Still amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, this month saw London Fashion Week go mostly digital. Although an additional feather in the virus's cap - yet another iconic event has had to be altered - it didn't stop the fashion force and this season was a true testament to designers and their teams who were able to connect with the indutry in a virtual way.
The global fashion industry had to adapt to going predominantly digital this year. A few weeks prior to the London shows, Helnsiki Fashion Week saw designers collaborate with tech firms to hold fashion shows in places that were previously thought as impossibly suited for physical catwalks. British designer Patrick McDowell even held his runway in a Vatican City in the clouds.
While some brands and designers created the classic catwalk in private, streaming to a wealth of fashion editors and creators, others opted for staggered appointments to presentations, where social distancing measures were strictly observed.
Many went down the conceptual route of storytelling: Halpern, for example celebrated women on the frontline, choosing key workers to model the SS21 collection. A light-hearted film, celebrating our heroes included a nurse, a hospital cleaner, a bus station controller, a train operator, a volunteer PPE manufactuer, a healthcare assistant, a train manager and an OBGYN.
Elswhere, people rejoiced at finally getting 'confirmed' to watch Burberry's live stream - side note, we were all confirmed, but it's still nice to celebrate the little things - and Edward Crutchley particularly wowed online viewers with his collection of Mariachi jackets, gingham check and kimono-style gowns. Inspired by Hideo Gosha's 1986 film Gokudô, this collection revealed a modern take on this traditional dress.
Dan O'Connell, co-founder of BrandLab, a specialist in the fashion industry, introduced customised virtual showrooms so brands could recreate the physical space whose access is unstable right now. Buyers are even able to browse 360-degree showrooms and see close-ups of fabric textures, as well as watching catwalk shows filmed exclusively for BrandLab.
“Due to COVID-19, brands have had to accelerate the move to digital and this year’s London Fashion Week was no different," Dan commented. He went on to discuss the 'rule of six', speaking about the fact that the event went digital actually ensured brands an increase in attendance - with no limit on reach. Speaking to those of you who would go to the shows, who did not miss squeezing onto the edge of an already-packed row, butt cheek barely on the bench?
VR has certainly developed and come into its own since COVID-19 hit theworld. What was once known as a novelty, used for a bit of fun, has since accelerated into akey way in which businesses maintain operation. Sustainable and more inclusive, VR allows brands to distribute their news and content at a higher reach and, in the case of London Fashion Week, allowed designers to find a more sustainable way of showing their collections to the industry, virtually. Hands up again if you missed a live fashion show you were dying to see because of London traffic, other shows being delayed or an over-allocation of tickets.
Dan goes on to say that "As well as online shows to showcase the SS21 range, brands can host virtual networking events to enhance industry relationships, as well as switching to digital showrooms, such as Brandlab’s unique virtual reality showrooms, which allow buyers to view entire collections online and host live face to face appointments."
For us here at Style Cartel, London Fashion Week going virtual this year gave us perspective and put the passion back into the shows. It wasn't about fighting for a seat and running from show to show but simply about watching the shows online; admiring the work of the designers this year and taking inspiration. For me, personally, it tok me back to my university days, when I would cover the shows for my university newspaper - of course I wasn't invited to any shows back then but it didn't stop me watching the shows in awe on Vogue Runway.
Yet, virtually displaying fashion is not as new a concept as many fashion week-goers may think. AW20 saw London designer, Osman Yousefzada showcase a virtual-style presentation in February for his contribution to London Fashion Week.
For his London Fashion Week presentation in February, Osman joint forces with the Whitechapel Gallery and Eco Age's founder Livia Firth to reveal his film Her Dreams Are Bigger. I remmeber at the time, many watching the film voicing confusion - this was far from the presentations many were used to viewing, you see. Yet, in an understated medium, the art film was created to highlight the importance of sustainability, the harsh reality of fast fashion and ideas and misconceptions surrounding how we view beauty.
Osman was inspired by a trip to Bangaldesh where he visited women who worked in the manufacturing industry and showed them unwanted clothes that had been made in Bangladesh, showing the role these women played in the fast fashion industry. The film showed the women talking about the women they thought would wear the clothes they make.
“They are tall”; “They look beautiful”; “Their hair colour is red”
“They wear different types of dresses which makes them look more beautiful”
“They eat different kinds of food, they only eat fruit”.
“They’re not black like me, they’re much fairer and very pretty”.
“Beautiful faces, their lips, they are like dolls”.
These musings were then put together for Osman's film which he showcased in February. What Osman did was dive deep into storytelling, using his platform and place on the schedule to give an insight into the thoughts of the women behind the clothes we wear day-to-day. Storytelling is exactly what designers are being praised for this year, as they presented their digital offerings, thus showing Osman was ahead of his time.
Incidentally, Osman rose to the challenge once more with his SS21 presentation film titled as Here To Stay. Focusing on race and the BLM movement, Osman reflects on a phrase his family used in the 80s when facing racism and uses this memory to share a powerful message via poem he co-wrote with artist Makayla Forde. Tackling so many issues this year so far: COVID-19, racism, allyship, understanding privilege, Osman revealed he used this time to pause and reflect and that "this period has given mespace to manifest the way I would like to do business and collaborate with people."
With the new social distancing and COVID-19 safety measures expected to last six months, will we see another virtual London Fashion Week in February 2021?
Amira Arasteh is Fashion and Lifestyle Editor at Style Cartel - follow her on Instagram for more style, food and travel inspiration.