London Fashion Week’s not the circus it used to be. Showboating influencers branded up to the eyeballs have been replaced with environmental protestors, and the traditional runway show has morphed into something completely unrecognisable.
The truth is, Fashion Week as we’ve come to know it doesn’t exist anymore. It’s no longer the heavyweight marketing exercise with all its pomp and ceremony. It seems as though everyone’s suffering from Fashion Week fatigue as a result of a seemingly never-ending global calendar of shows. First up are the pre-collections, then there’s couture week, followed by ready-to-wear - and that’s just womenswear!
According to a report by Standout.co.uk, interest in Fashion Week has fallen by 20% since 2013, with interest in LFW specifically falling more than any of the other major fashion cities. Can it be that LFW has become unfashionable?
Fashion Week used to be an opportunity for industry insiders to see a collection before the general public; a hugely important moment in the fashion calendar where editors and buyers would begin the process of plotting out upcoming trends. It was this sense of exclusivity that lent to its excitement and prestige, but that all changed with the introduction of social media and live streaming. London was the first of the big four to offer designers the capacity to live stream their show. Suddenly, these previously industry-only events were available in real time for anyone with a mobile phone and 3G.
Slowly, Fashion Week started to morph into something completely different; a more commercial affair with the consumer at front and centre. Anyone could watch online and the clothes on the runway started to be upstaged by their own front rows - not to mention hordes of street-style photographers and influencers on their seventh look of the day.
The most fundamental consequence of this change was that consumers were simply not prepared to wait to six months to get their hands on a piece they’d just seen on the runway. It meant that there needed to be a fundamental shift in the way the fashion calendar worked.
Designers had to look into alternative ways of showcasing their collections - Burberry launched its first ‘See Now Buy Now’ collection in 2016 with a ‘seasonless’ men’s and women’s collection, Tommy Hilfiger presented its FW16 collection as a carnival, and Channel has literally turned the Palais de Tokyo into everything from an airport lounge to a supermarket.
But ultimately, this kind of stunt is expensive. Holding a fashion show is an astronomical investment for a brand, with industry experts estimating that the big productions costing upwards of £1m, which essentially prices out smaller designers.
Alongside this, with the industry and consumer conscious shifting towards a more sustainable, ethical and representative mindset, spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on a runway show that’s over in ten minutes seems at best wasteful, and at worst symptomatic of an industry that’s oblivious to its own destructive impact on the world.
As the years have gone by London, more than its other fashion counterparts, has embraced forward thinking. To introduce her latest tote bag, the Neeson (a lightweight woven tote), Anya Hindmarch and her team created The Weave Project, an immersive art installation held at Brewer Street that participants could literally climb through and explore (and take selfies, ofcourse).
Vivienne Westwood, never one to shy away from the provocative has used the runway as a place to present her political ideas. Slogans reading 'Rotten Financial System' in red daubed paint hung from the walls of St John’s Smith Square. Model and activist Adwoa Aboah opened LFW this year week with a T-shirt reading '72 dead and still no arrests, how come?' (pictured) a comment on the Grenfell disaster almost two years ago.
Protesters blocked the streets outside Victoria Beckham’s show shouting “there’s no fashion on a dead planet” - hardly something you would have seen a few years ago.
So LFW continues to morph and change just as the industry does. More and more, it’s becoming a time that the industry takes stock, stands for something and demonstrates creativity in new and evermore exciting ways. London may not have the luxe designers of Milan or Paris, or the big budgets and showmanship of New York but what it does have is a real love for the new. Whether that is celebrating emerging talent or exploring new and innovative ways of showcasing fashion. LFW might not look the same way that it used to five years ago, but I think that’s because it’s moving towards being something even better.
Lucinda Bounsall is senior content strategist at ODD, a creative agency specialising in fashion and retail.