Pop culture helps lure big beasts to London fashion week
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
Retro cool by Fyodor Golan, above, while Pam Hogg’s collection, right, featured plenty of frills