“Ecstatic” was how British Fashion Council chair Stephanie Phair summed up the mood as London fashion week returned to catwalks after 18 months of taking place on screen.
Critics argue that the revival of in-person events is a return to fashion’s carbon-emitting excesses, but Phair countered that it is a force for good, as an essential part of the fashion industry’s current “reset”. Speaking at a breakfast of oat milk lattes and fermented potato waffles with coffee-cured sea trout before the first day of shows, she said: “Fashion week isn’t just about looking at clothes, it’s about talking about the future … we need to come together, to commit to our transition to a circular economy.”
Naomi Campbell hosted a packed opening night party at the Windmill club in Soho. Partygoers queued down the street; the bar ran out of champagne an hour after opening.
“London fashion week – let’s go!” toasted Campbell from the stage, while Edward Enninful – who as editor of British Vogue pivoted from supermodels to key workers for cover girls last year – applauded from a velvet banquette. “Naomi for president!” yelled someone in the crowd.
Yet nerves remain. “I find it a little scary, actually,” admitted Stephen Jones, milliner to the house of Christian Dior and who has made hats for celebrities from Grace Jones to Diana, Princess of Wales, and who had dressed for the party in a three-piece checked suit and a white beret. “All these people inside packed together … but everyone has been vaccinated, so I suppose it’s OK.”
On the dancefloor, Osman Yousefzada, a British designer of Afghan and Pakistani heritage who has dressed Lady Gaga, but has also made a film about Bangladeshi garment workers which was shown at the Whitechapel Gallery, noted that “after a year of contemplation, now we want a year of celebration”. But he added that fashion week “feels a bit like I’m back on a treadmill I’m not sure I want to be on”.
Burberry and Victoria Beckham have not yet returned to the London schedule, leaving the 28-strong lineup of catwalk shows light on famous names. Han Chong, who had hoped to stage a first home town show for his hugely successful London label Self Portrait this week, was forced to shelve his plans when logistical problems posed by international travel restrictions became insurmountable. Alice Temperley has travelled from Somerset to London with her new collection, which has an art deco aesthetic inspired by fellow West Country woman Agatha Christie, but is exhibiting from a showroom rather than on a catwalk. The Alexander McQueen label has announced a London show, but this will take place during the Frieze art fair next month.
First to show on Friday was Saul Nash, a young menswear designer and choreographer from north-east London whose short films were one of the breakout hits of lockdown fashion weeks. A cavernous space which was once Selfridges’ car park became an after-school bus stop hangout, where models strutted and sprawled in trackpants and hoodies, worn with backpacks and trainers from Nash’s collaboration with Nike. The lining of a cagoule was printed with an image from Nash’s school-years Travelcard, which Nash said he had included to support the cause of free public transport for children and teenagers, currently under threat in London. In the new fashion world order, relevancy is the metric that counts.
Keen to reach as wide an audience as possible, many designers are choosing digital or hybrid “phygital” presentations despite the lifting of restrictions. David Koma, who dressed Jennifer Lopez in lace-up black leather for last week’s Video Music awards in New York, filmed his new collection being worn by models on the pool deck of the London Aquatics Centre at the Olympic park. Guests were invited to watch the show online or – if fully vaccinated – to watch the filming of the collection in person.