London Fashion Week AW21: “An Opportunity For Renewal”:


After an incredibly challenging year for the industry, it’s what we all need to lift us up”. This was the significance that Caroline Rush, the Chief Executive of the British Fashion Council (BFC) attached to the latest LFW (19th – 23rd February) and the fresh scope for creativity it provided, when quoted by the Sky News correspondent Emma Birchley on the opening morning of the event. The sector, declared Rush, is reeling from what she depicted as the “disproportionate impact” of the combination of the pandemic and Brexit. This was precisely why the BFC had needed to “pivot and adapt the event very quickly”, moving the displays and catwalks to a digital platform easily accessible both to the general public and to all those working within the fashion trade.

In her report on LFW’s final day, the Evening Standard’s fashion correspondent, Chloe Street, acknowledged that although she had missed the intimacy and excitement of attending catwalks in person, the new format had not detracted from “the evident talent on show, with designers delivering exciting collections that spoke to a life post-vaccine”. She cited as examples Simone Rocha, Erdem,Preen, Molly Goddard, Eudon Choi, Vivienne Westwood,Osman and Temperley. Her counterpart at the Guardian, Hannah Marriott, had been perhaps rather more candid on 25th January when she described 2020 as “a terrible year for the world and a head-spinning one for fashion”, albeit that she still believed the industry has “a genuine chance of rebuilding in a slower, more considered way”.


There are mixed views within the sector, however, as to whether even Marriott’s cautious optimism is justified. Her colleague, Priya Elan, on 1st February speculated as whether we are “on the brink of a colourful post-Covid recovery”. This was despite recognising that the number of retailers closing down is continuing to rise – most prominent among them being Sir Philip Green’s Arcadia Group, whose Dorothy Perkins, Wallis, Burtons and Debenham brands have been taken over by the controversial Leicester-based fast-fashion company Boohoo, which has been criticised for the allegedly poor working conditions in its supply chain. Asos meanwhile have become the new owners of Topshop, Topman and Miss Selfridge.


Nevertheless, reflected Elan, the Nobel-winning economist Professor Paul Krugman, has predicted in the New York Times that “things will get better” and the American billionaire businessman, Tilman Fertitta has confidently assured CNBC that “This is going to be the ‘roaring ’20’s – the consumer is coming back”. Yes, but exactly where and which ones, was the query raised by the Guardian’s Fashion Editor, jess Cartner-Morley on 6th February, when she pointed out that the “Fashion industry’s balance of power is moving to China”and that it’s estimated that by 2025, Chinese consumers will account for more than 50% of global luxury spending.


The new complications involved in accessing accessories such as zips from Germany or textiles from Italy were highlighted by the designer Paul Costelloe during Birchley’s Sky News programme and the BBC’s News at 10 on 23rd February: “They get stuck at Heathrow or Stansted airport for two weeks, and by the time I receive them the Show for which they were required has already come and gone”.


The growing anxiety felt by UK fashion retailers who now have to pay an average tariff of 12% when re-exporting to the EU has provoked 450 luminaries from within the sector, among them Dame Vivienne Westwood and the ’60s model Twiggy, to sign a joint open letter to the Government. It warns, in the words of veteran designer Katherine Hammett, that “British brands will die” without a “radical overhaul” of custom arrangements with the EU.


Organised by Tamara Cincik, chief executive of the “Fashion Roundtable” organization, it emphasises that the sector contributes “more to UK GDP than fishing, music, film and motor industries combined, yet we have been disregarded in this deal”. Moreover, that “parity in support is vital” to save the remaining 890,000 jobs in the UK fashion and textiles industry after the loss of 176,718 over the past year due to a decline by an estimated third in consumer spending on fashion.

Cartner-Morley observed on 20th February that “the fashion world has been brought down to earth”, transformed from a world of escapism into one tentatively sketching what the “new normal” may look like. She also noted that the BFC’s choice of Clearplay, a market leader in the “buy now,pay later” credit system, as LFW’s principal partner, has faced some criticism from Labour’s Stella Creasy and 60 fellow MPs.





Meanwhile, the Sunday Times Fashion Editor, Jane McFarland, on 14th February appeared ecstatic that “a famously exclusive industry” has been obliged to become more democratic: “ A ticket for a catwalk show is normally something money cannot buy – a closed world reserved for A-listers and fashion editors.” This year, however, there were no arguments about who would sit FROW (front row) as everyone or anyone could WFH (watch from home). 


This means. the designer Alice Temperely commented to McFarland, not having to turn people away from a show with limited seating. That will be welcome news to the many university arts students in Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham and elsewhere in the UK whose predecessors waited patiently in long queues in the wind and rain at previous LFWs, often for more than an hour, clutching their invitations, but in the end were not allowed in.







Filed under: Media, Society | Posted on February 24th, 2021 by Colin D Gordon

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