Paris Fashion Week closed in March with a spectacle held by Louis Vuitton in a shadowy courtyard of the closed Louvre museum. Though no one knew it at the time, the event may have been the last traditional catwalk show of 2020. Shortly afterward, the spread of the coronavirus put an end to physical gatherings, including the runway circus more commonly known as fashion week.
In its stead — for now anyway — comes a whole new digital experience. This week, London will up the ante on the industry experiment as the city becomes the first of the four fashion capitals to take its runway shows online.
Previously called London Fashion Week Men’s, the shows, held in June, were a weekend roundup of British men’s wear that acted as a curtain raiser for the bigger, beefier men’s wear lineups shown later elsewhere in Europe.
Now London Fashion Week has dropped the “men’s” and will be a digital platform catering to all genders. It will roll out from June 12 to June 14 and showcase new designs, virtual showrooms, short films, podcasts and playlists, all from a new home (londonfashionweek.co.uk) and new hashtag (#LFWreset).
The “reset” part of the hashtag is actually what it’s all about.
“Canceling London Fashion Week was never an option,” said Caroline Rush, the British Fashion Council chief executive. “The big question was around what sort of format it would take in lockdown.”
The answer is a Netflix-style home page with three category streams. There is an official schedule of roughly 20 brands that would normally show in London, like Chalayan, Marques Almeida and Nicholas Daley, unveiling new or existing product lines on the site at specific time slots alongside links to look books, digital showrooms and e-commerce sites. There is also an exploration portal where brands, schools, retailers and cultural institutions can display creative content, like 3-D films and poetry readings.
And finally there is footage produced by the British Fashion Council, including interviews and video diaries from designers including Roksanda.
“This is about keeping fashion week going culturally at a time when it can’t take place physically,” Ms. Rush said. “Designers can tell a story and build their brand on this platform in whatever way they choose.”
Not every brand has embraced the new format. Ms. Rush noted that when the fashion council made the decision to produce the digital event, it didn’t know whether many designers would be able to produce new collections in the current climate.
The official lineup of participants was published on June 5. Few established names from the London women’s wear scene, like Burberry and Victoria Beckham, were on it.
Preen and Marques Almeida had signed on, but most brands had opted to wait to show in September. Others offered up what may be termed collection-adjacent productions.
Nicholas Daley, for example, a London-based men’s wear designer who was a finalist for the LVMH Prize this year until the competition was canceled in April, decided to produce a playlist rather than a full new collection.
Known for his colorful explorations of multiculturalism within British identity, Mr. Daley has built his brand on manufacturing via local craftspeople and infusing music into his fashion week presentations. He will also appear on the schedule with a short film on his AW20 collection, with behind-the-scenes footage from his January runway show.
“I am genuinely grateful that this fashion week platform exists and think it was the right thing to do to make sure it was there for those who wanted it,” said Mr. Daley, who received a grant from the BFC Foundation Covid Crisis Fund, an initiative started in March to make 1 million pounds in emergency assistance available for designer businesses affected by the pandemic.
Mr. Daley’s musical playlist will reflect his inspirations for his spring-summer 2021 collection, and be accompanied by sketches and snapshots of fabrics — “an interactive mood board” was how he described it.
“It wasn’t feasible for me to complete a collection with so much of my time being taken up by keeping the business afloat,” he said. “But I wanted to do this. Contributing is better than stagnating.”
Rosh Mahtani, the founder of Alighieri jewelry, will upload product and contact information to the platform but will not be showing anything new. At the last London Fashion Week, in February, Princess Anne presented Ms. Mahtani with the Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design.
But Alighieri’s revenue from wholesale sales was cut in half during the shutdown (although e-commerce sales went up), the company said, and Ms. Mahtani had to desert her studio for months with only a few hours notice; several of her employees got sick.
“I’ve found it really hard during lockdown,” she said. “I just felt insecure and quite confused. I wished I could make ventilators not jewelry.”
Although Ms. Mahtani added that she liked the fact that this London Fashion Week would be open to everyone and that customers can join as well as press and buyers, ultimately, “I want to take the time to do something amazing and relevant in September,” she said.
London is not the first city to move its fashion week online since the outbreak began; Shanghai and Moscow went digital for their fashion weeks in late March and April. But it is something of a test case for what will follow: digital offerings from Paris (couture and men’s wear) from July 6 to July 13, and Milan from July 14 to July 17.
If these digital fashion weeks attract millions of viewers far beyond the traditional attendees and give designers a new creative outlet, they are sure to add momentum to existing questions about the long-term viability of the old runway model.
In May, two groups of designers and brands published memos that called for, among other things, an overhaul of the fashion calendar so that collections would be displayed in a more seasonally, and audience-appropriate, way.
“The current situation is leading us all to reflect more poignantly on the society we live in and how we want to live our lives and build businesses when we get through this,” Ms. Rush said. She added that the new London Fashion Week platform would be here to stay, even when physical shows were feasible again.
“Right now we are trying to build something that fits our needs today,” she said. “But we are also investing in a global showcase for the future.”
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