He was the man who breathed new life into London Fashion Week by bringing back leading British artists like John Rocha and Vivienne Westwood and launching a host of young designers to reclaim London’s former status as the swinging city of fashion.
It was perhaps an unexpected role for a former deputy chair of Marks & Spencer, noted more for accessible fashion than haute couture. But Clinton Silver, who has died aged 89, took it upon himself to re-launch London as the “most fashionable city in the world”.
International endorsement followed for the new six-day London Fashion Week, which included a total 48 shows featuring stars like Alexander McQueen, Julien Macdonald and Miu Miu.
It was a powerful bid for London Fashion Week’s former glory, which had been hi-jacked by Milan and Paris, as British designers flocked to Europe and the Department of Trade and Industry had to give the kiss of life to the dying national treasure.
It all happened six months after Silver retired from Marks & Spencer where he had spent 41 years working up the ladder to deputy chair. Not happy at the prospect of “just sitting around,”as he put it, he jumped at the chance when invited to replace Ralph Halpern as chair of the British Fashion Council, which hosts the flagship event.
With his energetic hands-on approach he secured sponsorship from Vidal Sasoon and M&S and in just three years he had turned London Fashion Week around. He brought in six designers called The New Generation and arranged for the Princess of Wales to attend a government reception.
Designer Bruce Oldfield said it was “impossible to overestimate the importance of Silver’s input. He’s achieved things. He gets down, meets people, talks to designers. He’s not been patronising and he’s sought to understand what designers and the industry need.”
This is reiterated by award-winning designer John Rocha, whom Silver persuaded to show in Britain after three seasons in Paris. “He has this understanding of the industry,” said Rocha. “He has patience, too, with the younger generation — they are the foundation of the future.”
Former Tory minister Michael Heseltine endorsed Rocha’s belief in a British fashion comeback and convinced him to return and join the new movement.
Although one or two siren voices remained unconvinced about introducing a “mass merchandising man” into the innovative world of cutting-edge fashion, he was widely appreciated for having brought 40 years of commercial nous to an awareness that high fashion is rarely commercial.
Silver was the son of Sidney Silver (originally Meyer Silverman) and Minna, née Gabriel, and lived for a time in West Bank, Stamford Hill. He attended Southampton University and remained a supportive alumnus, funding a visiting fellowship.
“He was hugely involved in Israel matters but was also very knowledgeable about world affairs,”said Barry Hyman former head of PR and Media relations at M&S. “He was a modest, intellectually gifted mensch — I recall him calling me to his office to look at a nasty anti-Israel cartoon in the Independent. We both wrote to the paper to complain.” He is survived by his wife, son, daughter, two grandchildren and younger sister Norma. His older brother Stanley predeceased him in 2011.
Clinton Silver: born September 26, 1929. Died February 15, 2019