London Fashion Week AW16: Calls For An End To The “Insane” Catwalk System:

Fashion, according to the Venezuelan designer Carolina Herrera, “has always been a repetition of ideas”. What makes it new, in her opinion “is the way you put it together”. The British Fashion Council (BFC) clearly seems to be aware that the occasional “radical shift” to the London Fashion Week (LFW) formula strongly advocated by the Central St Martins fashion lecturer Judith Watt is essential to ensure that the bi-annual event doesn’t become too predictable and routine.

Last September, after 6 years based at Somerset House in the Strand, LFW was moved to Brewer Street Car Park in Soho. The result was that it acquired a bit more “edge”, albeit simultaneously creating horrendous traffic congestion in the surrounding area. This was again the venue for the 63rd edition of LFW (19th-23rd February), which offered a combination of the familiar and the innovative.

Although the traditional 5-10 minute Show formula – whereby each model sways towards the photographers bunched together at the far end, pauses in front of them, retreats back down the catwalk, then they all reappear together for the grand finale – has certainly not been abandoned, it was noticeable that there were far more “Presentations” than on previous occasions. These can continue for up to two hours and provide the media and international buyers with plenty of time to view the collections, take photos (& even chat to) the models posing static on pedestals (Manuel Faccini at Carlton House) or surrounded by foam (Marta Jakubowski at the Institute of Contemporary Arts). The Ong-Oaj Pairam Show at Carlton House was a blend of the two concepts: The models first walked around in front of the audience, then stood stock still for ten minutes at the end for photos and to respond to questions put to them.

As is customary prior to each LFW, the BFC released statistics emphasising the “direct contribution” the UK fashion industry makes to the nation’s economy (£26 billion) and that it “supports 797,000 jobs”. There were £27 billion worth of womenswear sales in the UK in 2015 and apparently 51% of all British women purchased a handbag at some point last year. Throughout the five days of the event “35 million people across the country” would be able to see “LFW content” on 60 outside screens in collaboration with the Ocean Outdoor organization. Meanwhile, the most dedicated trend followers who preferred to attend in person were prepared, as always, to queue for 40 minutes in the wind & rain to get into an often brief Show of only 10 minutes (or less) duration.

The packed LFW schedule meant that many Shows were in effect frequently competing with each other. It wasn’t possible, for example, to attend the presentations of both Zandra Rhodes at the ICA and Molly Goddard at the Topshop, Tate Britain, as they took place almost simultaneously on the Saturday. There was just enough time, however, to make a dash from the Holly Fulton Catwalk in Brewer Street, take the underground to Kings Cross and arrive just before the start of the Emilia Wickstead Show in Pancras Square.

For several years, controversy has swirled around the pressure on young, prospective models to slim down to almost “size zero”. The Conservative MP, Caroline Nokes, has demanded (reported the Sunday Tines on 31st January) that action be taken to ensure “agencies employ models who are in good health and that they provide a realistic image for the public to aspire to”.

An equally fierce debate now revolves around whether the “traditional seasonal approach to catwalk collections” makes sense any more for the big fashion groups such as Burberry. The clothes on display at LFW AW16 are due to go on sale in the Autumn/Winter of this year. As the Guardian’s Lauren Cochrane pointed out on 6th February, this gives the many executives from the high street chains who attend the catwalks the opportunity to copy the designs and put them in their shops four months before “the real thing” becomes available but is no longer seen as being “new”.

The way for this to be resolved (noted Karen Dacre in the “Evening Standard” on 5th February) is to enable customers “to get their hands on catwalk collections immediately after the Shows at which they are launched”. Burberry will now “put all its latest designs into stores and online straight after fashion events rather than months later”.

This will have the effect, wrote Karen Kay in the Observer on 14th February, of making the collections “seasonless”. She quoted the view of the American designer, Tom Ford, that “We have been living with a fashion calendar and system that is from another era” and Judith Watt’s belief that “the utter insanity of the current system, in terms of extravagant shows and rapacious buying” has to be stopped. The fashion industry, she told Kay, is “on its knees, broken by greed and insatiable consumption. The creativity has gone. The designers are having breakdowns because of the pressure to deliver new, new, new”. Kay attributes this situation to the “ I want what I want when I want it (IWWIWWIWI) Generation”.

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Filed under: Society | Posted on February 24th, 2016 by Colin D Gordon

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