his death, while 44% said they had cried or become emotional after hearing the news.
Whether they shed tears or not, business leaders in particular have described his work ethic, endurance and sense of duty as extraordinary. After all, what kind of person is still at their desk and taking meetings at 96?
“The Queen exemplified a form of leadership that is rare today,” wrote Orlando Martins, founder of one of Britain’s leading retail executive search firms, Oresa. “When others rush to lead change, she represented stability, dignity and consistency. It has evolved with the times, but it has not been taken away by them.
Positive Luxury, a consultancy that helps luxury companies with their sustainability and ESG efforts, described the Queen as “the epitome of engagement and a catalyst for global collaboration”.
The British fashion and retail industries persist in this spirit, continuing their businesses and their own commitments. After two years of lockdown, double-digit inflation rates and a cost of living crisis that will only get worse this winter, they have little choice.
There are already those who believe that business closures on Monday, the day of the funeral, could be a further blow to the already struggling British economy. Monday has been declared an extraordinary national holiday here, although businesses are not required to close.
Retailers and big and small brands including Selfridges, Harrods, Liberty, Burberry, Giorgio Armani, Apple, Acne Studios, Tommy Hilfiger, De Beers and Zara plan to close on the day of the funeral.
Selfridges, Liberty and Mulberry were among the stores that shut down immediately after the Queen’s death last week. Others have postponed events until later this month and into October.
Simon French, chief economist for Panmure Gordon and columnist for The Times of London, estimates Monday’s bank holiday could slash economic output by “at least” £2bn based on evidence from previous one-off holidays. This decline could lead to flat or negative growth in the third quarter and tip the country into recession.
Retailers are not so sure the impact of Monday’s closures will be so dramatic and many are determined to honor that day by halting operations.
Retail trade bodies interviewed by WWD were reluctant to speculate on the impact of the bank holiday as they did not want to be seen as exploiting the Queen’s death. Some said the shutdowns were unlikely to weigh much on retailers, many of which are international and have strong online channels.
“I haven’t heard any companies complain about this yet, and while there will be an impact, in the longer term it’s unlikely to make much of a difference one way or the other,” said a retail industry representative.
Another added: ‘We haven’t heard any concerns from members. Most focus on paying homage. Hotels will likely see a spike in sales around funerals, and that could spill over to retail. We may see brands absorbing the cost of closing on the holiday, but seeing strong sales before and after the funeral.
Retail executives also said they expected a trade rebound at the coronation of King Charles III, which could take place in the first half of next year.
Hotels in London, which have been hit hard by two years of closure and the loss of Chinese and Russian tourists, have already raised prices dramatically ahead of the funeral, which more than 2,000 heads of state, royals and other VIP guests are expected.
The best restaurants are reserved throughout the weekend, and London’s trains and underground are packed with people on the go.
In the coming days, before the funeral, almost a million people are expected to descend on central London to pay their last respects to the monarch. The Queen will rest in state at Westminster Hall until the morning of the funeral, which will be held at Westminster Abbey.
People have already waited in mile-long queues, all night and in the autumn drizzle, for the chance to pay their last respects to the monarch in her Platinum Jubilee year.
London Fashion Week also continues, with no frills, and with a stronger focus on business.
As noted, organizers tore up the original show schedule and rearranged all of the activities that were previously scheduled to take place on the day of the funeral. The shows officially start on Friday morning and will continue until Sunday evening. There are no shows on Mondays, and they resume on Tuesday, the last day of London Fashion Week.
Some designers, including Raf Simons, have postponed their shows, while Burberry is due to present its spring 2023 collection in London on September 26, between Milan and Paris. As noted, Alexander McQueen had already planned to unveil his Spring 2023 collection on October 11, the day before the Frieze Art fair, which runs from October 12-16.
Christopher Kane is a designer who decided to continue. It will hold a live parade for the first time since February 2020. It is due to start at 8pm local time on Sunday evening when the Prime Minister called for a nationwide minute’s silence to remember the Queen.
Brands, creators and shoppers are excited and eager to continue show week despite the sober moment. No one interviewed by WWD canceled their trip to London specifically because of national mourning or funerals.
Tatiana Hambro, Editorial Director of Moda Operandi, said London’s fashion shows “represent huge commitments – financial, creative, personal and otherwise. It’s important that we recognize these efforts and the immense talent in the city. Her Majesty was the ultimate example of steadfastness and unwavering dedication. I grew up in London. I am grateful to be here to witness this momentous time in our history, and am also proud to support the fashion community of the city during this period.
Jodi Kahn, vice president of luxury fashion at Neiman Marcus, said she plans to attend the shows “to support the designers who have put a lot of time and effort into preparing for their shows after the last two very difficult years. I am confident that we will come together as an industry to celebrate Her Majesty The Queen’s legacy and the creative aspects of her life.
Michael Kliger, managing director of Mytheresa, said his team will be strong.
Mytheresa offers a host of London-based brands including Burberry, Christopher Kane, Alexander McQueen, David Koma, Emilia Wickstead, Erdem and JW Anderson.
Kliger said the timing of London Fashion Week is unfortunate, given the period of mourning and funerals, but “we feel very attached to the London fashion industry, and small and medium-sized brands in particular. The amount of effort to prepare for shows is insane, and so if London brands decide to go ahead with their shows, our team will be there and ready to support them.