L

ondon Fashion Week is a little different this season. Usually, the schedule is packed full of runway shows, presentations, and even exhibitions as designers prepare to debut their latest collections to editors, buyers, stylists, and other industry players. It’s a big moment, one that takes months of preparation.

For attendees, part of the fun of fashion week is its fanfare. The hordes of street style photographers stepping on each other’s toes as they try to get a shot of the latest Instagram starlet. The fashion PRs scrambling around trying to navigate a hierarchical seating plan at the eleventh hour. The high-profile magazine editors that swan in to take their place on the front row 20 minutes late as if everyone else was simply early. This season, there will be none of that.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, London Fashion Week has gone almost entirely digital. Major brands like JW Anderson, Molly Goddard and Victoria Beckham have had to cancel runway shows in the place of short films to showcase their new collections. Meanwhile, other labels like Preen by Thornton Bregazzi, Emilia Wickstead and Simone Rocha will be hosting one-on-one socially distanced appointments with key editors at major publications.

Proceedings started with a bang on Thursday, thanks to Burberry’s stellar woodland show, which was live-streamed on Twitch and featured live music and performance art. Then it was off to Rixo for some of the brand’s signature 1970s prints and wrap dresses. But it was on Friday that the impact of the pandemic on fashion week was truly felt when the bulk of the schedule kicked off. 

The mood was a mixed one. While Bethany Williams took the opportunity to combine the charitable with the sartorial, other brands like Mark Fast and Temperley saw the season as an opportunity to embrace the playful and liberated spirit that lockdown stripped us of earlier this summer. Then there was Bora Aksu, who, along with Fast, was one of the three designers to persist with a catwalk despite many other brands cancelling theirs at the last minute due to concerns over the increase of Covid-19 cases. 

While this is certainly not the fashion week many expected, designers have rallied to showcase their collections in the best way that they can. Yes, it’s different, but it can be just as impactful. Here are some of our highlights from the day.

Bethany Williams

(Bethany Williams)

If there was ever a time to fuse philanthropy and fashion, it’s now. For spring/summer 2021, Bethany Williams has done just that by designing an entire collection in honour of the Magpie Project, a charity she has been volunteering for since last year that supports homeless children and mothers. 

Titled “All My Children”, Williams’s collection is a celebration of family life and takes its cues from a playful, childlike, aesthetic. White tracksuit bottoms are splashed with primary colours that look as if they’ve been painted on while sportswear jackets are covered in oblong prints in vivid yellows and greens – very remote-working friendly. Then there are the clean and precise blazers that have been covered in camo prints and various swirls of colour, making them look like the end result of a year 7 art project. 

Elsewhere, cosy knits and colourful co-ords come in sets of two, with Williams showing adult-size clothes alongside child-size ones, forming part of Williams’s new childrenswear line. But what makes this collection particularly special is its environmental impact, which, for the record, is impressively low. This season, Williams worked with deadstock, organic and recycled materials, and even used fruit packaging waste as boning for her corsets, which have made an unlikely comeback in recent seasons. The collection is an exemplar in how fashion can be about so much more than clothes.

Bora Aksu

(Rex)

At this point, we’ve become accustomed to using the language of conflict to talk about the pandemic. We praise “frontline” workers. We wonder what on earth government ministers are talking about in their virtual “war cabinets”. And we talk about everyday people doing “their bit” in the fight against coronavirus. Perhaps it was only natural, then, that a fashion designer would take their cues from the war to inspire their vision for the impending season. 

That’s what Bora Aksu has done, creating a collection that touches on the changing role of women during the First World War and the subsequent decadence of the 1920s. The collection champions how, in the wake of the war, femininity reigned supreme, as did dressing for fun again. For Bora Aksu, this translated into copious pastel tulle frocks, paired with girlish knee-high sheer socks and block T-bar shoes. 

As models glided down the runway to the ominous vocals of Imogen Heap, the (minimal) audience admired the frothy skirts that came in a medical-inspired palette of pale pinks, blues and creams, the soft yet structured silhouettes, and the sheer face masks that did little to protect anyone’s face but perfectly matched the clothes. 

“The pandemic has allowed me to be more creative,” says Aksu, who is one of the three designers continuing with a live runway show this season. “I’ve been slowing down and creating smaller collections is the right thing to do now.” As for the wartime influence, Aksu explains he was inevitably led by his emotions when designing this season’s collection. “I went back to 1918 in my research, when it was a time of contrast, conflict and tension during the First World War, followed by victory and prosperity,” he says. “I was inspired by the heroes of the war and the collective grief we are experiencing right now, and the beauty that is then reborn after.” 

It’s an optimistic sentiment, but as cases of coronavirus continue to rise, and the government warns of another lockdown, perhaps Aksu’s is exactly the spirit we all need right now.

Mark Fast

(Rex)

If there’s one thing that the UK needs right now, it’s a big fat rave. Imagine if we had the opportunity to let our hair down for an evening, forgo social distancing, and dance both the night and the pandemic away? That was the message at Mark Fast, where the clothes provided a much-needed dose of hedonism – the kind that won’t leave you with a £100 fine. 

Acid house music blared through immense speakers in an east London warehouse while models stormed down the runway in classic 1980s rave garb – think neon hot pants, bodycon co-ords, and graffiti tracksuits. For men, things ventured into the 1990s, with oversized boilersuits, pinstripe denim suits, and printed sports dresses. The overall mood was one of great liberation, with women wearing their shirts undone, leaving their fluorescent bandeaus and bare torsos exposed. 

Nothing about this collection was practical – the fits were impossibly tight and the stiletto heels immeasurably high – but that was exactly the point. “For me, fashion and creativity is about optimism and escapism from reality whilst creating beautiful imagery,” explains Fast. “I’ve been lucky not to miss an opportunity this time and I’ve utilised the London Fashion Week platform to create the vision of a bounce back, colourful, and more positive time that I believe will come post-Covid.”

Temperley

(Temperley)

“If ever there was a need to escape, it’s now,” reads the collection notes for Temperley’s spring/summer 2021 line. It’s an apt introduction, because, true to form, eponymous designer Alice Temperley has once again proven that you don’t need a party to dress like you’re going to one. While the usual tropes that manifest in every Temperley collection are present – glitzy gowns, elegant fits, and brash prints – this season, the inspiration comes from cult 1960s film Blow Up, which has led to all sorts of nostalgic garments, from three-piece checked suits and leather shorts to sequin two-pieces and python-print gowns. 

There’s loungewear, too. A first for Temperley that was inspired by the UK lockdown and the fact that everyone was, well, staying at home. Of course, these are not exactly casual clothes – the fabrics are soft and silken and the green brocade prints are just as bold as any of the ones on the dresses. “You could definitely wear these out,” Temperley says. Indeed, you could, if the pandemic continues to allow it. But even if it doesn’t, Temperley’s ritzy garb is the perfect antidote to a bleak, locked-down, winter, because nothing can feel truly miserable when you’re head-to-toe in fuchsia sequins.

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