"Fashion should reflect the time we are going through": was London Fashion Week SS21 the most innovative yet?

They say ingenuity blossoms in turbulent times, and never has that been truer than this London Fashion Week, where designers largely sidestepped runway shows to develop innovative, considered new ways to show their SS21 collections.

Burberry kicked off the hybrid physical and digital schedule by steaming an attendee-free runway show live from a forest outside London onto Amazon-owned video site Twitch on Thursday. Pioneers of live streaming fashion shows since 2010, Burberry is the first luxury brand to partner with the platform, whose content typically centres on streaming smash hit video games Call of Duty and Fortnite.

Of the 21 in-person events scheduled, Bora Aksu was one of just three brands to show to a real life audience, seating his reduced guest list on individual park benches in a Covent Garden church garden on Friday. Inspired by World War I and the flu pandemic of 1918, the collection featured models – each sporting an organza face mask – in nurse-like white cotton dresses, prim boucle jackets and gauzey caps.

“Fashion should reflect the time we are going through,” said Aksu post-show, insisting his was a message of hope, for after the conflict and suffering of WWI, came the jubilation and prosperity of the roaring twenties.

A model presents a creation from the Burberry Spring/Summer 2021 Collection (via REUTERS)

Hospital workers featured more literally for Michael Halpern, who cast ‘eight heroines of the frontline’ in a buoyant fashion film that aired on the LFW website on Friday and featured Arianna, a senior ICU nurse at Homerton Hospital; Sarah, a domestic services staffer; tube driver Latifah, and five other key workers, reflecting on their lockdown efforts, while dressed in Halpern’s disco fabulous creations.

“It was just a great way to celebrate them, and to make this collection feel relevant for now,” explained the 31-year-old London-based New Yorker as we spoke face-to-masked-up-face at a 1:1 appointment in the Rosewood Hotel.

Halpern celebrated key workers in his SS21 collection (Chris Sutton / Courtesy of Halpern)

The combination of on-schedule digital film and in-person appointments was a popular one, with the latter largely well received by editors and buyers as an effective means to experience collections in the flesh, while gleaning a designer’s viewpoint first hand

“We started our business in such an intimate salon way,” says Emilia Wickstead, who launched her label doing one-on-one fittings in her living room. “The touch and feel of an appointment and getting to chat to people has been amazing. It’s the human contact we needed post-Covid.” Hers was an easy, breezy, cotton-heavy collection inspired by the South Seas that majored in fitted Bermuda shorts, A-line pleated midi skirts and button-down shirts. Sail boat prints and giant exaggerated collar crop tops gave the sort of fresh, youthful energy we’ll all be craving come those much-anticipated 2021 summer holidays.

Emilia Wickstead’s SS21 collection (Morgan O'Donovan)

Sustainability poster girl Bethany Williams meanwhile chose to showcase hers via an appointment-only exhibition at Somerset House on Saturday. Continuing her collaboration with the Magpie Project, a charity that helps mothers and young children living in temporary accommodation, the collection was made entirely, as ever, using deadstock and recycled materials and featured prints designed by an illustrator who had hosted virtual sketching workshops with the organisation and interpreted the children’s drawings into patterns. As part of her debut childrenswear offering, Williams had also crafted bags from children’s book waste and vintage lunch boxes.

Sunday’s events closed with a literal bang, thanks to London-based young Persian designer Paria Farzaneh, who staged a pyrotechnic-heavy runway show on a farmer’s field in Little Missenden near Amersham. Attended by a small group of editors, the show was comment on the troubles in America – from the fires on the West Coast to police brutality in Chicago – and featured models in camouflage, utility-influenced clothing stomping through clouds of billowing smoke to a backdrop of eerie music and firecracker explosions.

Bethany Williams SS21 (Ruth Ossai / Courtesy of Bethany Williams)

“In the wake of this worldwide shift, what we ‘once knew’ doesn’t resonate anymore,” said Farzaneh’s show notes. “The time has come for us to take this opportunity and push for change. We must stick to what we want, what we know, to our ability to create art and keep it alive.”

It’s a sentiment that rings true for London Fashion Week. As the industry grapples with the catastrophic impact of cancelled orders, excess stock and store closures and an existential crisis of cultural relevance in the face of global crisis, it’s never been a better time for London’s creative class to do what they do best: innovate, inspire and push for change.


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