Lon­don Fash­ion Week shakes up tra­di­tion

At least 10 houses present their men and women col­lec­tions on the same cat­walk

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - FRONT PAGE - By Edouard Gui­haire

LON­DON: Men and women are sashay­ing down cat­walks to­gether at Lon­don Fash­ion Week, in a shakeup of tra­di­tion backed by cel­e­brated de­sign­ers like Vivi­enne West­wood.

The 75-year-old style icon is no stranger to chal­leng­ing fash­ion for­mats – turn­ing a 2015 Lon­don show into an anti-aus­ter­ity and cli­mate change march – and deemed her lat­est move a re­sponse to the uni­sex re­al­ity of fash­ion.

“My very first fash­ion shows were al­ways men and women. It’s par­tic­u­larly uni­sex now be­cause this time you’ve got lots of men in dresses.

“You’ve seen women for a hun­dred years in trousers but it’s all switched around equally now,” West­wood told AFP, as her new au­tumn-win­ter 2017 col­lec­tion hit the cat­walk at the Sey­mour Leisure Cen­ter in Lon­don’s Maryle­bone neigh­bor­hood.

West­wood is not unique in choos­ing to unite her menswear and wom­enswear col­lec­tions on the cat­walk – at least 10 houses have used Fash­ion Week in Lon­don to present col­lec­tions for both gen­ders.

While Lon­don may not have the glam­our of Paris, Mi­lan or New York, it is cer­tainly mak­ing the most of its ex­per­i­men­tal rep­u­ta­tion.

Within the fash­ion world this mix­ing of men’s and women’s shows has been dubbed “co-ed” – a play on the “co­ed­u­ca­tional” term used for mixed schools.

This shift in strat­egy is chang­ing the way fash­ion houses run their busi­ness, in­clud­ing Burberry.

The Bri­tish fash­ion heavy­weight an­nounced in 2016 it would cut its run­way sched­ule from four to just two shows a year.

Burberry said it aimed to cre­ate a “sea­son­less, im­me­di­ate, and per­sonal” for­mat with the change, with the col­lec­tion avail­able in-store and on­line im­me­di­ately af­ter the show.

“The changes we are mak­ing will al­low us to build a closer con­nec­tion be­tween the ex­pe­ri­ence that we cre­ate with our run­way shows and the mo­ment when peo­ple can phys­i­cally ex­plore the col­lec­tions for them­selves,” said Christo­pher Bailey, Burberry CEO.

In essence, fash­ion­istas of the 21st cen­tury are de­mand­ing much quicker ac­cess to col­lec­tions.

In the same spirit, Burberry has merged its three lines (Brit, Lon­don and Pror­sum) to cre­ate one la­bel, which the fash­ion house said was “de­signed for a world­wide au­di­ence.”

Paul Smith has also fol­lowed the trend and, while ab­sent from Lon­don, it will present both its men’s and women’s col­lec­tions in Paris on Jan. 22.

The fash­ion house has been cre­at­ing menswear since 1970, with wom­enswear launch­ing in 1994, and it said com­bin­ing them was “a nat­u­ral step to re­in­force the cor­re­la­tion be­tween the two lines.

Paris will also see Kenzo, part of the LVMH group, unite its men’s and women’s col­lec­tions af­ter first test­ing the for­mula last June.

For Hy­wel Davies, fash­ion pro­gram di­rec­tor at Lon­don’s pres­ti­gious Cen­tral Saint Martins de­sign school, the “co-ed” trend is both a fi­nan­cially-sound move but also fits in with the in­dus­try’s open­ness to change.

“It is about the in­dus­try look­ing how to best present their vi­sion and putting men and women show to­gether makes com­merce sense. Why pay for two shows when you can com­mu­ni­cate your mes­sage in one?” he told AFP.

“I think it is a pos­i­tive thing that the fash­ion in­dus­try is con­stantly chain­ing and look­ing at new ways of com­mu­ni­cat­ing its ideas. Change is good. It would be great if more fash­ion brands con­sid­ered other ways of pre­sen­ta­tion in­stead of just cat­walk shows,” Davies added.

Fi­nan­cially, ne­ces­sity is even more rel­e­vant for smaller brands, such as Sib­ling, a funky brand cre­ated by three Bri­tish de­sign­ers which moved to mixed shows with its spring-sum­mer 2015 col­lec­tion.

Cre­at­ing a show for both men’s and women’s col­lec­tions is “a much more re­al­is­tic process, as well as from a pro­duc­tion and de­sign point of view,” said Sid Bryan, one of the la­bel’s stylists.

“The time­frame work into a Jan­uary show and a Fe­bru­ary show, with men fol­lowed straight by women, is vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble. We’re a small team,” he told AFP.

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