London Fashion Week’s Step-Change in Digital

A three-day, consumer-facing event.

The shows slated for London Fashion Week’s (LFW) spring 2021 runway will be first-movers in fashion’s post-COVID landscape. The goings will commence today and run through June 14 in a three-day showcase, backed by the British Fashion Council (BFC) and the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA).The knock-on effect of the coronavirus pandemic left the BFC significant headroom to navigate a shift in their future. “We asked ourselves if we could reset and rethink,” BFC chair, Stephanie Pair, told WWD.  “Shouldn’t fashion slow down and go back to its roots as designer fashion?”

The council has long been hedged by the disjointed cadence of the fashion calendar. By trade, inventory ebbs out of sync with consumer buying patterns, causing retailers to find solace in deep discounting (especially in the West), only to cheapen brand equity, slash margins, and damage bottom line figures. And fashion’s environmental footprint, significant as it is, has yet to be amended by industry leaders, nor brand conglomerates.

“In good times, in times of growth, inertia is pretty strong and we found that it was very hard to manage any changes, because there are so many stakeholders,” said Phair. “When everything is thrown up in the air, you’re able to reset.” With that, the pandemic revealed fashion’s underbelly, forcing an overnight pivot in industry culture.

LFW has translated to digital, dropped gender binaries and merged into one homogenous platform. “We’re very much looking at this as a reset,” Clara Mercer, BFC spokesperson, told Vogue Business. “Not just fashion week but the whole industry and how we do business.” Being heralded as a “Netflix channel for brands,” the platform will feature consumer-facing panels, podcasts, multi-media content, diaries, brand-specific pages with shoppable product, and virtual showrooms made available by Joor.

LFW follows the lead of Shanghai Fashion Week that shifted digital as COVID-19 scaled in March. Yet, the success of SFW isn’t as easily staged in Western markets where the technological integration of social media and e-commerce is more bifurcated and foreign. Chanel unveiled its Cruise 2020 collection on Monday in the shape of an ad-hoc virtual lookbook – relegated from the  house’s initial plans of a May catwalk on the island of Capri. While CDC guidelines were upheld and a second lapse of infection staved off, The New York Times’s Vanessa Friedman billed it “a disappointment on many levels.”

The fashion sector has seemingly made a back-of-the-envelope calculation to outlive the pandemic, but we must wait to see if industry-wide inroads outlast a yearn for tradition.

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