London Fashion Week Digital: Expect a laboratory for fashion’s future
Fashion’s biggest collective experiment in many years kicks off Friday morning in the UK with the debut of London Fashion Week Digital, a three-day season which will be a closely watched laboratory for the entire industry.
By any standards it will be a bizarre season; with not a single live runway show. Yet that has not stopped nearly 35 designers primed to show their wares, albeit all with pre-recorded videos.
Shortly after the pandemic broke out in early March, fashion, like the greater world, went into lockdown. The inevitable result was that all the major fashion seasons in Europe – Florence, London, Milan and Paris – called off any idea of a regular summer runway season. So, with social distancing rules still clearly necessary, LFW was left with no alternative than to debut its three-day digital season this week. And it turns out to be a pretty darn busy one.
“When we decided to properly host a digital season, it was a little like the beginning of London Collection Men (back in 2012). ‘We’re doing it for you. Are you interested?’ And, the uptake has been phenomenal, with lots of engagement. I think it will be a very successful experiment. More importantly, I think it will also show what will happen going forward,” argues Dylan Jones, the editor-in-chief of GQ UK who was the driving force behind creating a standalone London menswear season.
This spring, a series of mega brands – Chanel, Dior, Gucci, Prada and Max Mara among others – annulled planned cruise shows in exotic locations. So far, of any major house only Chanel has staged any collection online. On Monday, it unveiled a competent but overwhelmingly modest video referencing the inspiration of the collection – Capri.
However, Jones has already viewed many of the designer videos and was suitably enthusiastic.
“They are terrific and very varied. In my view, most people are looking at fashion weeks the wrong way round, being all about designers and brand interact with customers and press, when the real journey is designing a pair of trousers and having someone buy them. People are obsessed with traditional fashion weeks; whereas we are thinking it’s good to have something having completely disruptive right now,” argued Jones, British Fashion Council Menswear Chair.
The GQ editor has also been an active participant at the Hay Festival, Britain’s biggest literary fest that takes place annually in Wales, which this year went online too.
“At the Hay Festival, for similar reasons, we thought, 'let’s fill the space and put great people together and make it digital' and it's free. And the numbers were extraordinary. The thing is with the digital world you cannot make up any figures. So next year, even if we can do 10 days of talks in the Welsh Valleys, we will still have a digital alternative. There is already an appetite for it,” he concluded.
During this three-day London season with over 50 events, Jones will be doing a podcast with Tinie Tempah and interviewing Christopher Raeburn on state of industry. Was he surprised there were not more live events or livestreams?
“Not really – when we went into lockdown – we had a completely unrealistic idea of when we were coming out of it. We thought at first end of May and then June and now maybe September. Let’s be honest, a lot of designers don’t have a lot of money right now and the mere the fact that they got bothered to try to create content to attract editors or buyers and develop a point of view is very encouraging,” he insisted.
Like most people Jones expects to catch the season in a variety of places – home, local park, even in bed.
“That’s how everyone will engage. The downside of everything being completely digital in the world these last months – from all the zoom calls to entertainment - is that 14 hours at a screen is a real challenge,” he notes.
LFW has also made a major effort to attract major international retailers, especially those with thriving online businesses. The thinking being that if the traditional retail process is broken, then London has to engage heavily with e-tailers. Hence, significant online names like Farfetch, The Webster and JD.Com are all presenting films.
The actual Friday debut designer film will be by Nicholas Daley, a finalist in this year’s prestigious LVMH Prize, while the weekend will feature such notables as Marques’Almeida, Lou Dalton, Charles Jeffrey Loverboy, Preen by Thornton Bregazzi and Matthew Miller. Though the opening event is actually a performance by poet, performer and singer James Massiah. No giant names, perhaps, but plenty of energy.
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