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Has Virtual Pushed the Physical Catwalk Over the Edge?


The definition of fashion is to look forward, a reaction to what is happening now in order to create the key trends or styles of tomorrow. Fashion moves with the times, even timeless styles will feature relevant tweaks to give them contemporary appeal. Adaptation is what fashion and consumerism is all about, the lure of something new, however, despite being at the forefront of innovation the way fashion is presented seems to have lagged behind.

Zaynep Kartal shows her Spring Summer 2019 designs at her catwalk show. © Chris Yates

The glamour of a catwalk show; the FROW, the hierarchical seating plan, the queues to get in and of course the models sauntering up and down the catwalk to present the latest designer collection in under 10 minutes. Over this last decade there has been a noticeable shift as designers at events such as London Fashion Week have branched out from the traditional show format and experimented with other presentation methods; from short films to static events where attendees can walk around the models and really take in the clothes.

Pre-pandemic the Fashion Week schedule had become a mix of presentations, multimedia exhibitions and catwalk shows making for a varied and democratic schedule that didn’t have to blow the budget. The unwelcome arrival of Covid and lockdowns hit the fashion industry hard, while some fell by the wayside, others embraced digital and presented fashion shows, short films and events online to a global audience. Also embedded in the daily headlines was growing concern surrounding Climate Change, suddenly the notion of jetting across the world to a glitzy fashion show seemed unnecessary and crass.

So what now? Now we are managing everyday life with Covid, returning to workplaces and going to events. What does it mean for fashion, and in particular Fashion Week and how designers present their collections for the upcoming seasons? Kicking off this Friday 17th September London Fashion Week has combined a very busy schedule of both virtual and physical events, which like retail, looks to be the way forward. There is an eager return to the physical, however, in a more controlled and time slot allocated way, along with more emphasis on ‘invite only’ salon style presentations.

Additionally this season the British Fashion Council (BFC) will not host an official show space, so there will be no central hub so to speak. With international travel restrictions also in place overseas press and buyers will no longer have the luxury of jetting from one Fashion Week to another. This is where digital can really come to the fore and brands can get creative with their virtual offer.

After three digital-only seasons London Fashion Week is pleased that it can now present a physical-digital hybrid event with over 100 designers taking part.

Caroline Rush, ​Chief Executive of The British Fashion Council said, “We are delighted to bring back a physical element to London Fashion Week this September. There is a fantastic sense of excitement as London comes back to life and London Fashion Week will be the moment to celebrate our extraordinary city and its creative talent. The Clearpay Collective is testament to this creativity, and we look forward to working with Clearpay to support exciting British brands and helping them reach new audiences.”

Fashion Week is back but not as we know it, and while we may reminisce about the epic scale catwalk shows of the past it seems it is time to adapt to a new Fashion Week future.

London Fashion Week, takes place from 17th – 21st September 2021 tap here to view the full schedule.

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