Pop cul­ture helps lure big beasts to Lon­don fash­ion week

The Guardian - - NATIONAL - Jess Cart­ner-Mor­ley

Lon­don fash­ion week is now in the en­ter­tain­ment busi­ness. The de­sign­ers of to­day crave fans, not cus­tomers. Lon­don – home of the Abbey Road ze­bra cross­ing, of 221B Baker Street and of Plat­form 9¾ at King’s Cross sta­tion – has world-class her­itage as a city where pop cul­ture his­tory is made. This rep­u­ta­tion has lured more big names in the in­dus­try to Lon­don than ever be­fore. Gior­gio Ar­mani and Tommy Hil­figer are join­ing Donatella Ver­sace on the cat­walk sched­ule, and Ri­hanna will visit to show­case her Fenty Beauty line.

Hil­figer, the ul­ti­mate stars-and-stripes Amer­i­can de­signer – his logo even re­sem­bles the flag, has pre­vi­ously shown in New York and Los An­ge­les. This sea­son his show at the Round­house in Cam­den will serve as the clos­ing party for Lon­don fash­ion week. “Lon­don has the most in­spir­ing her­itage, and the Round­house it­self is part of rock’n’roll his­tory,” he said of the venue, which has hosted acts in­clud­ing Jimi Hen­drix, the Doors, Pink Floyd and the Ra­mones. “The cat­walk is just an­other kind of stage. Fash­ion has to go be­yond clothes and be an ex­pe­ri­ence. This is me tak­ing the brand on the road for a world tour,” said Hil­figer.

The 66th Lon­don fash­ion week was opened yes­ter­day by the Bri­tish Fash­ion Coun­cil’s chief ex­ec­u­tive, Caro­line Rush, and the deputy mayor for cul­ture, Jus­tine Si­mons. (Both wore midi-length silk dresses by Lon­don-based fe­male de­sign­ers: Saloni Ladna for Rush, and Chloe Lons­dale’s MiH for Si­mons.)

Rush noted how Bri­tish fash­ion, seen “on first ladies and red car­pets all over the world”, is an im­por­tant part of the na­tion’s iden­tity and con­trib­utes £28bn a year to the econ­omy. (“More than the car in­dus­try,” added Si­mons.)

Hil­figer’s de­ci­sion to show in Lon­don is telling. An unashamedly com­mer­cial de­signer, Hil­figer has never been at the cut­ting edge of fash­ion, but in his in­stinct for the zeit­geist he has long been ahead of the curve. He forged re­la­tion­ships with hip-hop artists in the 90s, while other brands were still pre­cious about tar­nish­ing their im­age with con­tact be­yond the mag­a­zine world. He was an early adopter of so­cial me­dia, pro­vid­ing In­sta­gram in­flu­encers with an “In­stapit” of front-row seats from which they could cap­ture the cat­walk with their smart­phones. “For many years I have viewed my cus­tomers as fans of the brand,” he said.

The con­ver­gence of world-class names “comes at an im­por­tant time for Lon­don”, Rush said. “Our busi­nesses are in­ter­na­tional in cit­i­zen­ship but also in out­look. Bri­tish fash­ion is a mul­ti­cul­tural, in­clu­sive com­mu­nity.”

On Brexit, she added: “Our busi­nesses are ask­ing for tar­iff-free ac­cess to the EU and fric­tion­less bor­ders.”

This in­ter­na­tion­al­ism is an in­tel­lec­tual as well as a prac­ti­cal stance. “Fash­ion is part of Lon­don’s iden­tity. It ex­presses the fact that you can be your­self in Lon­don,” she said.

Her view was echoed by Roland Mouret, who re­cently de­camped from Paris fash­ion week to Lon­don.

Dur­ing a pre­view of his col­lec­tion at his Dal­ston stu­dio, he de­scribed how the move had af­fected his work. “Paris is a con­ser­va­tive city. I didn’t ques­tion my own sta­tus quo when I was there. Be­ing back in Lon­don has made me step out­side my com­fort zone.” The col­lec­tion he will be show­ing to­mor­row is in­spired by the muse of the mo­ment, Frida Kahlo.

Ev­ery world tour needs a front­man or front­woman, and Lon­don’s head­lin­ers are bring­ing with them a clutch of su­per­mod­els. “You need a star of the show,” said Hil­figer, who is col­lab­o­rat­ing with Gigi Ha­did. “Gigi is a ma­jor in­flu­ence on my cre­ative process. The fans fol­low her life like they would a rock star. She has a huge in­flu­ence.”

Last year, Ha­did told Hil­figer that she would never wear low-rise jeans, only high-rise ones. “We put those high-rise jeans on the run­way and we sold ev­ery sin­gle pair online be­fore the show had fin­ished stream­ing,” says the de­signer. Kaia Ger­ber, the 16-year-old daugh­ter of su­per­model Cindy Craw­ford who was the break­out star of New York fash­ion week, will also walk in Lon­don this week­end.

The idio­syn­cratic take for which Lon­don is known has not been lost in these bright lights. Richard Malone, the first de­signer to show, dubbed his pri­mary colours “Tesco blue” and “Coop turquoise” in homage to su­per­mar­ket car­rier bags, and sound­tracked the show with the rap­per Dr Dre’s The Next Episode – played by a string quar­tet.

LFW is now in the en­ter­tain­ment busi­ness. De­sign­ers crave fans, not cus­tomers

Main pho­to­graph: Mike Mars­land/ BFC

Retro cool by Fy­o­dor Golan, above, while Pam Hogg’s col­lec­tion, right, fea­tured plenty of frills

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