London Fashion Week: Confounding The Pessimists:

The headlines were dire and the predictions gloomy. “London’s fashion businesses are on the brink and many brands are in crisis”, declared the London Evening Standard columnist, Kate Finnigan in the newspaper on 15th September, just two days before the start of LFW SS (Spring/Summer)21 (17-22 September). To highlight the point, she quoted the acknowledgement by the British Fashion Council (BFC) Chairman, Stephanie Phair, that the pandemic has had “a devastating economic impact” on the industry and that it’s growth could recede back to £26 billion from the £35 billion it currently contributes to the UK’s GDP.

The designer Henry Holland had been equally downbeat in the same newspaper the previous week. The biannual LFW event, in which he has participated on 26 occasions, is suddenly no longer “the epicentre of his universe”. The official BFC list of international guests and buyers had gone from the “usual 1,000 – 1500 to none at all”, which would clearly effect the commercial agreements frequently concluded following a catwalk. There’s a reason, he asserted, why online fashion shows have never really taken off: “The industry relies on an element of personal interaction and storytelling which is more difficult to convey through the screen”.

In the Guardian on 12th September, Jess Carter-Morley mused over whether the world even still cares about fashion: “Is escapism acceptable in a pandemic?”, she queried, “Do we even need new clothes for our restricted lifestyles? And if not, then what next for a global industry that is worth £1.1 trillion to the global economy and employs 430 million people worldwide?”

Nevertheless, far more positive aspects have emerged from LFW SS21 than the sceptics seem to have anticipated. The mere fact that it took place at all, stated the BFC, was a testimony to “the industry’s resilience, creativity and innovation in difficult times”. Included in the schedule were 80 designers featuring womenswear (40), menswear (20), twenty combining the two and 5 accessory brands.

There was a total of 50 digital only activations, 21 physical and digital and 7 physical only. This meant, pointed out, that any member of the public who wanted to see the SS21 collections could do so, since most of them were being live-streamed online.

As the Elle contributor, Daisy Murray, has noted, criticisms of fashion weeks have been mounting over the last few seasons, owing to their cost (which can range from £100,000 to £1 million or more), their carbon footprint and the sheer size of production. They’ve been accused of “promoting detrimental environmental practices and ineffective business models for fashion brands”, hence moving these events online (as the Shanghai Fashion Week had already done in March) could be the viable solution to these problems, irrespective of the pandemic.

Prior to LFW SS21, the Glamour UK correspondent, Alexandra Fullerton, urged prospective WFH (watching from home) viewers to take their seats on their sofas, dip in and out as they wished and thereby observe for themselves how the traditional catwalk shows were being replaced by fashion films, panel chats and live performances.

Indeed, according to the fashion and beauty website, the Elle UK editor-in-chief, Farrah Storr, informed the Daily Mail that she would be following it all from her kitchen while wearing her cashmere joggers: “In the front row,it will be just me and my two dogs looking at clothes that I hope people can wear in six months time”.

Kate Finnigan’s Evening Standard article was not entirely negative: The Northern-Irish co-founder of the Rixo label, Orlagh McCloskey, emphasised to her that their aim at LFW was to “virtually entertain, inspire and bring joy to as many people as possible”, the English designer, Anya Hindmarch couldn’t see why this year’s LFW would actually be so “weird” at all, and the Scottish designer, Christopher Kane, reflected that without the pressures of a traditional show, they’d had time to rethink the way they do things.

This last factor was evident from the outset of LFW – for example, at Burberry’s hybrid womenswear / menswear catwalk , hosted on the Twitch app and which took place on 17th September in an unidentified forest where models dressed in white had to climb down from beds mounted on plinths. Similarly, Turkish designer Bora Aksu’s socially-distanced outdoor catwalk in Covent Garden on 18th September was described by Jess Cartner-Morley the following day as having featured “ traditional nurses’ whites, complete with starched collars, nostalgic ruffle-edged aprons and face-masks worn with pillar-box red lipstick underneath”.

In her book “How To Break Up With Fast Fashion”, published in January 2020, the freelance journalist and digital editor, Lauren Bravo, contends that, if we’re ever going to trust big brands again, “we need answers”. Where were our clothes made? she asks. In which factories? How much were their workers paid and how much is lining millionaire pockets as a result? In her opinion, full transparency – not only style and appearance – is these days what should always be expected from the fashion industry.

Filed under: Media, Society | Posted on September 22nd, 2020 by Colin D Gordon

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