London Fashion Week: Industry talks up its online credentials

From front-row tweets to catwalk click-and-buy, London is at the digital forefront

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Indy Lifestyle Online

In London, the spring/summer shows can often be greeted a bit begrudgingly, not least because weather-wise the latter season has been verging on non-existent in Britain in recent years. When summer is more often spent dodging rain showers than basking in the glow, buying sundresses and swimwear tends to slip to the bottom of the list.

And so, as the first day of London Fashion Week dawned today, it seemed that the ubiquitous steely skies would once again set the agenda.

Leave it to Natalie Massenet to introduce a bit of brightness: the founder of the e-tail phenomenon Net-a-porter and chairman of the British Fashion Council, she was joined by Peter Fitzgerald, the BFC’s digital and innovation president and sales director of Google, via video chat, to unveil their work with more than 90 London designers to ensure that they aren’t left behind in fashion’s digital revolution.

“Appetite and spend is immense online in the UK, but many get over half their sales from abroad,” Mr Fitzgerald said – meaning that even the most Luddite of designer can no longer ignore the importance of e-commerce.

Online sales in the UK now account for about 17 per cent of total spending on clothing and footwear, while this year alone, cumulative sales of online fashion in Great Britain was an impressive £10.7bn.

One brand which has firmly embraced evolving technology is Burberry, which this season will be among the first to use Twitter’s new “buy” button as part of its ongoing catwalk click-and-buy initiative. House of Holland too is embracing new technology – teaming up with Metail to allow consumers to try on and buy clothes in real time with the help of a digital avatar.

It is three decades this year since the inaugural London Fashion Week brought a band of disparate designers under one roof – albeit a tented one. Back then, the fashion industry was not quite the behemoth it is now. Although it quickly grew in scale, it wasn’t until the rise of smartphones and social networks that access all areas was granted to almost everyone. And the real-time updates from the front row that twice-annually clog the feeds of Twitter and Instagram users have helped the industry to strengthen and grow to a state of rude health.

An Oxford Economics report places the direct value of the UK fashion industry to the economy at £26bn, up from £21bn in 2009.

But it’s the clothes that keep people coming back for more,  and this is where London has long excelled. Seoul-born, Central Saint Martins-educated J JS Lee designs for a woman who is concerned with looking sharp and feminine, and yesterday she opened proceedings with a collection of relaxed silk tailoring and sporty dresses that fit the bill to a tee. There was a hint of summer here in lightweight materials, abstract floral prints and soft citrus shades of lime and mandarin. Much of the collection was inherently wearable while fabric experimentation pulled it back from seeming too commercial.

Sweet, sharp and cool – this was the perfect palette cleanser to take us from the establishment of New York to the energy of London.