The Big Question: What is the point of London Fashion Week, and does it matter?


What is London Fashion Week?

To guess from the photos it is one long Moet-fuelled party for leggy, teenage girls from Estonia and Dalek-like glossy-magazine editors who never remove their sunglasses. But London Fashion Week is actually an important industry event that maintains the city's status as a top "fashion capital".

Over six days designers of every level of experience present their collections for the forthcoming season to an audience of department-store buyers, journalists, stylists and, of course, the odd celebrity.

It takes place each February and September, and gives buyers and press an advance viewing of collections that won't hit the stores for another four to six months.

Most choose to show their clothes on models on a catwalk, but many more stage static presentations in an exhibition at the fashion week marquees, presently outside the Natural History Museum in west London.

Along with Paris, Milan and New York, London is one of the major biannual ready-to-wear fashion weeks, and jealously guards that status particularly since, over the past decade, every city from Barcelona to Zagreb has launched its very own "fashion week".

While Paris focuses on avant-garde design and ladylike chic, Milan is the home of big luxury labels and New York prefers labels designed by socialites, for socialites, London is the seedbed for new fashion talent.

This is largely due to the success of the capital's top fashion colleges such as Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design and the Royal College of Art, coupled with a vibrant street style culture.

Without the manufacturing might of northern Italy, or the mega-budgets of the French luxury goods conglomerates, designers in the UK have little choice but to innovate however they can.

The city has been a hotbed for creativity in fashion since the 1960s (think Biba, Mary Quant) and 1970s (Ossie Clark, Vivienne Westwood) but London Fashion Week itself has grown organically. From a small event in the 1980s based in Olympia to a fully fledged fashion week in the mid-90s with 15 designers.

Now there are 53 catwalk shows on the official schedule, with many more presenting collections in small off-calendar events in bars, warehouses and theatres around the capital. Without a high-profile fashion week, UK designers would struggle to gain recognition and grow their businesses.

Who is involved?



Paul Smith, Betty Jackson, Nicole Farhi are some of the more established designers that take part. Luella Bartley and Matthew Williamson, two successful Brits who have shown in the more commerically-viable New York fashion week for several years, return to London this season.

Stella McCartney staged her earliest shows in London in the late 1990s and tomorrow night she is back to present her collection for Adidas.

British brands attempting to revive a long heritage also prefer to test the waters in London. They include Aquascutum, Biba and Asprey.

But the biggest hype surrounds the fresh-out-of-college designers such as Christopher Kane, Gareth Pugh and Marios Schwab, who are given the space and attention at London Fashion Week that they would struggle to find in other fashion capitals. Young talent showcases/ awards such as Fashion Fringe (Tom Ford is a judge), MAN and Fashion East also crowd out the schedule this week, giving new graduates the first step on the ladder by exposing them to the press.

Buyers from American, European and Asian department stores are in town to make orders for deliveries next season.

Models, most of whom live in New York or Paris, fly in for the shows.

Journalists from all the major British newspapers attend, as do stylists and editors from the glossy magazines. Industry publications such as Women's Wear Daily also cover LFW, as do influential websites including the influential Conde Nast site Style.com, which reviews many shows.

The crowd that jostles at the entrance to all the shows also includes photographers, fashion students and the inevitable hangers-on. In total organisers estimate 5,000 guests this week.

Who organises and pays for the event?

The British Fashion Council , a non-profit making organization, runs London Fashion Week and has a brief to promote British fashion worldwide.

At present Hilary Riva, formerly of the retail group Rubicon, is chief executive of the British Fashion Counci and Marks & Spencer's Stuart Rose, the chairman. To survive, LFW relies heavily on the largesse of commercial sponsors. Camera brand Canon is currently supporting the event overall but it is Topshop that is the single biggest sponsor of designers, spending in excess of £500,000 per season on cash and venues for young designers.

With a catwalk show costing anywhere between £15,000-£80,000, the pressure on designers still only in their twenties to overstretch themselves is immense. Many will comment that their notoriety far outstrips the size of their small business bank account.

What's it worth?

The UK clothing market was worth £33.5bn in 2006 and while the majority of that is likely to be high-street fashion chains, one can argue that the buzz surrounding London designers trickles down to mass-market retailers and keeps shoppers hungry for newness. The organizers of London Fashion Week say that last season's event produced editorial media coverage worth £24m, orders worth £40m and business for London worth more than £100m. Last year numbers of UK buyers were up by 20 per cent and international press by 10 per cent.

What/who has it given the world?

Vivienne Westwood was part of London Fashio Week in its earliest incarnation the 1980s. John Galliano, now the chief designer at Christian Dior, also started his career in London. The star couturier, who once wore an astronaut suit to take his bow at the end of a show, is now based in Paris but was in town last night at a glitzy dinner at the V&A to celebrate the opening of The Golden Age Of Couture.

In the late 1990s star designers Alexander McQueen and Hussein Chalayan wowed the fashion pack with their spectacular shows that were closer to theatre than a catwalk presentation. They have since moved on to Paris. One thing LFW does not give the world is dull but commercially safe trends – plenty of which one can see on any given day during Milan Fashion Week.

How does it influence the high street?

Catwalk trends from every fashion capital eventually end up on the high street, thanks to 'copycat'designs, which cannot be good for designer's small businesses. But there are schemes to harness the creativity of UK designers for the mass market. In exchange for sponsorship many of the 15 designers supported by Topshop this week will design less expensive capsule collections for the chain.

Teenage girls can already buy Christopher Kane for Topshop, or similar collections by Emma Cook, Peter Jensen and Ann-Sofie Back. In an industry where celebrities from Kate Moss to J-Lo are launching their own clothing lines, it is hopeful for the future of fashion that real designers should also be accessible to the younger end of the market.

Who are the names to watch?

The 25-year-old Glaswegian Christopher Kane has fans in US Vogue editor Anna Wintour and Donatella Versace – and recommendations don't come much higher than that. Kane's take on bad-taste glamour isn't for everyone (Monday's show featured snakeskin prints and ripped, bleached jeans) but his technical ability and focus is impressive.

Kane himself has vowed to stay independent and remain in London. This is in contrast to the likes of McQueen and McCartney who chose to sell their brands to the Gucci Group following their rise to fame in the 1990s. Scots are hot this season; two more north-of-the-border talents to watch out for are Deryck Walker and Louise Gray. From Kingston, west London, Danielle Scutt, 26, is a new name whose dominatrix designs are young, fierce and attention-grabbing. Which just a bout sums up London Fashion Week.

News
Japan's Suntory Beverage & Food has bought GlaxoSmithKline's Lucozade and Ribena
news
News
A tongue-eating louse (not the one Mr Poli found)
newsParasitic louse appeared inside unfilleted sea bass
News
The illusionist believes hypnotism helped him to deal with the lack of control he felt growing up
people'It’s not that people react badly to it – they really don't care'
News
peopleJack Monroe accuses David Cameron of 'misty-eyed rhetoric'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Perhaps longest awaited is the adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road with Brazil’s Walter Salles directing and Sam Riley, Kristen Stewart and Viggo Mortensen as the Beat-era outsiders
books
Arts and Entertainment
theatreSinger to join cast of his Broadway show after The Last Ship flounders at the box office
Life and Style
fashion'To start singing with Pharrell is not that bad, no?'
News
Arts and Entertainment
Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1
filmsMockingjay Part 1 taking hit franchise to new levels
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Employment Solicitor

£30000 - £60000 per annum + Excellent: Austen Lloyd: Employment Solicitor - Ke...

Argyll Scott International: Risk Assurance Manager

Negotiable: Argyll Scott International: Hi All, I'm currently recruiting for t...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: HAMPSHIRE MARKET TOWN - A highly attr...

Ashdown Group: IT Systems Analyst / Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

£23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

Day In a Page

In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

The young are the new poor

Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

Greens on the march

‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

Through the stories of his accusers
Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

The Meaning of Mongol

Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible