As the spotlights go down on another London Fashion Week season, we look at its origins and the soaring style in our own part of the world.
Twice a year, fashion fever hits London. Fresh from New York, models descend on the city to strut their stuff in the latest collections from the world’s biggest fashion houses. The event now sees over 5,000 buyers, bloggers, fashion editors and media personnel in attendance, all eager to see which designs will be making their way into shops for the next season.
The UK fashion industry is now worth a huge £26billion, and British fashion and designers are being celebrated more than ever before. From Kate Middleton’s wedding dress designer to the huge rise in High Street fashion, it’s evident that when it comes to style, Britain is at the forefront. As designer Alexander McQueen once said:
“British fashion is self-confident and fearless. It refuses to bow to commerce, thus generating a constant flow of new ideas whilst drawing in British heritage.”
The British Fashion Council was formed in 1983 with the intention of promoting British fashion design both in the UK and internationally. The not-for-profit organisation, which is still the force behind huge events like London Fashion Week and the British Fashion Awards was chaired by Cyril Kern, the chairman of fashion company Reldan.
The following year, 1984 saw the launch of the inaugural London Fashion Week (LFW). It had humble beginnings – in a West London car park with exhibitions on offer throughout the week. The inaugural event saw the debut of fashion icons such as Betty Jackson, Ghost, David Fielden and John Galliano.
For the next few years, LFW continued to prosper with more designers creating a catwalk storm, but, in 1992, the recession meant that only a handful were chosen to show off their collections in a few rooms at the Ritz. Luckily, this low didn’t last long – by 1993 it was all anyone was talking about, namely because Naomi Campbell walked for designer Phillip Treacy – completely topless. Britain had firmly made its mark on the fashion industry, and London Fashion Week became one of the ‘big four’ celebrations of style alongside New York, Paris and Milan.
London Fashion Week fast became the place to be spotted – both as a designer and as a model. In 1989 Kate Moss made her runway debut for Galliano, sparking her hugely successful career, and when she and Naomi Campbell walked for Stella McCartney, ISSAshowcasing her debut collection in 1995, the line sold out almost instantaneously. More recently, the catwalk has seen the likes of Cara Delevingne make her fashion debut – and quickly rise to international levels of fame.
It’s not just who’s modelling the designs either – part of the allure of LFW is the slew of celebrities and fashion icons who are spotted in the audience at the shows. The illustrious ‘FROW’ (front row) is where anybody who is anybody sits to get the best view, but also so others can get a good view of them. These are the seats the designers want filled with the most influential people – those who will either be buying the designs, or wearing them when they’re snapped at parties and appear in glossy magazines and fashion websites all over the world.
There are some FROW regulars, who can be spotted at most of the shows – Anna Wintour, the editor-in-chief of American Vogue with her trademark oversized sunglasses is rarely far from a front row seat, and often the likes of Kate Moss, Sienna Miller and Alexa Chung can be spotted not far away. It’s also not uncommon for a music artist or film star to be seated in this exclusive line, along with a star who has a huge online following – everything is meticulously planned at these events for maximum exposure.
Pre-2010, LFW was a much more private affair – something the public were aware of, but could only learn about through poring over fashion magazines. However, in 2010 that changed when London became the first in the world to grant access to the masses by live streaming the runways. What had previously been exclusive and elite was suddenly accessible to all – and so the digital fashion revolution began. Brands began live tweeting shows and blogs were updated minute by minute, giving the fashion-hungry public a real insight into the inner-workings of the event.
“More connected than ever before, London’s influence is paving the way for fashion weeks the world over,” says Natalie Massenet, chair of the British Fashion Council. “By engaging the public we can grow invaluable support for a sector that spans the international community, supports jobs and intersects the worlds of fashion, art and business.”
Bringing the public closer to the fashion also gave them access to everything surrounding it. In 2012, Alexa Chung was spotted wearing a leather-effect nail polish, which consequently sold out in seconds as demand poured in, with an 800-strong waiting list for the product ahead of its UK release. With everything at LFW so accessible internationally, no-matter where you are in the world, you can be at the forefront of fashion.
While the event may have in the past been considered more female-focused, after the introduction of men’s fashion catwalk shows in 2012, the showcase has grown by 67%, with over 77 designers showing their latest male collections. More men have been spotted observing the shows too, with stars such as One Direction’s Harry Styles and Radio One’s Nick Grimshaw never far from the catwalk edge. It even has the backing of Mayor Boris Johnson.
“London Fashion Week is one of the most important and influential showcases of British creativity that our city stages,” he says.
“As well as helping drive a sector worth billions to our economy, it provides a shop window for the energy, ideas and innovation that make London attractive to overseas visitors as well as investors.”
Now in its 31st year, London Fashion Week has moved from the iconic Somerset House, where it has been hosted since 2009, to a multi-storey car park in Soho. Perhaps not the obvious choice for an event so prestigious, but, as the concept of LFW moves in a retail direction (£100million of orders are now placed during LFW each season,) the location, which is close to Oxford Street also reflects the retail direction.
The buzz of London Fashion Week isn’t just exclusive to London either. The event has become so iconic that it is almost a celebration in itself. In the weeks leading up to it, retailers across the country begin installing elaborate window displays, putting on fashion shows of their own and taking to social media to create hype. In our local towns, fashion is beginning to take centre stage once more. A flood of cool and contemporary British designers are making their way into our high streets and department stores, and in our part of the world we’re seeing fashion celebrated in a big way.
As its 62nd season comes to an end, LFW has once again been at the forefront of fashion, giving us an insight into what we’ll all be wearing next summer. With more designers showcasing, more money spent ordering and more famous faces in the front row, this will always be the event to watch. As Natalie Massenet said as she declared this season’s event open: “London Fashion Week’s creative energy is original, energetic and unforgettable.”