London Fashion Week 16.08.11


One of the easiest ways for designers to get fashion journalists to convince consumers to spend the big bucks on a Dolce & Gabbana dress is to invite them to a show-stopping, super-exclusive party and ply them with champagne. Runway shows are how the industry both validates and celebrates itself. Don't make the mistake of believing that anything in fashion is as simple as selling dresses: London Fashion Week is selling a lifestyle, and selling it in a way that places the catwalk show (and those privileged enough to witness it) at the top of the hierarchy.

The aura of glamour surrounding the shows helps push the more profitable items produced by fashion houses – particularly handbags which have a profit margin of between 10 and 12 times the cost of making them. But brands also have to compete with each other for the attention of editors, buyers and socialites, and so increasingly they attempt to set themselves apart by using an unusual or spectacular venue. While the official British Fashion Council (BFC) venue – a big black tent designed and built by production company Bacchus in the courtyard of William Chambers' neoclassical Somerset House – is perfectly suitable, a hotshot luxury brand like Burberry is under pressure to pull out all the stops every season. Burberry's tent in Kensington Gardens was custom-built by an unnamed production company or architect – the label's PR team refused to divulge any details.

Paradoxically, it is the rise of digital streaming of fashion shows that has made more and more designers feel obliged to secure stunning buildings. Two years ago, London became the first of the fashion weeks to launch a digital streaming schedule. Before then, most designers were happy to display their collections in the main tent. But digital streaming diminishes the aura of exclusivity that London Fashion Week previously possessed – indeed, the talk at the BFC is of inclusivity and democratisation (of what is essentially a giant trade show). The effect of this is that anyone with a computer can now see that the fashion shows last for only 10 minutes and are held in a simple marquee.

It's interesting to watch the fashion world navigate the stormy waters of a digital future, as opposed to the comfy familiarity of exclusivity at all costs. To take a striking, recent example, two years ago Alice Temperley opted out of an expensive runway show (a single catwalk show can cost £600,000) in favour of a digital presentation in her New York showroom. This year Temperley brought her brand back to London, and also back to the runway – showing in the British Museum of all places. Given that fashion is by definition associated with the fleeting, there's also a sense that some brands desire to align themselves with a more permanent heritage – hence Vivienne Westwood at the Royal Courts of Justice, Nicole Farhi at the Royal Opera House, or indeed Temperley at the British Museum.

In this new age of digital technology, the show venues do more than ever to communicate brand identity; the one-size-fits-all BFC tent isn't enough to capture public attention. Before Twitter and digital show streaming, if you weren't at 
the show, you knew nothing about the venue – the photos circulated afterwards in fashion magazines and newspapers only show cropped shots of models that could have been taken anywhere. But easier, remote, access means greater general awareness and designers attempt to raise the bar for their collections every season, not only with the clothes but also with the entire production. Fashion designers are becoming increasingly aware that people need more assurance that their £5,000 Burberry trench really is an investment worth making.

London Fashion Week. Somerset House and other venues. 18 - 23 February.



My Beautiful City/Ian Hunter



Crystal Bennes

quotes story

London Fashion Week is selling a lifestyle, and selling it in a way that places the catwalk show at the top of the hierarchy

Leave a comment

Click to show