London Fashion Week: There’s a scene, but it’s actually about the clothes

During Meniscus’ debut coverage of London Fashion Week, a British Fashion Council market researcher asked me to provide some thoughts about my experience. He wanted to know whether I had planned to attend any of the other “major” Fashion Weeks – Milan, Paris or New York. Although we’ve covered eight seasons and counting of New York, the question instead reminded me of the reaction I received from staff members and colleagues prior to jetting over to the other side of the pond:

“London? What about Milan or Paris?”

Those contrasting sentiments bring us to London’s Spring 2010 collections, showcased during a 25th anniversary that saw some major names and labels return home: Matthew Williamson, Pringle and Burberry, whose star wattage alone at the Burberry Prorsum show outshone the last several seasons of New York Fashion Week combined. New venues at the majestic Somerset House and 180 The Strand provided ample space. Still, the avant garde, in-your-face history of London fashion stands as a marked contrast to the other slick fashion capitals – and it’s because of that feistiness that London cannot, and should not, be a distant fourth on the fashion calendar. Here are some reasons why…

Support to young, new and/or up-and-coming designers. Unlike New York, where if you’re showing outside of Bryant Park, you won’t get a mention in the official program, London trumpets the achievements of all its designers, providing mini biographies and maps to events on and off the main catwalk. Didn’t score many invites? Strewn across the two main venues, as well as at some off-site events, are miniature showrooms featuring dozens of designers’ wares on racks. They serve as a great way for local talent to be discovered, even if they’re not showing on the runway, and it’s not just limited to fashion either. I was the first visitor to Alexandra Soveral’s skincare and perfume product bar at the Lingerie Boudoir, where I quickly snapped up four products to overcome jetlag: the Spotless Treatment Gel, the Workaholic’s Blend, the Angel Balm and the Antidote Oil for Busy People. Aromatherapy-based and handmade, Soveral’s products are available in select boutiques across the UK, Portugal and France, and she said she wants to keep them in fairly limited supply so as to maintain the quality – particularly given the natural organic ingredients. Ranging from £10 to £77, they restore energy in no time.

Revitalizing the economy through retail. In New York, actual shopping for fashion during Fashion Week is a nonexistent conversation; even with Anna Wintour’s “Fashion’s Night Out,” it was less about finding clothes and more about finding free loot. In London, Fashion Week is a major contributor to the economy. (According to the British Fashion Council, the week “is worth £20 million to the London economy in terms of direct spend.” The market researcher even asked me how much I planned to shell out for clothes shopping, food, drink and hotel – we’ll just let you readers guess on that one.) In fact, the London Fashion Week venues turn into a gigantic London Fashion Weekend shopping party after the shows are over, with designers’ wares from past seasons marked up to 75 percent off. Luella Bartley’s booth was packed, and with good reason: clothing prices started at a mere 20 quid, with most of her coveted handbags clocking in at £75. Other stalls included the fun jewelry label Tatty Devine, designer Bora Aksu and handbag goddess Lulu Guinness. And it was no coincidence that the Christopher Kane for Topshop line launched the very first day of London Fashion Week.

Imaginative presentations. In New York, where presentations are often a joke – overcrowded venues, bad lighting and open bars trumping clothes in terms of importance – London, at least this Spring 2010 season, unveiled some very creative shows. Temperley London, complete with DJs and an odd rotating circular fixture in the center of the floor, projected videos on the walls of Conduit in line with the collection’s circus theme. Jasmine Di Milo walked models around and on top of a cluster of circular platforms as waiters served Champagne. The girly Orla Kiely presentation aired a video of models swirling around in her designs through an old-school television set in the middle of the floor. The Korean fashion duo of Steve J. and Yoni P. mixed art with fashion, with some clothes displayed on stuffed puppets in a twisted exhibit of sorts, while others were worn by live models posing and staring vacantly into space to the tune of live vocals accompanied by a melancholy harp. Mulberry took over the otherwise traditional Claridge’s Hotel with its fairground-inspired set of “Salon Style Shows” one Sunday morning. The festivities spilled into the evening with a grand party in the same venue, complete with a cotton candy machine, a temporary tattoo station, a bar with an array of drinks (including an apple/lemon/vodka custom beverage), a performance by The Friendly Fires, and a “Hook-A-Duck” game with the grand prize being a giant Mulberry leopard print Bayswater bag (which, sadly, I did not win – I got the consolation prize of a sheet of stickers, although I rescued an abandoned stuffed penguin nestled amongst the more than 8,000 balloons stuffing the ballrooms and lobby).

Equal treatment. No unnecessary fighting for seats – you could be R&B songstress Beverley Knight, brewing heiress Jasmine Guinness, The Daily Mail, or Meniscus Magazine – if you truly were invited to a catwalk show, you have to show your invitation. Because it’s less about the row to which you’re assigned, and more about the clothes. Imagine that.

Photos: Scenes from London Fashion Week
all photos by Yuan-Kwan Chan / Meniscus Magazine

Video: Jasper Conran Spring 2010 – London Fashion Week
video by Yuan-Kwan Chan / Meniscus Magazine