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OPINION - Fashion Power 100: how we decided on the industry's most influential people

Kim Kardashian and Kendall Jenner with Brooklyn and Nicola Peltz Beckham on the Balenciaga front row in LA (Balenciaga)
Kim Kardashian and Kendall Jenner with Brooklyn and Nicola Peltz Beckham on the Balenciaga front row in LA (Balenciaga)

The fashion industry is fond of its hierarchies, which are more often than not its lifeblood. Who’s in, who’s out, who’s new and cool, rather than — heaven forbid — boring.

At The Fashion Awards this evening the Royal Albert Hall will, like any fashion show worth its throngs of fans outside, be configured to represent the tiers of the industry. The golden titans will perch on the stage-skirting central tables hosted by mega brands (but which brand, and which celebrities you get sat next to again raise the stakes), then pecking orders decreasing into box seats and paying punters up in the gods. Your outfit will demarcate you too. Are you wearing a hot off the runway sample? Or, “Oh wow, are those just your own old clothes?” The visceral approximation of personal standing at these events is humbling to say the least. Often it drives grown-ups to tears.

Florence Pugh wearing Valentino at The 2022 Fashion Awards (Dave Benett)
Florence Pugh wearing Valentino at The 2022 Fashion Awards (Dave Benett)

It was in this vein that I was tasked with creating a list of the industry’s 100 power players, to coincide with this starriest of nights — where Edward Enninful, Michaela Coel and Sam Smith will be honoured, and this year’s top model and designers will be crowned. The event itself serves as the chief fundraiser for the British Fashion Council Foundation (the central, premium tables cost £85,000 for 12 seats) which in turn supports fledgling talent with grants, education and mentoring.

Where to start with the great, good and sometimes just filthy rich? What is it that makes someone a powerful style voice now? There are plenty of examples of people in the public eye making a point with their wardrobes. See the King, his tie covered with tiny blue and white Greek flags. Was he playing politics over the Elgin Marbles, or did he just miss his dad? He didn’t make our list, but his daughter-in-law the Princess of Wales did.

Then there’s Kim Kardashian, who appeared over the weekend at the Balenciaga show in Los Angeles wearing a not-even-on-the-runway yet look to watch the show of the clothes she was already donning. Whatever your feelings are on the 43-year-old, her about-turn from uninvited to hosting the table shows the shift over the past decade of the figures the fashion industry is in thrall to. Nepo-babies are, of course, another phenomenon which the past 12 months have fixated on. Kardashian’s 10-year-old daughter, the TikTok favourite, i-D magazine cover-star North West is our number 14.

We could have filled the list thrice over with chief executives and board members, but that seemed too insider and lacked a broader relevance to you, the reader. If you were hankering for that, here’s a TL;DR: lots of white men. It felt more interesting to look at the end result — what, or who, makes us shop or dress in a certain way.

Marta Ortega Pérez with Edward Enninful and Cindy Crawford at Dover Street Market (Darren Gerrish / Dover Street Market)
Marta Ortega Pérez with Edward Enninful and Cindy Crawford at Dover Street Market (Darren Gerrish / Dover Street Market)

What was the most cited trend moment of the last year? Hello stealth wealth. Arguably the most nuanced, detailed representation of the honey-dressed rich came from Succession, which put a plain baseball cap by a niche, incredibly expensive Italian brand (Loro Piana), not to mention one ludicrously capacious Burberry bag, on the map. Which is why we’ve included Michelle Matland, the costume designer of that show. It’s her shrewd choices which have propelled that idea into something which now floods social media with videos examining “how expensive” high street clothes appear in order to get the look. Given our obsession with binge-watching TV series, costume designers are gaining status just as red carpet stylists have done.

As much as the fashion world claims to ride on what’s fresh and next, in reality the status quo doesn’t shift so quickly. When presented with actual new ideas, the industry tends to double down. During the pandemic there were several initiatives which demanded a change to its polluting, globe trotting ways. Yet fashion shows across time zones have only increased in frequency and expense. Overproduction is insidious and devastates both the environment and the (mostly female) workers in the Global South who are pressured to deliver ever increasing amounts for dwindling prices. But no one is slowing down or producing less. It is a mess we are failing to unpick.

Gen Z might purport to buy everything second hand, but that’s not what their Shein hauls are showing (revenue $22.7 billion in 2022) — hence why Sky Xu, its billionaire founder, sits at no 12.

Which brings us to our number one power player: Marta Ortega Pérez, chairwoman of Inditex, owner of Zara, which even in a global downturn is thriving. Ortega Pérez might be high street but she’s also shrewdly courted the high-end world of fashion, too. She attends fashion week shows and hosts parties at Dover Street Market. Combine that with Zara’s knack of turning out endless “It” items with broad appeal, and she was the clear choice to top this year’s list.