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LFW: What a catwalk show looks like during a pandemic

By Danielle Wightman-Stone

Sep 21, 2020

Fashion week during a global pandemic is a little surreal. In an instant, a five-day London Fashion Week schedule, usually packed with back-to-back catwalk shows and presentations, is literally just a handful life events to accommodate social-distancing and ensuring Covid-19 safety.

While most have opted for a digital viewing of their spring/summer 2020 collections, there are a few designers who are putting on a traditional catwalk show, the first of which was Bora Aksu, who opened day two of London Fashion Week with his signature ethereal silk tulles and frills.

A catwalk show during a global pandemic is a little different. First off, there were less than 30 guests invited to see the collection. Each editor was led through the doors of St Paul’s Church, in the heart of London’s Covent Garden, to the beautiful courtyard gardens where we were shown to our quintessentially English park bench. Mine was in memory of Eva Harbert, described as a “remarkable and respected lady,” which felt fitting as Bora Aksu’s collection was a celebration of women.

While in past seasons, there probably would have been four or five editors crammed onto one bench, it felt very luxurious, each editor had their own bench and told to sit in the centre to assure maximum social distance from their neighbours.

It felt strange, waiting for the show to start and looking down the catwalk at just a handful of an audience. There was none of the usual catwalk mingling, the rush of people trying to find their seats or the usual celeb spotting. Instead, editors were seen waving at one another, smiles hidden behind masks, waiting for the music to start.

On each bench, Bora Aksu also provided his guests with a Covid-19 ready goodie bag, with a neon-infused face mask, hand sanitiser, and a vitamin drink to boost your immune system.

When I asked Bora Aksu why it was important to do a physical showcase under these extreme circumstances, he stated: “I think after being isolated for so long and not being able to interact with each other, it was very important for me to do a physical show during LFW in a totally new way.

"The old ways of operating and communicating in fashion seems so far away that we are now discovering more intimate ways to communicate and be more inclusive. Being creative is something that I feel we shouldn't compromise as creativity is a way to bring light into our world.”

Bora Aksu takes inspiration from nurses treating the 1918 flu pandemic for SS21

The designer was also keen to express that while creativity is important, he also made sure that practical measures were put in place to ensure the catwalk event was Covid-19 secure, from showcasing outdoors with social distancing measures to working with the British Fashion Council on risk assessments backstage to keep staff and models safe.

If there was any pressure on the Turkish designer on hosting London’s first catwalk show since lockdown you wouldn’t know it, as model after model floated through the churchyard in their nostalgic ruffle-edged tulle dresses.

The spring/summer 2021 collection was an ode to nurses, not the current key workers dealing with coronavirus, but those from 1918, who faced the Spanish flu pandemic following World War I. A time the designer describes as “a time of contrast, conflict, and tension, followed by victory and prosperity”.

The opening looks were starched whites, a reinvention of the white nurse uniform with tiered skirts and frilled sleeves, with embroidered hearts and doves displayed as armbands, on the front of apron-style layers, and on the collars.

This was followed by a flurry of ethereal silk tulles and transparent silk organza dresses in frosted pink and blue pastels inspired by the 1920s flapper dress, which were offset by prints, lace, and embroideries specially designed for the collection. Alongside tailored suits and trench coats.

Each model also wore a sheer organza face masks, a nod to this year’s biggest accessory. While the thin gauze wouldn’t offer much protection against Covid, this is fashion week, instead, it highlighted the bold lipstick underneath, from hot pink to blue to represent the rebellious trends of the 1920s.

While for some digital prospects offer innovation and a different point of view to showcase their creativity, the traditional catwalk still remains the focal point of any fashion week. For Bora Aksu, the catwalk is still a special experience, with the designer adding: “I think it's important for designers to be able to bring hope and creativity into these challenging times. I always worked with emotions and even my design process is always based on emotions.

"The last couple of months were one of the most challenging times for me as we all have to communicate with each other through screens/zoom meetings. I feel that having this exclusive show brings that intimacy we have been so longing for. This show was a way for me to show that we can dream and we can imagine.”

Images: courtesy of Bora Aksu by Chris Yates