Annette Worsley-Taylor was widely regarded as a pioneering fashion guru within the industry who helped raise British fashion’s profile and business reputation at home and internationally. With her measured yet self-assured approach and dogged determination, she was the inspiration and founding spirit of British fashion as an entity, and founded London Fashion Week, which grew to become one of the “Big Four” fashion weeks, along with New York, Milan and Paris.
The global success of London fashion Week, which showcases top British designers and up-and-coming talent, currently contributes and estimated £26 billion to the UK economy.
With the looks of a young Julie Christie, Worsley-Taylor worked with gusto, charm and wit but did not suffer fools gladly. Viewed by many as a perfectionist, she set high standards for herself and those around her, and, using her honed powers of persuasion, ensured nothing went unchecked, from the presentation and graphic design to the ambiance and décor.
She once declared: “If you want to do a job properly you have to put all your energy behind it and, come hell or high water, pull things through no matter what the cost.”
In her role as creative and brand director and consultant to the British Fashion Council on London Fashion Week (1993-2006), Worsley-Taylor forged a close relationship with designers, media, retailers, stylists, photographers and models. She had a clear vision from the outset of how to showcase and promote British designers.
The designers she helped unearth, such as Jasper Conran, Wendy Dagworthy, Roger Saul of Mulberry, Catherine Walker and David Sassoon of Bellville Sassoon, David and Elizabeth Emanuel, who designed Princess Diana’s wedding dress, would go on to clothe the aristocracy, the rich and famous, as well as contributing to what became known as “Cool Britannia” in the 1990s.
Born in Surrey in 1944, Annette Pamela Worsley-Taylor was the only daughter to Sir John Worsley-Taylor, 3rd Bt, Scots Guards, and his wife Anne (née Paget). Her parents divorced shortly afterwards with her mother remarrying Sir William Jaffray, 4th Bt, in 1950. Initially her stepfather wanted to put Annette up for adoption but her mother was against this. Her father was found dead in his flat in 1952.
She was subsequently brought up by her mother in Hampshire. Educated at Downe House School, Hertfordshire, she did an informal season as a debutante in London and a dance at Priors Dean in 1962.
With an interest in fashion, she worked briefly for Christian Dior in London before setting up her own boutique Tsaritsar, with her friend, Tania Soskin, in Knightsbridge. They sold designer clothes to private clients, many of whom were friends, and started selling the creations of Bruce Oldfield, who started as a cutter at the shop. She later established Taylor & Hadow, also in Knightsbridge, with Jenny Hadow, concentrating on London designers.
Unhappy with the opportunities for unknown designers, in 1974, Worsley-Taylor established a small designer New Wave Exhibition and Fashion Show at the Ritz Hotel, funded by the Clothing Export Council, to introduce young British fashion designers to the international market.
The following year, she founded and ran, until 1992, the London Designer Collections (LDC), the first and only fashion designer co-operative in the UK, dedicated to promoting young and emerging British fashion to a wider audience.
Oldfield recalled: “For a rather ‘posh gal’ Annette was absolutely feral when it came to protecting the integrity of her designer cubs, and was a complete tartar when it came to fighting for a good space in the international show calendar and making sure that London stepped up to the mark in providing services and facilities for the press and for buyers that would equal what was on offer in Paris, New York and Milan.”
In 1983, as director of the LDC, she successfully lobbied Margaret Thatcher’s government and the Department of Trade and Industry for official funding for a permanent London Fashion Week office. She presented a report on the designer fashion industry, which included proposals for export promotion, business development, plus technical and manufacturing support.
The funding originally requested for the British Designer Executive was subsequently granted to the newly formed British Fashion Council.
In 1992 Worsley-Taylor initiated the proposal to move the London Designer Show away from Olympia to start a designer-owned venue for London Fashion Week at The Duke of York’s Headquarters on the King’s Road, Chelsea.
Purpose-built tents included areas for fashion shows, a press room and stylish booths for her designers, including Oldfield, Conran, Katharine Hamnett and Roger Saul of Mulberry.
She subsequently moved the event to purpose-built tents at the Natural History Museum in 1993, and eventually to its present location at Somerset House. It now attracts more than 5,000 members of the world’s media and countless international buyers.
She launched the first London Fashion Week website, developed seasonal campaigns and oversaw the look and feel of official show venues and exhibitions. For her, the exhibition experience for guests was the priority.
With the onset of the digital era in the new millennium and the BFC gaining international traction, some commentators and fashion aficionados believe Worsley-Taylor, an unsung hero, was sidelined and forgotten, although she received an MBE for her services to the industry in 2002.
Caroline Rush, chief executive of the BFC, said: “Annette played a significant role in making British fashion a globally recognised industry. She was the go-to person for designers for many years and the interface between designers and the BFC.
She was a great personal mentor; she made many significant strides forward in raising the profile of British fashion to the government as well as international media and retailers.”
From 2006-08, Worsley-Taylor was a consultant and creative director on Robert O’Byrne’s book, Style City: How London Became a Fashion Capital (2009). It was typical of this magnanimous fashion figure that in the book, as in her life, she let someone else take the plaudits for something she nurtured.
Worsley-Taylor married literary agent Anthony Sheil in 1997.
Over 18 happy years together they divided their time between their lavish London, Oxfordshire and Greek homes, until she was unexpectedly diagnosed with terminal lung cancer in August; she died peacefully six days later.