London Fashion Week Went Digital And, Amazingly, It Worked
When the Covid-19 pandemic took hold earlier this year, it very quickly became apparent that the fashion and entertainment industries were likely to be among the hardest hit. With production and retail all but decimated in the former and an inability to operate at every level stymying the latter, the world’s fashion weeks – the seasonally manifest intersections of both sectors – seemed unlikely to survive.
So, when the British Fashion Council announced back in April that London’s Spring/Summer 2021 seasonal showcase would take place in an entirely digital format, there was as much a sense of trepidation as there was excitement.
Many of London’s brightest young designers, after all, with their limited budgets and lack of access to factories, would not actually have a collection to show. And then there was the issue of photography. How, with the lockdown in place, could the designers even get their clothes photographed if, indeed, they had anything to shoot?
The first ever digital London Fashion Week, LFW June 2020, took place this weekend (between Friday 12 and Monday 15 June, the dates usually occupied by London Fashion Week Men’s) and it proved that, even in the face of near-insurmountable odds, the appetite for creativity in the capital remains second to none.
Mounted on a Netflix-style platform designed by Wednesday Agency, the digital event – which featured a traditional schedule of video presentations, conversations and podcasts alongside a range of evergreen designer diaries and articles – was a saturated smorgasbord of all the brilliant fashion innovation London has to offer.
A still from Natasha Zinko’s collaborative collection with Duo Ltd
It was a point highlighted with particular aplomb by a series of videos Chinese retailer JD.com produced with LFWM ambassador Hu Bing, in which British creatives including Samuel Ross, Paul Smith and Daniel Kearns extolled the excellence of homegrown creativity. “Video offers a personable take and a more human form of communication. I’m hoping it will begin a shift in how designers communicate with supporters and industry alike,” said Ross of the series. “LFW’s digital take on fashion week is shifting the approach taken by the industry to communication and pairing designers directly to a global audience [in a wider way].”
It didn’t seem to matter, either, that many of the designers didn’t have physical collections to showcase. Sure, Pronounce showed a capsule of Bengal-style shirts teamed with asymmetric skate tees, and, yes, Natasha Zinko’s Hunter S Thompson-inspired collaboration with Duo Ltd was super desirable (and that’s before you get to E Tautz’s summer sports day-inspired collection of capacious tailoring, cleverly shown against digitally manipulated backdrops of English cricket grounds), but it was really the unexpected, entirely original ways in which the brands and designers responded to current social issues that stole the show.
A still from E Tautz’s collection
Priya Ahluwalia, for instance, mounted a digital 3-D exhibition to support the release of her new photography book, Jalebi. Photographed by Laurence Ellis, both the book and exhibition explore what it means to be a person of mixed heritage living in modern Britain. Covering a similarly pertinent topic, our very own GQ Style team hosted a conversation about diversity in the fashion industry (“Saying that ‘we need to be better’ is just not good enough now,” stated Senior Fashion Editor Gary Armstrong), while Charles Jeffrey produced a characteristically dynamic video happening of musical performances and dance pieces, titled “SOLASTA”, with the aim of raising funds for UK Black Pride.
A still from Ahluwalia’s Jalebi 3-D exhibition
Watching the way in which these designers – the vast majority of whom are struggling to stay afloat in such tumultuous economic waters – came forward to respond to the plight of others through the prism of such unbridled creativity was nothing short of inspiring. It’s a point with which GQ Editor-In-Chief and LFWM chairman Dylan Jones agrees. “I think the great thing about London’s first digital fashion week – actually the world’s first digital fashion week – was the variety of content, from interviews and panel discussions to films and presentations,” says Jones. “Yet again London proved that it has such a rich seam of young creatives, more so than any other fashion capital.”
A still from Charles Jeffrey’s SOLASTA, which raised money for UK Black Pride
Elsewhere, sustainability took centre stage. Jones conducted a fascinating conversation with Christopher Raeburn about the future of the fashion industry, while Raeburn himself launched his new Raefound capsule collection of repurposed military dead-stock. Daniel W Fletcher showcased his (truly excellent) AW20 collection of classic monochromatic tailoring – much of it made from repurposed scraps and old showpieces – while Per Götesson pulled together a wistful film, The Ghost Of Gulliver, which celebrated many of his nautical-inspired archive garments.
A look from Christopher Raeburn’s Raefound collection
“LFW Reset and the digital-first approach has provided an extraordinary platform for innovation and, importantly, accessibility,” Raeburn told me after the event. “It’s been really inspiring to hear so many designers and brands talking about their shift towards more responsible ways of thinking and it seems that the impacts of Covid have really reinforced our obligations to make positive changes for the industry. The important thing now after all the positive talk is that there is genuine action; this can’t be about lip service, we need genuine change.”
Usually at this point in the run of menswear shows I would be recovering from the GQ LFWM closing dinner while packing for my forthcoming trip to Italy and attempting to start writing my seasonal trend report (it’s a busy time in my brain). And although I won’t be able to do that today, what London’s first digital showcase has taught me is that there’s a wider trend – arguably a more important trend – happening in fashion right now. Ours is an industry which has long been weighed down by both its lack of inclusivity and a general disregard for the environmental impacts of its production and dissemination practices – but, for the first time ever, if the waves made by digital London Fashion Week are anything to go by, it seems as though we may truly be on the brink of change.
A still from Per Götesson’s The Ghost Of Gulliver (Image: Patrick Waugh)
“The 120 designers and other members of the industry we hosted this London Fashion Week exceeded our expectations,” says Caroline Rush, CEO of the British Fashion Council. “The conversations around creativity and the social debates that took place during the past three days on the platform have been essential, proving how critical it is to address how the industry resets in the wake of Covid, addressing diversity, stamping out racism and focusing on its impact on the planet.”
Head to londonfashionweek.co.uk now to see all the shows, presentations, videos, podcasts and pieces from digital London Fashion Week. It’s open to all.