By Charlotte Hope-Shannon
“It is essential to look at the future and the opportunity to change, collaborate and innovate” said British Fashion Council Chief Executive, Caroline Rush CBE, in a pre-fashion week release. “It is what British fashion is known for.” The fashion week agenda for 2021 is known now an avenue of flexibility, innovation and responsibility in our pandemic era. The stage? Anywhere and everywhere (digitally, of course). The brief? A kaleidoscope of possibilities, as London Fashion Week ran its first gender-neutral, solely digital schedule, championing womenswear, menswear and everything in-between.
Whilst gender identity has long been a topic of importance, it’s slipped under the radar of previous fashion week schedules. Yes, brands have always been creative with their gender defying collections, but still a divide remained between menswear and womenswear. However, with the disruption of men’s fashion week in 2020 putting brands in a position of unease, the British Fashion Council made history this week, opening up London Fashion Week to all collections and all audiences.
The covid pandemic wasn’t the only thing adding fuel to the flame though. With the added chaos of the UK Brexit deal, LFW was more than just a symbol of change, but one of universal anxiety. And with the fashion industry already facing a sustainable pandemic of its own, much was in question.
I, for one, was interested to see how the event would be received in our current climate. And I’m pleased to say, I was pleasantly surprised.
Flexibility In The Eye Of A Fashion Storm
At the start of the covid pandemic a British Fashion Council survey found that:
But fashion was already sitting amidst a crisis of its own, with environmental issues relating to the industry making headlines pre-pandemic.
However, the BFC were adamant to tackle these problems head on during LFW. Look books, short films and presentations were filmed and photographed without a live audience, as the question of sustainability remained an animated affair.
The BFC and designers alike reinvented the fashion platform, with sustainability and business development at the forefront of this change.
Whilst London Fashion Week was, by normal means, a shadow of its former self, much is to be marvelled. Lockdown has for one, allowed designers to slow down, rethink and adapt. What was once an overwhelming field, is now a culturally considered affair.
A New Sustainable Agenda?
Aesthetics, responsibility and storytelling – three things that found themselves intertwined in a more significant way than ever before. Equipped with the same creative agenda, smaller, sustainable brands like Bethany Williams London, were showcased to a wider audience.
Short films, such as the one Hanna Feidler (winner of the Eco-Age Brandmark award 2019) presented for her Chapter III collection, took centre stage. Less was more when it came to presentation and this, I feel, is what the fashion industry has been longing for.
No eccentric theatrics, no hierarchy of attendees, but availability for all who wish to be a part of a fashion celebration. Gender-neutral shows allowed a flexibility of thought, opening up a new conversation about the sustainability and diversity of fashion week. And Sadie Mantovani, experienced public relations/ communications expert and Creative Director & Head of Press at My Wardrobe HQ agrees.
No More Front Row?
The extravagance of fashion week was still there, no doubt, but the playing field had levelled out in a new way. Collections spoke for themselves and our desire for something new was replaced with a simple yet effective programme of calm. I personally felt more involved with the shows this year. The welcome feeling of acknowledgment as a digital audience member, is something I really valued.
The at-home ease of the digital shows was a much-welcomed change to the frantic, carbon-footprint producing schedule of times past. Resilience and flexibility became the theme of LFW, but change doesn’t come without an air of uncertainty as to what the future holds.
I, myself, remain optimistic. But are digital platforms a long-term, sustainable solution for brands to present their work? And how will the sustainability agenda change moving forward, without losing sight of the real issues at hand?
Copenhagen Fashion Week Embraces Sustainability And Digital For AW21
Fashion Values & Circular Change
Thankfully, part of the answer was set out with the exclusive launch of a unique global fashion network, Fashion Values.
Fashion Values is a sustainability programme aimed at educating, inspiring and connecting the next generation to transform the fashion industry. Developed by the Centre for Sustainable Fashion at the London College of Fashion, the aim is simple, to:
Similarly, the BFC hosted a panel discussion to mark the launch of the Circular Fashion Ecosystem Project’s research phase. This, I feel, is an important step for the BFC. We must find new ways to extend the life of our garments and create a circular industry. This is key to our future.
Pandemic Pressure - A Catalyst For Positive Change?
Whilst many missed the luxury of the in-person spectacle, this year’s emphasis on digital, I feel, propelled the conversation of sustainability further afield than ever before.
But how will the sustainability agenda move and develop over the next few years? If anything, Sadie Mantovani says, the ethical implications of the digital world will need to be addressed.
However, in a time when we look to fashion for light relief, its positive to see that many designers are using the pandemic as a moment of transformation.
Naturally, sustainable designers such as Osman Yousefzada, Priya Ahluwalia and Bethany Williams showcased some of our favourite AW21 collections. With sustainability and community at the heart of their designs, these creatives are paving the way for positive change.
Known for his multidisciplinary approach to design, Osman Yousefzada’s luxury womenswear label champions an ethos of sustainability and inclusivity.
With art, culture and design working together to create a socially sustainable and cultural conscious brand, Osman’s poem, ‘I’m Coming’ adorned the soundtrack of his collection. A setting-sun motif framed the backdrop of his film, whilst double-breasted jackets and embroidery showcased responsible craftsmanship at its finest. Daywear was elevated – diverse in every meaning of the word. From his models to his clothing, diversity took centre stage with a collection that was confidently deliberate.
With his renowned sculptural detailing, Yousedzada has shown once again that sustainable tailoring and women’s empowerment work hand in hand. An architectural elegance framed his work, with ethics and inclusivity undoubtedly at his collections core.
Comfort inspired Bethany Williams capsule collection, as she dove into the historical heritage of antique wool blankets from across the UK.
Inspired by her ongoing work with the Magpie Project, a charity that supports women and children in temporary accommodation, Williams exceeded the AW brief. With an interest in turning vintage materials into bespoke pieces, her gender-neutral collection is fuelled by sustainable initiatives.
The blankets have been reimagined into thoughtful and artistic coats, handcrafted in London. Whilst the shapes are inspired by Williams own historical research into childrenswear, informed by the V&A Museum of Childhood. Williams continues to shine a light onto the forgotten textiles of the UK, as community and social responsibility remains central.
Ahluwalia by Priya Ahluwalia
Influenced by her dual Indian-Nigerian heritage, Priya Ahluwalia’s namesake brand uses deadstock and locally sourced vintage materials to create her unique collections.
Recipient of the Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design 2021, Ahluwalia is a pioneer for sustainable fashion and a progressive force for the industry. Her focus on community is clear, as ethical practice reigns supreme.
Ahluwalia’s AW21 film ‘Traces’ captured the heart of the modern man, with innovative and forward-thinking design. The soundtrack paralleled that of the collection. What was presented? A cool sense of ease, as brotherhood and harmony radiated our screens.
What Does The Future Hold?
Many look to fashion as a creative outlet. But for our post-pandemic future it’s not enough. Sustainability, ethics and community are not simply add-ons to a design brief, they ARE the design brief.
What London Fashion Week AW21 has shown us is that change can be positive. And, the fashion week luxuries that we once relied on, are not entirely necessary. The British Fashion Council’s decision to go gender-neutral and fully digital has opened up a new channel of innovation, but what does the future hold for fashion week?
As Sadie Mantovani concludes,
Granted, whilst there is still a long way to go, any doubts I may have about our fashion future are positively eliminated by the pioneering minds of our eco-conscious generation.
What collections caught your eye this London Fashion Week? Do you think the digital landscape will replace that of traditional runway shows? Let us know in the comments below or join the conversation over at our Instagram Page!