The Digital London Fashion Week Shows That Were (Whisper It) Better Than The Real Thing

Esquire Editors
Photo credit: London Fashion Week

From Esquire

It was inevitable that fashion week faced cancellation. We can't even hug our own grandmothers, so two kisses to the cheeks of multiple strangers from each corner of the world seemed a little inappropriate. There's also the small issue of air conditioning/plague multipliers during the scorch of a summer's day in London.

But, the show must go on. In a feat of logistical acrobatics that'd put Simone Biles to shame, the British Fashion Council changed tack, curating a sprawling weekend of shows and podcasts and interviews and playlists that served the four corners of the world from the four corners of a screen. What's more, it provided a level playing field – not just for the brands that were no longer shackled to a graveyard shift on the schedule, but for the general viewing public. London Fashion Week was open.

And it worked. While the timetable is likely to undergo a mass shift given the retirement of Gucci and Saint Laurent from the traditional calendar, the British Fashion Council's efforts were on par with the usual ceremony of menswear's biggest weekend – and perhaps even succeeded it. Here, the Esquire style team unpicks their favourite presentations from London's (digital) Fashion Week.

KA WA KEY

"Young designers usually have less pulling power on busy fashion show timetables, but the democratisation of London Fashion Week now means a schedule that's accessible to everyone. New discovery is Ka Wa Key, whose seven-part short film - There’s No Place Like Home – is an ode to fairytales, nursery rhymes and The Little Prince. With his creative partner, Jarno Leppanen, who directed and edited the project, the RCA graduate intertwined elements of psychedelia, historical fantasy, nordic noir and silent film on a green screen at home using key pieces from his archive as well as new garments from Spring/Summer 2021 – one of the few designers who managed to produce some actual clothes during lockdown.

"It’s six minutes of surreal, magical mayhem and I loved it."

Catherine Hayward, Fashion Director

AHLUWALIA

Photo credit: Ahluwalia

"I’d be lying if I didn’t have reservations about this inaugural digital-only edition of LFW. I was concerned that the weight of designers’ creativity and viewpoint would be lost somehow by being compressed and digitised for a computer screen.

"But I was wrong. Of course I was! As various people have reassured me recently, the bald ingenuity of the UK fashion industry should never be underestimated. My pick of the weekend was Priya Ahluwalia’s Jalebi, a photography project (by Laurence Ellis) that explores the cultural strands of Ahluwalia’s own Nigerian-Indian heritage, as well as what it means to be a person of mixed heritage in modern Britain. The book, which has temporarily sold out, was cleverly turned into a virtual-reality exhibition, in which you can explore the works. An excellent, interesting, experiential thing."

Charlie Teasdale, Style Director

XANDER ZHOU

"It was never supposed to be this way, was it? Another weekend sat in front of a laptop, not grazing shoulders with the silly Esquire style gang on tightly-packed benches, someone trying to crowbar a real-life experience into a virtual setting. But the transition for Xander Zhou – the Beijing-based menswear designer that cut his teeth in the Netherlands – was by no means ham-fisted. In fact, it was organic; preferential, even.

"That's because the art of escapist world-building lends itself well to the medium of video, and Zhou has thought wisely about his output. Where big brands with their big budgets are afforded the space (and cash) to create an off-planet show, the Chinese outfit presented a pared-back yet futuristic collection that looked like a health and safety instructional video from a building site on Ganymede. The clothes were familiar, with slight twists here and there (half-and-half trousers, 50 per cent of a chore jacket and so on), all succinctly narrated by a HAL-like robot that gave concise information I struggle to find on the usual Magna Cartas of collection notes. And most importantly: I'd wear every single bit of it."

Murray Clark, Digital Style Editor

ROBYN LYNCH, SUPPORTED BY RAPHA

"I like cycling and I like fashion, but who’d have guessed they’d be working together to fight crime (fabric waste and sustainability in the industry) and look good while doing it (thanks to designer Robyn Lynch).

"For London’s first digital fashion week, Lynch teamed up with cycling brand, Rapha to utilise surplus fabric to create a special collection re-appropriating cycling gear and thus push the boundaries of casualwear: a style aesthetic she has been mastering since her S/S '19 graduation show. My favourite being look seven. Pairing knitwear with technical sporting fabrics reminds me of footy sports kits in the Nineties – work terribly, but look mega."

Dan Choppen, Fashion Assistant

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