Between November and January, an ice rink adorns the cobblestones behind Somerset House’s neoclassical façade, providing a refuge from the steady rhythm of passing businessmen and students along The Strand. Some glide along the ice, others stumble; no heads turn. In February and September, no such sanctuary exists, nor any partition between the location’s interior and exterior, as the chaotic and exuberant spectacle spills out onto the street, and an unintentional misstep makes news. Welcome to London Fashion Week: an overwhelming fusion of masked rivalry and overt voyeurism.
In 1984, at the birth of London Fashion Week, it was the editors, stylists, designers and press who filled the rows at each show. They took notes, commented on emerging trends and lived out a half hour fantasy on behalf of their readers, as they watched an unattainable and alien body carry the outfit that they would soon burn to possess. The event’s 28-year history has led to the convergence of politics, history, pop culture and fashion. Margaret Thatcher, Princess Diana and, more recently, Samantha Cameron, have all attended shows, whilst homegrown models Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell and Lily Cole have all paraded down the runway.
In 2012, the fashion pack has been completely transformed. One no longer needs to belong to a particular magazine in order to be a fashion journalist, nor to be signed by an agency to adorn the pages of the next issue of Vogue, and you are equally likely to find Susie Bubble perched on the Front Row, as you are to find Anna Wintour. We are all legitimate members of the blogging generation, and there is no more definitive confirmation of this than at Fashion Week. This year, plugs were introduced on the Front Row, and I observed more eyes glued to their iPhones than to the podium, as those assembled frantically tweeted, hash-tagged, and instagrammed the show. The experience is no longer rooted in the moment, but in being perceived to have been at the moment, and being the conduit for its broader transmission to the world. Being there is entirely secondary to being seen to be there. And I could not help feeling that the editors, and others, who sat before me, rendering the experience in front of them square with a 60’s tint, were deferring their experience: perhaps, in deference to the greater good of sharing it?
In that, it is no different to the manner in which we all live our lives. How many gigs and parties do we realise, belatedly, that we have virtually missed, because our focus was on capturing the scene on our phones or cameras, and telling our friends all about it, rather than on what was there before us? And so we go home, and savour our experiences the next day, as we review our photographs and upload them to Facebook. Nothing is truly lived until it is tweeted, as our identities are defined by the character of our presence on social media. It is through tweeting and blogging that we find authenticity and our existence is legitimised.
We live our lives at one remove, and it is not too much of an exaggeration to say that those who sat at home on their laptops, enjoying instant access to the images or the live feed of the London Fashion Week shows, in some sense, experienced it more immediately than many of those who were there. Far from being the exclusive event that it once was, London Fashion Week is now instantly accessible to all, and, ironically, may be enjoyed in a more immediate way by those who are absent. The once so-coveted seat on the Front Row at fashion shows is now The Frow; doubtless because it reduces the number of characters squandered on Twitter.
This year, anyone could enter into Somerset House’s courtyard, and I observed groups of ticketless teenage girls wandering in, wearing their most outrageous outfits, in order to attract the attention of street style photographers, before walking out five minutes later. Students from Central Saint Martins and London College of Fashion chose to become walking billboards, exhibiting their own designs, hoping to attract media attention. People exchanged business cards and blog URL’s, although, new to this game, when someone asked me “Where are you from?” (meaning magazine or blog), I naively replied “Islington”.
Having only once attended a show at Paris Fashion Week, whilst I was interning for a French magazine, I arrived on the first day in an understated outfit, attracting stares from a sea of neon green tights and metallic skirts. Whilst everyone else belonged to the street style photographer, editorial, or blogger ‘crowd’, and exchanged knowingly fake smiles of veiled rivalry, I rocked up alone, on Day Two, having missed the two shows on Day One due to being too terrified.
MARQUES ALMEIDA was my first London Fashion Week show experience. The Portico rooms were buzzing as the intro to 90’s hit ‘Drinking in LA’ played and the first model did the circuit of the square-shaped catwalk. The Portuguese designer duo Marta Marques and Paulo Almeida spent the winter in the woods together designing the collection, and this was evidenced in the earthy green tones and use of natural frayed edges.They have cited their inspiration as the moody, unfashionable teenage girl of the 90s and pride themselves on their collections being effortless, young, and wearable. Their shoes have always been a particular hit with buyers worldwide and the mix of platform, ‘bright white’ sandals and patent black boots didn’t fail to impress this time either. The show was a small, intimate affair, and fairly unintimidating, as the seating was molded around the square-shaped room, leaving no room for ‘front row politics’. Yes, they were ‘f***[ing] the system’ (see their mood board, below.)
The second day of Fashion Week heralded personal favourite PETER PILOTTO and his cathedral-inspired technicolour offering. It was 9am, as a bleary eyed, yet still immaculate, crowd arrived at Topshop’s show space in Bedford Square, although some editors arrived more than fashionably late, having to sneak in round the back. (Of course, they proudly tweeted about it later). Peter Pilotto and Christopher de Vos crafted each dress in the collection from a single textile, and the pair even travelled to India for the beadwork, having to cross the Ganges every morning to check on its progress. The order in which the outfits emerged signalled a progression from the minimalist black and white, to an added detail of peplum skirt and neon stripe, to the pinnacle of their collection: no doubt, the sequin-embellished, ball gown-form dresses. This season, the Peter Piletto silhouette became much more defined, balancing out the increased eccentricity of print. Anna dello Russo and Franca Sozzani were seated in the front row, proof that Peter Pilotto’s collections have only gone from strength to strength, and previous collections were also spotted on much of the fashion crowd throughout Fashion Week.
As the iconic British favourite, Burberry Prorsum was yet again the most highly anticipated show with the most glittering front row, including Dita Von Teese, Andy Murray and Harry Styles. Christopher Bailey had modestly said of the collection: “People are stopping work to watch. You’ve got to give them a good reason”. Indeed, despite the live streaming of nearly all runway shows, it was Burberry that had started the live revolution, and Burberry that still dominates it. The collection was cinematic, and featured a mix of outwear and underwear, worn as such. The finale featured a stream of metallic trenches in all different colours: a modern approach to the classic Burberry design. The previously extremely wearable Burberry has taken a step towards escapism, perhaps in an effort to shake off the checkers now associated with the British ‘chav’.
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