The theatre of fashion, and why you need to be there

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Almost two-thirds of shows on the schedule at London Fashion Week this season were live streamed, raising the question for fashionistas racing from venue to venue on towering heels whether it is really worth it.

The late Alexander McQueen aside, London rarely sees the extravagant productions seen in Paris or New York.

And the perks are not what they used to be. The recession put an end to much of the free champagne while goodie bags, if you manage to nab one, are often disappointing unless you really need four different types of hairspray.

But the cameras cannot pick up the buzz inside a room when the lights go down and the pleasure at watching cutting-edge creations modelled right in front of you.

“It’s a live experience — it’s like going to the theatre or the ballet, the opera,” said veteran British fashion journalist Hilary Alexander.

“You get a chance to catch up with people, network, talk to the designer, go backstage, feel the fabrics, see who the latest model is and the photographers.”

The British Fashion Council has been pushing to get more London designers online, but chief executive Caroline Rush says catwalk shows will always have a crucial role in boosting sales.

“Most of us running around town see the appeal of sitting on your sofa watching the shows,” she told AFP from her front-row seat at the Christopher Kane show.

“But you don’t get that same connection with the clothes, and the brand experience. From a trade perspective, they continue to be relevant and important.”

– Online as a back-up –

More than 5,000 press and buyers attend the London shows, flying in from every corner of the globe at great expense to write about the clothes and, designers hope, place large orders.

With more than 80 on-schedule shows, and of course the parties, it’s exhausting work — particularly for those who have just been in New York and will go on to Milan and Paris.

And it can grate when guests arrive only to find they are squashed in a tiny space in the back row, their view obscured by a sea of smartphones and statement hats.

But for most, online streaming will not replace shows but provides a way of watching it again later.

“I might have missed something, a detail of the embroidery, whether it was embroidered or printed, or hand-printed,” said Alexander, formerly fashion editor of the Daily Telegraph and now editor-at-large of Hello Fashion Monthly.

“Sometimes they’re flashing past or you’re taking pictures or Instagramming or taking notes.”

Rush also uses live streaming to catch up on shows in other capitals that she has to miss because of work.

– ‘See the vision’ –

The music, lighting, decor and atmosphere of a catwalk show is carefully planned to create a vision of the brand that will help sell the label.

Buyers from major stores will follow up with an appointment with the designer, but “it’s very good for them to see the vision of the brand presented, so they’re understanding the concept that they’re buying into,” says Rush.

For those with a particular image to sell, the venue is key.

The glittering hall with its Rubens ceiling at Banqueting House, the Royal Courts of Justice, the Royal Opera House and Claridges hotel all enhance the sense of glamour.

By contrast, a multi-storey carpark in Soho and the graffiti-sprawled, urine-smelling vaults below Waterloo station send a message of edgy cool.

Whatever the location, the excitement builds from the moment the first guests arrive, often wearing far more stylish clothes than will appear on the catwalk.

Even the most experienced crane their necks to spot the celebrities, who are followed inside by a gaggle of camera crews.

And afterwards, you get to see the human face behind it all as the designer takes a bow, flushed with pride and relief that it’s all over.

Until the next time.

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