London Fashion Week was the centre of the designers’ universe — Covid changed all that
September is the January of fashion, marking the beginning of a new season and the biggest showcase of the year for most designers. Fashion weeks are held through September and October in London, New York, Paris and Milan for the summer collections which hit the stores in January the following year. This year there’s a spanner in the works. Covid has already made a devastating impact on the industry — shutting down factory after factory as the virus spread round the world. Now it has hit those looking to showcase their collections during next week’s London Fashion Week.
The majority of designers I know are not going ahead with shows as we know them. Many are instead putting their showcases online. Normally, after the show, international buyers would make selection in the show room. That process is going online too. The snag: there’s a reason 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 a screen.
Some designers are still showing “as usual” — Molly Goddard and Victoria Beckham among them — but to a much smaller crowd. Maximum capacity indoors is now about 30 people. This inevitably means losing some of the buzz and excitement you get from a full room of 500 guests, but there is one advantage. Those 30 will get a much more intimate experience — the seats are as in-demand as ever.
As a designer with 26 London Fashion Week shows under my belt, this biannual event, when the travelling circus of international press and buyers descended upon the city, was the epicentre of my universe.
How things have changed: for next week’s event, international guests on the official British Fashion Council list have gone from the usual 1,000 to 1,500 to no list at all, and the impact on the city as a whole is likely to be felt by many more of our industries than just those in the fashion game.
The impact goes beyond fashion. The industry contributes £35 billion to the country’s GDP and employs nearly 900,000. Yet a lot of that revenue is generated from the biannual shows, and fashion’s contribution to GDP is now predicted to drop to £26 billion.
Yet there is perhaps a silver lining: a chance for positive change in the industry. Fashion’s business model has long been criticised for being out of date. Now there’s a chance to rethink the way it works.
Part of that is that the fashion crowd can be perceived as being elitist and snobby. One thing the fashpack is good at is enthusiastic spending. Taxis and private chauffeurs are the transport of choice — who could forget the season that Anna Wintour arrived by Addison Lee from Newcastle when her flight was diverted due to high winds — and you’re much more likely to spot a group of fashion journos sipping martinis at Annabel’s and pushing an expensive carb-free meal around their plate at Scott’s than you are tucking into a Five Guys. All, most likely, carrying brand new handbags that could easily match the price of a second-hand car. It might not be a bad thing if that has to change.
For my part I can’t help but feel a sense of relief that I’m not faced with navigating my way through the quagmire. Next week is a real test for the most creative design talent in the world and I hope that it is as positive an experience as it can be.