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Viral event: London Fashion Week opens with online focus

AFP logoAFP 9/17/2020 AFP
a person standing on a stage in front of a crowd: Turkish designer Bora Aksu is among those daring to hold in-person catwalk shows © Niklas HALLE'N Turkish designer Bora Aksu is among those daring to hold in-person catwalk shows

London Fashion Week kicked off on Thursday with a livestreamed show from Burberry but without the hordes of industry insiders, A-listers and journalists who usually flock to it from around the world.

The twice-annual event is "adapting to a new reality" due to the coronavirus pandemic, organisers said, with a "digital first" approach complemented by a handful of live events.

Around 80 designers are presenting their latest collections during the six days of showings, some in catwalk presentations but most via videos posted on the Fashion Week's official website.

"These presentations and shows are at a much smaller scale," Stephanie Phair, head of the British Fashion Council (BFC), told AFP, noting they would be "limited mostly to editors, buyers and people commenting".

"It is also an opportunity... for designers to really have a more personal connection with the editors and the buyers and actually talk through their collections," she added.

Among the designers holding public parades -- with specially crafted social distancing guidelines in place -- are London-based Turkish creator Bora Aksu, luxury knitwear pioneer Mark Fast and the Chinese brand PRONOUNCE.

Their shows will also be broadcast live online, "an essential tool for our brand to express our seasonal message on a global scale," Fast told Vogue Business. 

"An online streaming of a fashion show will reach tens of thousands on the day, and hundreds of thousands, if not more, throughout the season."

- First on Twitch -

Britain's Burberry kickstarted the week with its show broadcast online at 12:00 GMT.

Named "In Bloom" and initially inspired by "British summertime", it showcased the brand's water-themed spring-summer 2021 collection as "streetwear meets classic," according to Burberry. 

It featured plenty of natural canvas, denim and industrial, rubberised fabrications alongside chiffon and crystal embroideries, in offerings including trench coats, double-waisted trousers and even a boiler suit for men.

Riccardo Tisci, its Italian designer, collaborated with the German artist Anne Imhof for "a collision of fashion and art".

"The duo have conceived a fashion show as a performance... designed as an installation exploring the freedom of expression -- transforming fiction into fact as the real becomes unreal," the label added.

The show was streamed live for the first time on Amazon-owned Twitch, a platform that popularised communal video gaming by including comments from players and spectators.

Other highlights of the week include the collections of former Spice Girl turned designer Victoria Beckham, London-based South Korean creator Eudon Choi and Briton Molly Goddard. 

In normal times, fashion labels typically compete to stage their shows in the most extravagant settings, hoping to attract VIPs and influencers posting photos from the event.

But amid ongoing restrictions due to the virus, which has claimed more than 41,600 lives in Britain where cases are climbing again, fashion has moved firmly to the internet. 

Elle UK editor-in-chief Farrah Storr said she is preparing to watch the week's opening shows from her kitchen table "in my cashmere joggers" with her two dogs.

- Emergency fund -

Organisers have hailed the fact that the event is being held and noted the coronavirus crisis had prompted a "reckoning" for the global fashion industry. 

The BFC has warned it "faces enormous challenges due to the impact of Covid-19" and has set up a £1-million emergency fund to help designers.

"Whilst it's been really difficult for designers, for the industry as a whole, it's also an opportunity for the industry to rethink on what foundations it wants to rebuild itself," said Phair.

The fashion sector, which employs over 890,000 people in Britain, contributed £35 billion ($45 billion, 38 billion euros) to the country's GDP last year. 

Meanwhile traditionally devoted to women's fashion, this September Fashion Week is the first to switch to a new-normal "gender neutral" format, showcasing men's, women's and mixed collections.

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