London Fashion Week: Designers put to the test against a struggling market and more social restrictions

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As London Fashion Week (LFW) begins it’s likely that a lot of attention will be on the presentations, and not just the clothes.

While stage dressing and setting are usually key elements of any fashion event, now, whether designers choose to put on a live show at all, or go online — with a film, a digital runway — will remain a point of interest, and with pandemic-related restrictions recently tightened in the UK, even controversy.

Is this the moment the fashion industry should be slowing down — maybe rethinking the fashion week schedule entirely?Another big question is: Who is buying luxury clothing and for what reason?

Coronavirus infection rates continue to rise in many parts of the world, meaning that people are still limiting their out-of-doors activities, and the luxury clothing market is floundering. Despite this potentially grim outlook, there is still a slew of activity planned for the gender-neutral LFW over the coming days, including 50 digital presentations, 21 physical-digital hybrids, and seven live events.

Only three designers — Bora Aksu, Mark Fast, and Pronounce — are planning physical runway shows. While many American big-name designers took a break from this season’s New York Fashion Week, which ended on Wednesday, LFW will see the return of some familiar faces, like JW Anderson, always a hot ticket, who will present his latest collection in an online film, as will provocative young designer Charlotte Knowles, tailoring specialist Bianca Saunders, and the Portuguese duo Marques Almeida.

Richard Quinn, who was presented the inaugural Queen Elizabeth II Award for Design in 2018, will be showing a film.

London has historically been seen as the more edgy and innovative fashion week of the big four — next to New York, Milan and Paris — though it remains to be seen whether designers will make the most of technology to connect with audiences and woo buyers.Another new development might be the return of the salon.

Before fashion weeks had become heavily attended affairs with international press, influencers and celebrities all turning out to see and be seen, many labels hosted small, exclusive events; gatherings of select editors and buyers, a trend that seems to be returning in light of social restrictions — designers Molly Goddar, Roksanda and Erdem have such salons planned.

Into the Woods

Kicking things off with a twist, British legacy label Burberry held a live show in the woods, hosted on popular live-streaming platform Twitch, known primarily as a hub for gamers to meet, play and watch each other play.

This event marks the first time a luxury brand has collaborated with Twitch, in a pairing that might be only slightly less confusing to unassuming audiences than when a documentary about notoriously shy designer Martin Margiela was reportedly leaked on Pornhub in April, in advance of its official premiere.

In a pre-show chat on Burberry’s Twitch channel, musician Erykah Badu appeared on screen to speak with musicians Rosalía and Steve Lacy and model Bella Hadid, who dialed in for what appeared to be an unscripted discussion that perhaps was intended to add some personality and urgency to the proceedings, but which ultimately fell flat.

At its apex nearly 43k people were watching the Burberry show on Twitch, an atmospheric affair with hints of idyllic fancy and the looming spirits of nature, a scene that was punctuated by the piercing vocals of performance artist Anne Imhof, who collaborated with Burberry’s creative officer Riccardo Tisci on the show.

Inspired by earthly elements, the clothes, a mix of structured outerwear, exquisite dresses and light shirts, in tones of blue, orange and navy green, were made with contrasting materials, like sturdy natural canvas, denim, and rubberized fabric paired with soft chiffon and embroidered crystals.

“It began with a thought of British summertime; embracing the elements with a trench coat on the beach mixing with the sand and the water,” Tisci said in a statement.In fact, the trench coat, Burberry’s quintessential piece, was the star of the show. It made several appearances, through various iterations — including in full black and in a patchwork of denim and canvas — a statement about Tisci’s masterful re-engineering of Burberry’s style DNA.

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