Fashion / Style

London Fashion Week’s Most Memorable Moments — How Britain and Top Designers Faced Off With the Pandemic

Living Up to its Edgy, Experimental Reputation

BY // 09.23.20

When it comes to fashion week 2020, London experienced several of the same coronavirus related issues as New York. Since Britain has been unable to get a handle on the pandemic, Prime Minister Boris Johnson implemented additional restrictions to ward off a surge in new cases.

So London Fashion Week, which ended Tuesday after around 80 designers presented collections over a six-day period, followed New York Fashion Week in a number of respects, with only a handful of live shows and a plethora of digital presentations, although some London designers also scheduled one-on-one live presentations with selected fashion editors and buyers at 10-minute intervals.

A similar divide also persisted in both cities between designers offering a new take on casual, practical clothes and those showcasing escapist designs for customers who long to dream in troubled times like these.

Even so, London Fashion Week faced up to the pandemic in some unique ways, befitting its reputation as a center for edgy, experimental designs.

Bora Asku, one of the few designers at LFW to present a live runway show (in the outdoor garden behind St. Paul’s Church in front of 20 masked spectators), opened with a salute to nurses of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, featuring crisp white cotton dresses with organza caps and masks. He later segued into pastel party dresses with ruffles and lace.

“We need to remember that things will get better after this, as they did then,” Asku told The Guardian.

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Clifford Pugh interviews British fashion designer Jenny Packham. (Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Anthony)

Jenny Packham, too, is looking to a brighter future, labeling her latest effort “The Lockdown Collection.” While in quarantine, the designer, whose glamour gowns are a favorite of affluent Texas women, sifted through her archives as well as a cache of beaded designs, trims and unrolled fabrics to reimagine some of her classic styles in a fresh, new way.

She said she redesigned the tightly-edited collection four times, adding flowing volume, puffs of tulle, and exposed backs on some gowns for a more playful look. Standouts include a bright embellished caftan she dubbed “Orange Queen,” a feathered pink gown labeled “Flamingo Girl,” and a sequined V-neck jumpsuit that evokes ’70s  glamor.

“It’s true — grand special occasions are distant day dreams and certainty in this new era as flimsy as the chiffons we have draped,” Packham emailed. “But a sense of glamour and a bit of humour now seem more essential than ever.”

London Fashion Week Online and Outdoors

Perhaps the most recognized British label, Burberry, kicked off London Fashion Week with an online show live streamed from a woodsy setting on the digital gamers platform Twitch. The collection from creative director Riccardo Tisci looked to the sea for inspiration, with wave print dresses, fishnet tops, graphic print sweaters and orange rubber waders.

He also offered a new take on the classic Burberry trenchcoat, grafting a denim jacket and black leather onto the classic Burberry khaki fabric.

Erdem Moralioglu also chose an outdoor setting — the 5,900-acre Epping Forest  — to film his Erdem runway collection of contrasting floral separates, empire dresses, oversized cardigans, and embroidered gowns with puff sleeves and flowing ribbons, accessorized with 4-inch wedge heels and long black gloves. Moralioglu said he was inspired by  Susan Sontag’s historical romantic novel The Volcano Lover, set in 18th century Naples, but the collection seems to instead have more of a wood nymph quality.

Victoria Beckham canceled a “salon-style” live runway show in favor of a video shot at an East London contemporary art gallery with four models showcasing just 20 looks, about half of what she normally shows.

“Limitations can be liberating. Working remotely for this collection we reacted spontaneously. We were instinctive. We asked ourselves what has changed? Who do we want to be? What will we desire?” Beckham mused on Instagram.

The collection has a practical yet stylish vibe, with flared trousers, floor-length jersey dresses, tailored jackets, crisp striped shirts and wide-lapeled trench coats in bright green and dark beige.

The pandemic also forced buzzy designer Emilia Wickstead to pull back from red carpet fashion and focus on the basics, with smart looking dresses in red, beige, yellow, floral, and sailprint patterns,  along with monocrhome skirts, pants and tops.

Most of the collection was made from cotton fabric to simplify the ordering process and she looked to her archives for design ideas, since she had limited access to her pattern makers. The idea for a flowing skirt comes from her first collection, designed a decade ago.

Staying Upbeat

Temperley London’s upbeat spring collection ranges from practical clothes to shiny party frocks. There is a Sixties swagger in a pantsuit with flared trousers and a cape in oversized checks and a spirit of frivolity in sequined dresses and embellished gowns. The offerings also includes everyday denim pants and day dresses.

On the edgier side, up-and-coming designer Molly Goddard presented an explosion of color, with oversized chiffon smock dresses, checkerboard hoodies, striped sweaters, and tiered tulle skirts in acid green, neon orange and blazing red. Goddard, who drew a lot attention for a frothy pink dress that Jodie Villanelle work in Killing Eve, has fun with her happy, over-the-top designs and it shows.

She also debuted a shoe collaboration with Uggs, featuring a classic mini boot decorated with contrast florals, a shaggy slipper and a platform mule in  black and bright colors.

Halpern designer Michael Halpern enlisted frontline workers in the fight against COVID-19 to showcase his energetic collection of jacquard cocktail suits, pink-and-orange zebra-striped silk pajamas, green-and-black polka-dotted evening gowns, feather-ball cocktail dresses and ladylike plaid dresses.

“We needed joy and fantasy and escapism, and that’s truer today than it ever was, with all the horrible things that are happening in the U.S.,” he told Vogue Runway. “This isn’t me turning a blind eye to those things. It’s a response.”

At age 79, Vivienne Westwood is still showing the young ‘uns how to impact fashion in creative ways. The grande dame of British fashion continues to show her subersive side with a collection that mixes menswear striped shirts with op art print shorts based on paintings by rock star Chrissie Hynde, tweed jackets, sweaters emblazoned with the words “True Punk,” and unisex pantsuits.

“It is always street theatre,” Westwood wrote on Twitter. “We play around with size of detail, collars, turn-ups, pockets, buttons, ties, accessories; size of graphics – giant pin-stripes, giant spots or spots so tiny they look like a dust of colour, flowers.”

She also offered a bit of advice on what to wear in today’s covid environement: Anything you want.

“Dress for the time of day, or don’t dress for the time of day — wear your evening clothes to the office if you go back to work, mix season,” Westwood suggested.  “Our aim is to show only one collection a year.”

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