British Fashion Council Debuts Digital London Fashion Week

Last weekend, the British Fashion Council launched the first completely digital and gender-neutral London Fashion Week – but did it do enough to change the shape of fashion's future?

IMAGE Taken from Marques Almeida reM’Ade fashion film

London has long maintained a reputation for fashion innovation – not only is it the youngest of the four major fashion weeks, but it also boasts the most diverse representation of international talent both on and off its runways. It was no surprise then that when social distancing measures were first introduced by the World Health Organisation, London was the first of the fashion capitals to host an all-new gender neutral and totally virtual London Fashion Week.

Previously known as ‘London Fashion Week Mens’, the usual June schedule was redesigned, instead favouring a merged-gender celebration of creativity. Completely digital and open to all, a new free online platform was created by the British Fashion Council to be accessed by anyone from anywhere around the globe, bringing the fashion community together. The schedule was primed with 3 days of fashion films, virtual showrooms, podcasts, playlists, live-streamed panel discussions and even a drop-in virtual afterparty. 

Although technically gender-neutral, the event’s schedule fell within London’s traditional menswear slot. And while London Fashion Week Men’s is, in my opinion at least, a considerably more exciting affair than its women’s counterpart due to the innovative designs of menswear leaders, the absence of household names invariably dampened the glamour of the fashion week ‘event’.

Industry stalwarts Burberry, Vivienne Westwood and Christopher Kane all opted not to show until autumn’s womenswear season. However, some star power was leant by high-profile supporters of British menswear such as Tinie Tempah, who joined the BFC’s menswear chair Dylan Jones in a refreshingly insightful online discussion. Even more surprisingly, Arsenal defender Héctor Bellerín provided one of the weekend’s highlights via a special-edition podcast where he discussed race, meditation, veganism and famous football kits.

British newcomer Charles Jeffrey hosted what was to be the most exciting event of the weekend, in the form of a 30-minute live stream in aid of UK Black Pride. In lieu of recent protests and global activism for the Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of George Floyd’s death, Jeffrey decided to clear his platform and invite a lineup of BIPOC performers, artists, and two black fashion graduates he’d taught at Westminster University to stage a live-streamed fundraiser—from the very same basement where the Loverboy club nights began.

Portuguese designers Marta Marques and Paulo Almeida of Marques Almeida presented a documentary-style fashion film exploring the brand’s latest project, reM’Ade. The reM’Ade pilot collection is designed as a patchwork of in-house deadstock fabrics from previous M’A collections, as the designers explain:

Seeking ways to put sustainability goals into practice, we found the urgency to first “clean our own house” by using our own waste to challenge prevailing fashion power structures: the number of collections per year, minimum orders for production, opaque supply chains and more recently the way in which global retailers cancelled orders amidst a health crisis. Such prevailing fashion systems lead to selective inclusion of labour and materials classified as “valuable” or “fashion”, while other valuable parts of fashion production are repeatedly excluded by organisations.

Marta Marques and Paulo Almeida

Central Saint Martins Class of 2021 presented field work material produced by MA Fashion Students showcasing all aspects of design in all forms. Although far from the most polished presentation of the weekend, the 11-minute movie was a familiar practice for the students who are used to presenting their work in an unorthodox way, making for a nostalgic reminder of university crit culture.

There were some welcome omissions from the usual fashion week cycle – standing in railed queues in the rain, the pestering of persistent photographers, the oh-so-fake air-kidding, to name but a few. But what it missed most was excitement.

Yes – the exclusivity, the extravagant locations, the glamour – was gone. For many years, the opulence of fashion week events has been considered excessive, especially for an industry so responsible for our global climate crisis. Thanks to social media, the internet and the increased speed at which our lives operate, fashion shows and fashion week events no longer hold the essential status in the industry that they once did. Cancelling these events, or harnessing the power of online platforms to create innovative ways to display clothing artistically, has been dubbed as one of the easiest and most necessary changes that the fashion industry needs to accept and take action towards – this is Extinction Rebellion’s fourth attempt at boycotting the event.

a Netflix-style streaming site hosting videos from a handful of British designers is a far cry from the digital fashion revolution some of us had in mind.

Despite my giddiness as February and September roll around every year, and my flatmates watch in exasperation as I raid their closets in a last-minute attempt at outfit planning, I am in agreement that the current setup of international shows has now become outdated. I put my full support behind the companies and organisations, such as the British Fashion Council, who are striving to create more appropriate solutions, or designers like Marques Almeida altering our perspective on what it even means to produce luxury fashion.

It was a fashion week so unlike any other, that it really didn’t feel like one at all. And that was its downfall – no matter how informative the discussions were, or how well-intentioned some of the presentation concepts must have been, a Netflix-style streaming site hosting videos from a handful of British designers is a far cry from the digital fashion revolution some of us had in mind. Credit must go where credit is due, and we’re awarding the BFC’s digital debut with an A for effort. If, however, post-pandemic we see a shift away from the baby steps that have been taken this weekend, we will consider re-grading.