Reality vs Expectations: Behind the scenes at London Fashion Week AW17

Attending a major, global fashion week and seeing the latest collections from the industry’s leading designers, which will undoubtedly set next season’s trends, has often been cited as one of the main goals for any fashion journalist/writer/editor. This Autumn/Winter 2017 season, I was able to able to tick that goal off my own bucket list as I attended London Fashion Week 65th edition at its new home, 180 Strand.

Reality vs Expectations: Behind the scenes at London Fashion Week AW17

Outside of LFW new home, 180 Strand

One of the first things I learnt while attending LFW, something that all the photographs or videos published online fail to reflect, was the fact that fashion week events rarely start on time. As a fashion week attendee this meant that it was of vital important to have patience and polite waiting skills. Some locations were better for waiting for events to begin than others, such as the Topshop Show Space at the Tate Modern, or the BFC Spaces at 180 Strand, as attendees were able to wait inside and offered complimentary drinks before the doors officially opened. Others, such as the Freemason’s Hall, where Fashion Scout shows took place and the OxO Tower Wharf, which was home to the On|Off Presents amongst other shows and presentation, kept us visitors waiting outside in the cold for over half an hour.

Reality vs Expectations: Behind the scenes at London Fashion Week AW17

Outside of the OxO Tower Wharf waiting in line

The Waiting Game at London Fashion Week

In my experience, London Fashion Week Presentations tended more timely, with the majority of them starting on time and having sufficient space to accommodate most of the visitors at once. Globe-Trotter opened its door early for guests during its LFW AW17 presentation, so we would not have to wait in the cool evening. British designer Edeline Lee hired pianist Belle Chen to conduct a performance and set the mood for her AW17 presentation, which turned out to be a clever decision as we had to wait in-line going up the stairs to enter the multimedia presentation, which included moving models and looped footage playing on monitors.

Reality vs Expectations: Behind the scenes at London Fashion Week AW17

Topshop Unique LFW catwalk show, Courtesy of Topshop

However, in spite of LFW’s tardiness it remained important to make sure you were on time for show or presentation, as turning up unfashionably late could cost you your seat or slot. One girl was late to the Topshop Unique show and was still trying to find her seat near the front row (or celebrity spotting, it remains unknown) as the show was opening and literally had to be carried off by security to ensure the catwalk remained clear. Ensuring you also have the correct tickets or invitations to each event is also key. I was late to ‘Ones to Watch’ from Fashion Scout and seeing as I did not have a physical ticket on me, I was subsequently denied access to the show alongside of a group of 25 to 30 people waiting outside in line for the show (a number of which had did have invitations.) Thanks to this humbling experience, I adequately factored in sufficient travelling time between the rest of my London Fashion Week events

Reality vs Expectations: Behind the scenes at London Fashion Week AW17

Phoebe English AW17 presentation in the Fitzrovia Chapel

LFW AW17: It’s all about the location, location and location

Once you are inside the venue, another factor which can impact your experience of a show is the location itself. While Topshop Unique ‘See Now, Buy Now’ show felt adequately matched to its location inside the Turbine Hall which placed all attention on the catwalk itself, others were less of a match. For example, some of the more excessive and theatrical designs from Jack Irving felt far too confined in OxO Tower Wharf show space at the top of the building. One inflatable outfit even brushed its orange spikes against the ceiling, scattering plaster onto the audience below. I also felt that the Temple where Carli Pearson unveiled her AW17 collection for CIMONE at the Freemason’s Hall did not match her somber, yet elegantly sculptural and effortless designs. The ornate backdrop and art deco decor took away a lot of the atmosphere the collection and styling was trying to evoke in my opinion.

Reality vs Expectations: Behind the scenes at London Fashion Week AW17

Edeline Lee AW17 Presentation, complete with private pianist

The layout of a presentation and choice between a static, or moving presentation can also have an impact on how you view or take in a new collection. Faustine Steinmetz achieved the right balance in her collection 009 presentation, as although it was a static presentation it was no ordinary one. Models stood in ‘display cases’, partially hidden from view, which featured information on the designs and the denim fabric used to create them. Sabinna, the label founded by Sabinna Rachimova and her business partner David Reischer, took things one step further for its digital presentation using technology. Using Microsoft’s holo-lens, visitors were able to virtually ‘see’ a model wearing the collection and change her outfit using hand gestures, before purchasing the looks right off the runway.

Reality vs Expectations: Behind the scenes at London Fashion Week AW17

Behind the scenes of Sabinna AW17 holo-lens presentation, Courtesy of Sabinna

The rise of the Front Row at London Fashion Week AW17

Space and seating are also vital to any fashion week show experience. Although I was lucky enough to see a number of catwalk shows from the front row, unfortunately I was also allocated seats towards the back of the room at a few shows as well. When seated in the front row, or on the side, you have a clear view of the catwalk and the designs being shown. But the further to the back of the rows you are seated, the more people you have obstructing your view of the models walking by, which prevents you from fully taking the designs in. At the Fashion DNA Pakistan show, which saw six designers showing their collections, I did not have a clear view of the catwalk and was therefore not able to properly see all the designs being shown nor take proper photos for a subsequently show review or social media posting.

Reality vs Expectations: Behind the scenes at London Fashion Week AW17

Faustine Steinmetz AW17 Presentation

That being said, the rise of social media has contributed to the shift in the types of people seated in the front row. As a space which used to be reserved for the top buyers, members of the press or even close friends and family, has now been given to celebrities, bloggers and people of interest in the hopes of their presence, and what or who they are wearing, bolstering the importance of the collections shown. Although I agree that it is important to have the right people attending your shows and seen wearing the latest collections, when you see people sitting in the front row playing their mobile phones during a runway show, which only lasts 15 minutes, rather than taking in the designs being shown it becomes rather irksome. In addition, they also command a majority of the space at presentations, where many of them come to pose and have their photograph taken before sailing off with their goodie bag. The BFC did acknowledge the shift in its LFW events, which sees more designers and fashion houses embracing consumer led practices, but at times it felt as if the boundaries between B2C and B2B were becoming too blurred and negating the overall purpose of hosting an industry led fashion week.

Reality vs Expectations: Behind the scenes at London Fashion Week AW17

On|Off Presents preshow crowd

London Fashion Week promotes Diversity - but is it as Unified as it seems?

However separation between London Fashion Week attendees was not on the agenda during this season, as inclusiveness, unity as well as diversification were just of few of the key buzzwords mentioned throughout the week. During her London Fashion Week opening speech at the event’s new home 180 Strand, Natalie Massenet, chairman of British Fashion Council stressed how the fashion industry should protect their diversity. “We are seeing seismic political changes, not just here in the UK with Brexit, but in the US and throughout Europe. Our industry is also going through change,” said Massenet. “Creativity, innovation, business and inclusiveness are at the heart of British fashion...We encourage the industry to have a voice, and to show the world that we stand for inclusivity, unity and humanity.”

Reality vs Expectations: Behind the scenes at London Fashion Week AW17

David Ferreira AW17 Show

The BFC, together with the Business of Fashion’s new campaign #tiedtogether, aimed to promote unity, inclusiveness and solidarity, during the duration of London Fashion Week. But during the course of the week it became apparent to me that there is still a lot of work to be done, especially when it comes to the types of models and bodies seen on the catwalk. While some designers, such as British design duo Teatum Jones and Simone Rocha did use a diverse range of models - with the former casting models with physical deformities in their show and the latter casting a models as old as 70 in her show - the majority of runway shows and presentations I attended were not as diverse.

Reality vs Expectations: Behind the scenes at London Fashion Week AW17

Left to right: Dame Natalie Massenet & Caroline Rush CBE By Shaun James Cox, Courtesy of British Fashion Council

Most shows and presentations I saw did included a few models with a more ethnic background. For example, I did see more Asian, Afro-American or European, Middle Eastern and Hispanic models take to the catwalk or stand in for presentations, but the majority of the models I saw all seemed to fit the same mould: caucasian, very tall and slim - so where is the diversity and inclusion there? That being said, I do feel that it is up to each designer or fashion house to decide which model showcases their design best, as the model helping to bring their creation to life and complete their vision. But it would have been nice if the message concerning inclusiveness and diversity was also evident in the selection of models used and not just in designers political statements or designs.

Reality vs Expectations: Behind the scenes at London Fashion Week AW17

Anti-Fur protests outside 180 Strand

London Fashion Week gets political: Female Empowerment and Anti-Fur

Unity and female empowerment were among the responses showing designers gave when citing their inspiration for their collections as the current turbulent political state of the world continues to filter into the fashion industry. Although some designers chose not to publicly voice their political opinions, it was refreshing to see the number of designers who used London Fashion Week as a platform to share their viewpoints. Irish designer Simone Rocha’s AW17 show, entitled ‘The Marching Roses’ featured strong, yet feminine looks which aimed to offer women an armour against the future uncertain times and celebrated the female fighting spirit. LFW designer Christopher Kane unveiled a new look which he described as “tougher femininity.” British designer Edeline Lee sought to dress the Future Lady in a new and powerful way and Serbian designer Roksanda Ilincic created a collection for the “woman warrior.”

A post shared by SIMONE ROCHA (@simonerocha_) on

Another message which made itself heard loud and clear at London Fashion Week was that from animal rights groups Surge, PETA and CAFT, who are calling for a ban on fur. Protesters came together at LFW’s new home at 180 Strand to urge the British Fashion Council to ban designers showing at the bi-annual fashion showcase from using fur. I spoke to one protester outside, George Martin, who said they had been receiving quite a positive response from the public. “Most people are against wearing fur anyway, but not everyone is fully aware of the cruel reality behind the fur trade,” said Martin. While I am 100 percent against the use of fur and agree that the BFC should ban designers and fashion houses from showing it during LFW, I was nevertheless slightly shaken by the protests.

Reality vs Expectations: Behind the scenes at London Fashion Week AW17

Anti-Fur protests outside 180 Strand

Although Martin said no one was hostile towards the group of protestors, I feel like the opposite was true. When I was coming out of 180 Stand with another visitor on Saturday afternoon, we were slammed with a wall of angry protesters wearing masks, waving banners and shouting into megaphones, who were trying to shaming us for not condemning the use of fur. It felt quite unnerving being singled out in such a way for something you did not even do. While I applaud them for their efforts, the fact remains that the majority of the designers in the Designer Showroom at 180 Strand did not use or show real fur. The protest also took place outside of the Freemason’s Hall, Fashion Scout LFW hub, and even though some of the visitors there were wearing fur, none of the labels I saw used fur in their collections. Really, it would have made more sense to be if they protested outside of Simone Rocha’s AW17 Show at Lancaster House, or Burberry’s Show at the Maker’s House, as these were among the handful of brands to show fur.

Reality vs Expectations: Behind the scenes at London Fashion Week AW17

The reality behind attending London Fashion Week in person

So despite the protests, late shows and crowded presentations, is it worth attending London Fashion Week in person? After all, thanks to the rise of social media nearly anyone can follow the event from afar. But now that it’s over I can say for certain that watching a show via live-stream, or looking at a series of photographs through a computer comes nowhere near to actually attending a show or collection presentation in person. Although a live-stream does offer viewers a clear image of the collection shown, it fails to capture the unique atmosphere and feelings evoked when watching a show or attending a presentation in the flesh. Even though there are a number of factors which can influence your experience attending fashion week, a video or photographs do not reflect the pre-show or presentation jitters felt by the audience and event crew alike, nor do they convey the full effect a venue can have on the overall vibe or capture all the little moments that occur during a show or presentation.

While these media-friendly fashion week alternatives do offer viewers a glimpse inside what was previously closed event, that is indeed all they offer - a glimpse.

Photos by FashionUnited's Vivian Hendriksz

 

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