How London Fashion Week soldiered on

Daniel w. Fletcher’s show that opened London Fashion Week began on a muted note. There was a notable absence of street style photographers as attendees formed an orderly queue outside the central London venue and a minute’s silence was held before the first model walked in an all-black suit. The show was accompanied by brooding violin music, before ending in a cover of The Beach Boys’ California Dreamin’.

The occasion struck a delicate balance between respectability and commerce, which spoke to the resilience of the British fashion industry a week after the death of Britain’s longest-reigning monarch.

It almost didn’t happen.

The death of Queen Elizabeth II last week looked like it could derail dozens of designers’ plans for London Fashion Week. Within 24 hours of her death, Burberry and Raf Simons – whose presence on the schedule guaranteed a bigger turnout from VIPs, buyers and international editors than in previous seasons – canceled their runway shows. The British Fashion Council issued a statement providing cover for designers who still wanted to stage their shows, but asked them and the press to “respect the mood of the nation” by not publicizing shows by sharing images in the press or on social media – an essential thing. coverage aspect for each brand. One by one, big planned celebrations like a Hugo Boss opening party to be hosted by Naomi Campbell and British boxer Anthony Joshua were cancelled.

“It was very unclear what the situation was, if it was going to continue at that point,” said Fletcher, who is also creative director of Italian heritage label Fiorucci. “The feeling was, with the two big houses canceling, that all the smaller brands would follow suit.”

On Friday, the BFC convened a conference call with the remaining designers on the schedule to weigh their options. Opinions were divided: some felt London Fashion Week should be delayed or cancelled, either out of respect for the Queen or because Burberry’s withdrawal had robbed the week of much of its allure. There were also concerns of a negative public reception if the performances and events failed to take on a tone appropriate to the period of national mourning.

But many brands insisted they had to go on – they had invested more money than they could afford to lose, and lost much more in bulk orders, e-commerce sales and social media coverage if the shows were cancelled.

“Obviously we are panicking [on hearing the news] as there is so much preparation, stress and investment that goes into putting on a show,” said Charlotte Knowles, founder of London-based womenswear brand KNWLS. “A last-minute turnaround is not really an option.”

On Friday, opinion began to move decisively towards the push. In a tweet, Bryanboy, a high-profile fashion blogger, sparked the conversation, stating: “I wonder how the young designers in London will be financially affected by the show cancellations. Let’s face it: putting on a fashion show costs a lot of money. And many of them don’t have/funding [sic] out of pocket.”

Jonathan Anderson, back for the first time since February 2020 and the biggest name left on the schedule, and a handful of other designers privately made the case to the BFC that going ahead with the shows was not only the right thing to do to be done, but also essential. for the long-term commercial viability of many of the brands. That had a rallying effect, and by the end of the call, most designers agreed to put up a united front, Fletcher said.

After the call, the BFC struck a different tone than it had on Thursday. Its new statement encouraged the industry to “support designers in both attending the shows and covering the shows in the context of the business, creativity and stories of the designers behind businesses that have experienced a period of extreme difficulty,” acknowledging “Many new businesses developing countries that need access to international trade.”

Fashion week is officially back, although the price of disruption was high for some: Fletcher said he turned to his investor to help cover the cost of the show after a sponsor asked to postpone their contribution to his brand for a later date. Several designers, including Roksanda, a mainstay in London since 2005, along with Estonian womenswear brand Roberta Einer and Maxhosa, a South African knitwear brand, decided to postpone their shows or pull out altogether .

Designers such as Chet Lo, Emilia Wickstead and Christoper Kane, all scheduled to show on Monday – the day of the Queen’s funeral – had to hastily arrange alternative dates and hope and pray that their models, make-up artists, spaces of events and logistical support were still available.

Those days after the Queen’s death showed that despite the fact that fashion week is outdated, or that it only matters as a global marketing event for mega brands, these shows remain a vital step in the growth – and survival – of emerging brands.

London Fashion Week in particular is known as a showcase for emerging designers, many of whom risk the future of their businesses on how the collection they send down the runway is received. LVMH Prize winners Nancy Dojaka and SS Daley, as well as menswear designer Bianca Saunders, have all used London in recent years as a springboard to international recognition.

“There is a huge, huge financial pressure on young designers,” said Stavros Karelis, founder and buying director of luxury fashion retailer Machine-A. “They don’t get a lot of financial support at the beginning, so they’re putting all their resources into this moment that is expected to translate into commercial success later.”

High stakes

In an Instagram post on Monday, Harris Reed said it was just as important “now more than ever to support and be there for small brands in London this week” after “talking to my fellow young designers, most of whom have put their entire brand budget into their shows to drive sales and brand awareness with the result that they are hopefully able to grow and not go under or have to restructure.”

It’s not so life-or-death for every brand on the schedule. But designers and experts say there are many reasons why they should show.

Publicity is a big part of it – hence the reaction of designers after the BFC initially warned them not to post about their collections and for the press not to publish images from the shows until the official mourning period was over.

“In 2022, the main source of marketing for a new brand is social media, having international press is a huge opportunity that cannot be missed, especially with increased investment towards this moment that will define the next six months, ” Knowles. told BoF. “To have a press that cannot share [on social media] it would have been a complete nightmare – the cultural success of the show is what will drive the brand for the next six months.”

The initial prospect of not being able to publicize her runway show was a factor in Maxhosa’s decision to postpone her show, said Laduma Ngxokolo, founder of the 10-year-old brand. He said he plans to showcase his collection at a time when the industry is more focused on fashion.

“Online coverage from the press and individuals at the show translates directly into sales for us,” he said.

The people in the room also matter: new brands hope to attract the attention of buyers who will book their collections and editors who will include their creations in photo shoots. For several years, many top international buyers have skipped London Fashion Week following the disruption caused by Brexit and then the pandemic, combined with the fact that many of the UK’s biggest brands have opted to show in Milan or Paris . This time, while two international buyers chose to skip London after Burberry pulled out, most are still in town for the week, people familiar with the matter said.

For many designers, canceling a show so soon before the date means bearing the entire cost and no benefit.

“We’ve invested so much money simply because we know that this fashion week brings buyers, brings future clientele… but that wouldn’t happen if we just spent all this energy and money trying to make it happen and it falls through.” . separately,” said Chet Lo, who is set for his first solo show after three seasons showing through Lulu Kennedy brand incubator Fashion East.

He added: “It was kind of like at the end of the month you’ve used up all your salary and you’re waiting for another salary and it hasn’t come.”

The New Plan

After making the decision to move forward, designers found themselves trying to rethink their shows, sometimes from the ground up.

Fletcher felt he had scored a massive opportunity for his brand – Daniel w. Fletcher – to open London Fashion Week, but now finds himself in the difficult position of setting the tone for an unprecedented week. He swapped an upbeat ’80s soundtrack for music by Max Richter, an English composer known for classic post-minimalist works. The first look, the black-on-black breakfast suit, was a late addition to the show. Social posts will be “less about the VIPs in the front row and more about the headline,” he said.

“It’s still very much something that fits within the collection,” Fletcher said. “We’re not throwing a crown in there for the sake of it.”

Roberta Einer is one of many young designers who had planned celebratory comeback shows, but said they no longer felt appropriate in light of the national period of mourning following the Queen’s death.

Others felt strongly about moving forward more or less as they had planned before last week. Lo described his show as “a bit of madness”, with a set – including an aromatic component – and bespoke music composed by a friend in Paris. After a whirlwind few days, he had arranged for everything to be moved from Monday to Tuesday. One concern for Lo is that many of the VIPs who were scheduled to attend on the original date may not make the rescheduled show because they were going to Milan that day. (In contrast, Burberry announced that it would now debut its collection on October 26 – a brand of its size can guarantee a large international audience regardless of when it is shown.)

But a show isn’t just about who’s in the front row, or the financial returns, he said.

“At the end of the day, a show is kind of a physical part of our emotions… it’s just as important to us in just a creative artistic capacity that we have this outlet,” Lo said. “It’s very important that the VIPs and buyers are there, but for me, emotionally, I just needed this outlet.”

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