For the first time since the pandemic put life on hold, the fashion circus was back in the capital last week. After a bruising 18 months, its familiar tropes — the early-morning blare of techno; the sharply-dressed editors crossing the road multiple times to achieve the perfect nonchalant street-style pose — felt oddly soothing.
On close inspection, though, something had changed. The front row — or frow — was almost unrecognisable. At one show, the British Fashion Council’s CEO, Caroline Rush — more often photographed alongside Anna Wintour — was sitting next to TikTok fashion critic Benji Park, aka @fashionboy, with three more TikTokkers, Michael Aldag, Rikki Sandhu and Abby Robert, next to him.
There had been similar scenes at New York Fashion Week, where TikTokker Noah Beck (30.4 million followers) was front row at Moschino, while Christina Najjar, aka Tinx, documented her first fashion week to 1.3 million followers. At the Met Gala, vloggers Nikkie de Jager, Jackie Aina and Eugene Lee Yang rubbed shoulders with Rihanna and JLo.
Their presence sparked a social media backlash, but such upsets are not new. In the late Noughties, the arrival of bloggers ruffled feathers. A decade later it was Instagram stars (in 2016, US Vogue editors said the newcomers were “heralding the death of style”; the bloggers told them to “get back to their Werther’s Originals”.) It’s not just technology driving change this time, though TikTok has a dizzying 689 million monthly active users. It is also a reappraisal after 18 months in which accusations of waste and elitism put the industry at odds with Gen Z consumers and opinion-formers. Their values are represented by the new power tribes of fashion.
The Gen Z power posse
The names fashion brands are fighting over now want to make the world a better place. The 18-year-old tennis superstar Emma Raducanu, for example, was at LFW, attending a party as the new face of Tiffany & Co. The co-chairs of the Met Gala are singer Billie Eilish, 19, Timothée Chalamet, 26, tennis star and Black Lives Matter campaigner Naomi Osaka, 23, and poet Amanda Gorman, also 23, who shot to fame at Joe Biden’s inauguration. Gorman has just signed up as Estée Lauder’s first “global changemaker”, which will see her allocating $3 million of grants to promote literacy among girls and women, and also star in adverts.
The hyper social media set
TikTok is working hard to make inroads in fashion, sponsoring LFW’s talent incubator Newgen this season. Rush sees the new fashion week crowd as “a merging of two worlds”, after social media boomed in the pandemic. “Fashion week feels as though it is pivoting slightly to new designers, so the synergy with TikTok does feel fitting,” says Cassandra Russell, head of fashion, luxury, beauty and retail brand partnerships at TikTok. She describes the app as “a happy place on the internet”, with its explorations of the inclusive side of fashion, from knitting challenges to catwalk outfits crafted from charity shop finds.
The cult cultural pin-ups
With international travel limited, and money tight for many brands, it was no surprise that A-list stars were thin on the ground this London Fashion Week, leaving space for a new scene that PR Mandi Lennard found cheering. “I haven’t seen anything like this since the bloggers broke through,” she says, listing creatives from photographer Amber Pinkerton, to rapper Shy Girl, to model Deba Hekmat, all of whom “stand for something, which shows where creative London is moving”.
Daisy Hoppen, founder of DH-PR, worked on Rejina Pyo’s show at the London Aquatics Centre, which opened with Team GB athletes plunging from diving boards, and featured actress Bel Powley, musician Lianne La Havas and writer and campaigner Emma Dabiri. At Simone Rocha’s show, a similarly cultured crew included Claire Foy, the painter Faye Wei Wei, the architect Sumayya Vally, and ballerina Francesca Hayward. “Brands wanted to ensure that the guest list reflected the community they had built — gone are the days of people going to every single show.”
It was also a more diverse crowd, though for Ellie Goldstein, the Gucci model who has Down’s Syndrome and advocates for representation in fashion, that only went so far. “I had the best time, with a great atmosphere” but “I didn’t see any models with visible disabilities,” she writes. “My dream would be to take part in London Fashion Week.”
Darren Gerrish, the front row photographer, admits: “I don’t know what the hell happens on TikTok.” But there was one Gen Z star everyone wanted a picture of: Lila Grace Moss. “She’s great, isn’t she?” he says of the 18-year-old model, who walked for Richard Quinn as mother Kate cheered. Other “children of” include Iris Law, 20, the daughter of Jude Law and Sadie Frost, and Bliss and Blythe Chapman, daughters of Rosemary Ferguson and Jake Chapman.
The critics 2.0
Lennard says that it is no longer solely established names who have clout: she singles out Tianwei Zhang, of trade title WWD, Jeffrey Thomson, editor of Check-Out magazine, and YouTube critic Luke Meagher as opinion-formers to watch. “I would call them the front row of the future but actually, I don’t think there should be a front row in the future.” She’s got a point. That fashion makes hierarchies by putting guests in rows could barely feel less right for now. An alternative? “Charles Jeffrey had his audience standing,” Lennard says. “That feels more democratic.”