When Will London Fashion Week Adapt?

As another tightly-packed London Fashion Week commences, we explore what has (and hasn’t) changed for fashion in the last six months, and highlight our must-watch events.

IMAGE Courtesy of Erdem

It’s February, a month I once viewed synonymously with 6am starts, frantically sprinting along The Strand, regrettable footwear choices and IV drips of Starbucks. Yes, it’s the first fashion month of the year and designers new and old are adding the finishing touches to garments they’re hoping will become the next ‘it’ item or viral video.

Tomorrow, London’s famed bi-annual fashion event begins its four-day schedule brimming with online attractions fighting for your attention. The calendar includes industry stalwarts Burberry, Erdem and Molly Goddard, along with newcomers Ray Chu and Mithridate and BRICKS favourites Bianca Saunders and Bethany Williams. Other highlights include an introduction by spoken word poet and trans visibility activist Kai-Isiah Jamal, and don’t miss Fashion East breakout star Saul Nash’s debut solo show. 

Saul Nash SS21 fashion film with Fashion East

Evolution, and the fashion industry’s dire need to catch-up with the times and slow down, has been a Clubhouse favourite for the last year, which is to say, it’s been highly discussed. For one, we don’t have the same need for new clothes while we’re not leaving the house, but there’s also been increased attention on the climate crisis and an expectation that industry-leaders would stop side-stepping much-needed conversations.

But for all the talk that has taken place, the events schedule has barely evolved past its first iteration last June when the British Fashion Council first trialled digitising the event. Last September, I sat eagerly at my laptop, having spent six style-less months at home in sweatsuits, desperate for my fashion fix. The resulting series of ‘digital shows’ quickly revealed itself to be nothing more than a few one-minute fashion films, a panel talk and some Toni & Guy masterclasses. The most exciting offerings came from the likes of Erdem, Bora Aksu and paria /FARZANEH, all of whom showcased pre-recorded runways – hardly the digital “event” promised by the British Fashion Council.

If fashion is supposed to be forward-thinking, and fashion designers therefore the driving force behind this progression – where is the innovation? Are we destined to watch Youtube embeds and recorded Zoom calls until the national lockdown ceases, only to return to the unsustainable practices we’ve spent the last year scolding? 

If fashion is supposed to be forward-thinking, and fashion designers are therefore the driving force behind this progression – where is the innovation?

It seems the fashion industry can’t catch a break – digital shows are mocked for their lack of excitement, innovation and style, while we know we can’t return to the unnecessary globe-trotting and excessively opulent fashion calendars of decades past. There’s been some suggestion that perhaps in-person runways should no longer be the industry standard – they can cost young designers a fortune, for a start, and limit spotlighting opportunities to capitol cities – and yet reserving these opportunities for exposure for only the luxury brands that can afford it hardly seems democratic either.

Across the pond, the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) chairman Tom Ford announced that the organization would no longer publish an official New York Fashion Week schedule but rather an ‘American Collections Calendar’. The removal of the schedule is the biggest transformation to the fashion week experience that we’ve seen thus far, and gives designers the freedom to show on a schedule that better reflects their brands’ ethos.

In a letter published at the end of January, Ford wrote: “Wherever or however American designers choose to show their collections, it is our job as the CFDA to honour our original mission statement and to help promote and support American fashion. Therefore, we will publish on the schedule not only the schedule of designers showing in New York during New York Fashion Week but also those of American designers showing off calendar and abroad.”

Theophilo x Black Fashion Fair t-shirts

As New York Fashion Week drew to a close earlier this week, the reality of this decision came into view, with a number of high-profile designers whose shows once held prime spots on the schedule nowhere to be seen: Ralph Lauren, Marc Jacobs, Michael Kors and Calvin Klein were all absent, with future plans mostly under wraps or vague.

Positively, it gave way to the most diverse display of designers and models NYFW has ever seen. Responding to the social justice movements that dominated the past year, The CFDA celebrated The Black Design Collective on its digital platform Runway360, while Edvin Thompson of Brooklyn-based label Theophilio teamed up with the Black Fashion Fair to release a capsule collection of t-shirts celebrating his Jamaican roots and familial heritage. 

In London, the same championing of young creative talent cannot be found. Outraged by the lack of support for designers in the wake of the devastating effects of both the lockdown and Brexit, industry-leading think-tank Fashion Roundtable published an open letter to the UK Government. The letter, which has been signed by 450 industry members, calls on the Government to stand by their commitment to frictionless work travel for British creatives, noting that the film and music industries have met with ministers to discuss improvements to the travel restrictions, but the fashion industry has been left out of the conversation.

It reads: “For the sake of our fantastic fashion and textile SMEs, who manufacture everything from knitwear to millinery, jewellery to shoes, denim to designer clothes, we urge the Government to support our sector with the same levels of recognition and financial support offered to other industries. We urge the Government to consider the same kinds of tax relief offered to the film industry for brands showing sustainable leadership and innovation with UK manufacturing, in light of the climate crisis.”

In lieu of Government support, and as we go into this upcoming show season, the BFC would do well to consider how best they can support creative talent across the UK thanks to the democratisation of digital shows, and continue to push for innovative uses of the technology that can authentically and effectively showcase the best that British fashion design has to offer. Until then, see you on the Zoom call?

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