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The most outrageous moments in London Fashion Week history

It is, after all, ‘the hooligan of English fashion’, Alexander McQueen’s hometown and where he put on many of his most scandalous shows.

Prudence Wade
Monday 13 February 2023 07:00 GMT
London Fashion Week kicks off on February 17 (Laura Woolnough/PA)
London Fashion Week kicks off on February 17 (Laura Woolnough/PA)

With London Fashion Week fast approaching, we won’t only be paying close attention to the clothes, but also the drama which will inevitably unfold.

Any fashion week is an excuse for designers to really be experimental and performative; with the models they choose, the sets they create as well as the clothes they send down the runway.

London Fashion Week in particular is traditionally seen as younger and more daring than the events Milan and Paris which follow it. This means there’s a bit more scope for controversy on the London catwalks, which might be frowned upon on the continent.

This season (February 17-21) is set to be a big one, with Daniel Lee presenting his first collection for Burberry, and tributes to the late Vivienne Westwood expected to run throughout.

As we gear up for the autumn/winter collections, let’s have a look back at some of the most shocking and controversial moments in London Fashion Week history…

Chalayan

Hussein Chalayan’s most scandalous LFW show in 2000 involved models in various stages of nudity, wearing headscarves, but the one he will really be remembered for is when he turned a table into a skirt on the runway.

Chalayan’s work has always been on the architectural, experimental side of fashion, and he really took this to a new level for the autumn/winter collection. The stage was set up simply, with four chairs and a wooden coffee table. The models came in and four of them took off the chair covers and put them on as dresses, and another model stepped into the table and lifted it up to create a crisp tiered skirt.

It’s a show which has gone down in history, showing how unexpected fashion can be. A play on minimalism, it blurred the lines between architecture and fashion, setting the tone for Chalayan’s experimental and boundary-pushing career.

Alexander McQueen

Where to begin with Alexander McQueen? The designer was both the enfant terrible and darling of the fashion world, producing groundbreaking shows and outfits which aimed to shock. Just take the AW95 show which was called ‘Highland Rape’. According to McQueen, this was about the historical treatment of the Scottish by the English, which the designer wanted to focus on as he was descended from Scots. The show’s content was shocking: models ran down the catwalk in various states of disarray, with their clothes ripped and falling off them.

The item of clothing which really scandalised the fashion world was McQueen’s now-notorious ‘bumsters’ – trousers slung so low they revealed models’ hip bones.

Or what about the show McQueen put on in September 1998, where model Shalom Harlow wore a beautiful white dress only to be spray painted by robots? It was a startling destruction of expensive clothing right in front of a live audience, and was a commentary on the rising power of technology.

Vivienne Westwood

Vivienne Westwood’s shows always stirred up controversy because of their political messages. Whether it was discussing Guantanamo Bay in 2008, the climate emergency in 2012, or an anti-fracking demonstration in 2016, Westwood, who died in December 2022, wasn’t afraid to make a statement. She was more than happy to skewer those in power with her fashion, with clothes featuring slogans like “politicians are criminals” and “austerity is a crime”.

When politics isn’t on the menu, Westwood’s shows hit headlines when models inevitably took a tumble in her notoriously sky-high heels.

Philip Treacy

You wouldn’t expect much drama or outrage at a milliner’s show, would you? Even though you might associate hatmakers with prim and proper affairs like royal weddings or Ascot, Philip Treacy knows how to buck a trend – as well as make hats for traditional events.

None other than Grace Jones entered Treacy’s SS01 show on top of a black stretch limousine, wearing a gold hat and dancing for all to see. What could be more rockstar than that?

Christopher Kane

Now, high fashion Crocs have become part of the fabric of our society. But back in 2016 the fashion world was aghast when Christopher Kane bejewelled some Crocs and sent them down the runway.

Mixing the high and the low and indulging in ‘ugly’ shoes is the norm now, but it certainly was shocking when Kane first collaborated with the shoe brand.

Extinction Rebellion

In February 2020, one of the biggest stories to come out of fashion week was nothing to do with a designer, but was all about Extinction Rebellion.

Protestors blocked roads in the capital – particularly in the areas where shows were being held – demanding the cancellation of London Fashion Week. Demonstrators carried placards reading, “No more false fashion” and, “No fashion on a dead planet”, while others wore dresses made from chains.

Somewhat ironically, this was the last physical fashion week for a few seasons, as the pandemic forced designers to take things online.

Richard Quinn

Richard Quinn is known for his subversive designs, mixing latex with floral patterns and constantly using extreme silhouettes.

This all came to a head in his February 2022 fashion show, when he sent drag queen Violet Chachki down the runway in a skintight black latex outfit, walking another model in a gimp suit like a dog.

At this point, fashion week still felt a bit tentative post-Covid lockdowns. Not everyone was on the schedule and many designers choosing to skip it entirely or put on a digital presentation instead. Quinn’s show felt like a joyous and suitably splashy return to physical runway shows.

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