It’s tough to determine the origin of the It Shoe for next spring. After all, the turquoise-and-golden-yellow Manolo Blahnik pump with black ankle ties is made of fabric from Africa, was stitched together in Italy, and debuted at London Fashion Week last month. Presented a few blocks from Oxford Street in the Covent Garden Hotel, Manolo Blahnik’s spring collection featured prominently in a short film starring Rupert Everett—whose character recalls his ex-wife dancing the tango with another man in turn-of-the-20th-century Spain.
The brand has been headquartered in London since Blahnik opened his first eponymous shop in Chelsea in 1973, but Manolos aren’t just for well-heeled Britons. Next year, the shoes will travel the world to Manolo Blahnik boutiques in Saudi Arabia, South Korea, and, of course, the United States, where the brand is now a household name thanks to Sex and the City. It's fitting that the world's four fashion capitals (New York, London, Milan, Paris) showcased an industry with increasingly globalized supply chains and influences shortly after the United States and European Union launched negotiations for a comprehensive free trade agreement, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.
If past negotiations are a guide, we’re unlikely to see an agreement go into effect for at least a few years. But the parties should be eager to eliminate tariffs and harmonize regulations. According to the European Centre for International Political Economy (ECIPE), the elimination of tariffs could lead to economic gains of as much as $95 billion in the EU and $181 billion in the United States, while, according to the German Marshall Fund, the reduction of nontariff barriers by 50 percent could lead to economic gains of $168 billion in the EU and $53 billion in the United States.
An ambitious transatlantic agreement would also lead to job growth on both sides of the pond, as companies would have easier access to new markets: A study just released by the Bertelsmann Foundation and the Atlantic Council estimates that the United States alone would see net employment gains of almost 750,000 jobs.
Such an agreement, moreover, would be especially important to the fashion industry, which is taxed at a comparatively high rate: The average tariff is under 3 percent in both the United States and the EU, but the average tariff on apparel is 15 percent in the United States and 12 percent in the EU. As London mayor Boris Johnson said, Fashion Week is “a big money-spinner, bringing in orders from around the globe and generating billions for our economy.” Indeed, with buyers and press from over 52 countries in attendance, London Fashion Week has gained significant international attention in recent years.
Trade policy, then, should embrace the idea of an open global marketplace because, as London’s catwalks and boutiques have shown, the fashion industry is already producing globally inspired collections with universal appeal at all price points. The English designer Henry Holland’s collections are perfect for London’s edgy street style; but he has international fans thanks to collaborations with the iconic American denim brand Levi Strauss and the Australian eyewear company Le Specs. His latest catwalk collection featured punchy, youthful looks inspired by Mexico and Venice Beach—they would work in either locale (or in London or, really, any hip metropolis).
Representing The Weekly Standard, I got a coveted invitation to join Anna Wintour and Kate Moss at Topshop Unique—probably because the fast-fashion giant will soon be selling its clothes in Washington following a rapid growth that has led to stores opening everywhere from Las Vegas to Hong Kong. Next spring, Topshops all over the world will sell mosaic-print slip dresses suitable for Mediterranean vacations, alongside slouchy shirtdresses and ponchos suitable for breezy London weekends.
As the industry continues to globalize, it’s critical that designers develop a brand that transcends location.
“Shoppers want to buy into an identity,” jewelry designer Vicki Sarge explained at the launch of her flagship VICKISARGE store in Belgravia. “We get customers coming from all over the world for special, one-off, bespoke pieces.” Originally from Detroit, Sarge cofounded Erickson Beamon, the high-end costume jewelry brand based in New York, and, in the 1980s, moved to London to expand it internationally. She is now focusing on her own brand, along with business partner Brooke Metcalfe, a New York It-Girl-turned-branding-expert who designed the shop to look like a museum in order to showcase the pieces “as if they were Darwin’s finds from Patagonia.” Sarge’s pieces range from art deco jewels to ebony and beaded baubles carved by craftsmen in Kenya to neon pompoms and ribbons made by artists in Peru for a collaboration with photographer Mario Testino.
“Everything has to come from a real place,” she said. “That’s what makes our brand special.”
Samantha Sault, formerly an assistant editor at The Weekly Standard, is director of communications at the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel.