Simplicity, Adaptability and Inspiration – London’s First Ever Virtual Fashion Week

As fashion week moves online we ask the question; are we getting back to what matters- the clothes themselves? At the culmination of London’s first ever virtual Fashion Week, we look over the impact moving online has had on designer showcases and the wider implications this might have on the retail industry.

When the British Fashion Council announced plans to adhere to social distancing guidelines by moving fashion week online and making the event gender-neutral – the reaction was mixed. The primary question was whether the ‘Big Brands’ would subscribe to this alternative showcase? How much would brands invest in the production of their virtual fashion shows? Surely nothing could beat Chanel under Lagerfeld’s outrageous visual staging of previous years?

Greater inclusivity?

Whilst the BFC argued for the inclusivity of the event and indeed for the first time in Fashion Week history members of the public would be able to virtually attend thus expanding the audience designers could appeal to. But in a new world whereby Instagram influencer’s have steadily risen from back-row ‘Z-listers’ to front row stars, in thanks to their loyal followings of millions, the question remained if brands would feel their exposure was limited without influencer’s to promote their attendance at the show in real-time.

Chiara Ferragni boasts 21.1 million followers on Instagram and had not one, but two Haute Couture wedding dresses made for her nuptials- an exclusive boast usually reserved for the most superior celebrities.

Was the transition to inclusive, open-access fashion via virtual streaming an unwelcome direction for designers, who rely on the ‘exclusivity’ of their clients (and their bank accounts) to make their designs, coveted?

Over the week each day was divided into three sessions with specific time slots for each event- a bonus for reduced carbon emissions as there becomes no need to travel across town or fly around Europe to make the next show.

A further step towards inclusivity is the abandonment of gender divisions with combined shows. Whilst this is a reflection on the increasing focus on divisive gender-labels it also answers the call of fashion houses to slow the pace of fashion- as social media has made every day and every street a runway opportunity and the pressure to churn out three shows a year becomes unsustainable.

Regardless of the issues surrounding the fashion industry, what impact will this have on the wider retail consumer industry? With the British High Street already struggling to compete with online retailers and the threat of a second wave and subsequent lockdown a more pressing matter for much of the public, London Fashion Week should not be dismissed as a frivolity in troubling times. With £61 billion spent on clothing in 2019, the trickle-down effect is needed to inject the consumer retail market with some much-needed inspiration.

Impact of SS21 shows

In a refreshing juxtaposition to the contrived/ fake narrative social media so often presents, virtual fashion shows seems to have inspired big-name designers to revert to natural and organic settings. Will this also serve to level the playing field for emerging designers, as the ‘front row’ becomes the ‘front sofa’ alleviating the pressure of big name guest attendees.

How will fashion influencer’s fair working from home- will attendee outfits remain catwalk-chic, or cat-hair-eek? Will this be a trend setting format? Or for those usually on the fashion front rows does nothing compare to the buzz of a collection showcase?

Certain designers themselves seem to be embracing the new set of challenging circumstances, in the words of Erdem Moraligolu “We had to be agile. You either adapt or you don’t do it.” When his usual fabric suppliers and manufacturers closed due to the virus, he sourced new UK suppliers.

While Erdem, Burberry and Paria Farzaneh have opted to showcase their designs in forests, one can assume the implication is the adaptability fashion, retail and indeed the world have had to readily accept in an unprecedented climate.

In keeping with the simple, classic silhouettes Emilia Wickstead is favoured for she mimics Molly Goddards’ brighter and more exaggerated collection. The showcase allows the clothes to give their desired impact without relying on background setting, as such echoing the simplicity lockdown brought to everyday life.

In times of confusion, inspiration can be the brightest guiding light. Victoria Beckham, Halpern Studio and Christopher Kane’s collections reflect the ideal that life is art, and can resultantly be just as messy.

Whilst a lot of questions are unanswered about the success of Virtual London Fashion Week, undoubtedly a move towards gender and class inclusivity can be nothing but a good thing. Did you watch any shows? How do you feel about life ‘moving online’?

Join the conversation and let us know.