What We Learned From London Fashion Week

LONDON — This past weekend was always going to be unlike any London Fashion Week before.

There were no live runway shows. No front row, backstage beauty scrum or heaving photographers’ pit; no mouthy security on the door or street-style snaps taken outside gilded venues. With coronavirus travel bans and social distancing measures still in place in Britain, there were no big crowds. And with most brands continuing to struggle with the economic fallout of the global crisis, only a handful of the showcased collections were new designs.

The question was: Could a digital equivalent, watched from your sofa, ever be the same?

The answer — at least for now — is no.

The British Fashion Council always acknowledged this replacement of what would have been the spring 2021 men’s wear shows would be an experiment as well as a reset. Still, the three-day affair, built on a Netflix-style home page with streamed events and new content created by brands, retailers, cultural institutions, media partners and students alike, was a bold effort given the circumstances. And, perhaps, the beginnings of a road map for where the concept and purpose of fashion week could go next — with or without a live audience.

Here is what we learned:

This iteration of London Fashion Week functioned, like its physical counterpart, as a platform to celebrate fashion talent, and particularly the emerging talent for which the British capital is known. But this season, brands had to look for new ways to tell their stories.

Browsing the website, with its mix of mediums like video art and music playlists, photo retrospectives and designer Q. and A.s, felt like turning the pages of an interactive magazine or scrolling through an arty Instagram feed. Though there were pops of originality, the digital formula lacked a sense of urgency or the anticipation that grows while you are sitting and waiting for catwalk theatrics or a hot debut — whether in the audience or watching a livestream anywhere at all.

And because of social distancing orders and industrywide manufacturing delays, there wasn’t much actual fashion in sight.

Given the industry turmoil caused by coronavirus, and that the shift to a digital format was only announced in April, the lineup lacked many of the bigger men’s and women’s wear names of the London fashion scene. With no Burberry, A-Cold-Wall or Victoria Beckham taking part, there was a palpable absence of star power — the charge that usually powers the showcases from the big four cities and gives them major commercial clout.

On the upside, it was a chance for newer names to use some newer mediums to articulate some of the ideas that shape their usual approach to making clothes. Instead of her usual tailoring, the men’s wear designer Bianca Saunders unveiled a vibrant new zine, We Are One of the Same, that explored themes of gender identity, community and blackness, with prints that could be bought on her website. Nicholas Daley, an LVMH Prize finalist this year, presented a nostalgic short film of his fall runway show, held in January, with musical accompaniment by the jazz musicians Kwake Bass, Wu-Lu and Rago Foot. And Priya Ahluwalia held a virtual reality exhibition to celebrate the release of her new photography book, “Jalebi,” that allowed the viewer to roam around a gallery and click on information points to find out more about what it means to be a young mixed-heritage person in modern Britain.

This year has forced fashion to rip up the rule book. So it felt fitting that at the last minute Charles Jeffrey canceled his plans to livestream a drop-in dance party on Saturday night and instead hosted a black talent showcase and fund-raiser for UK Black Pride.

Martine Rose collaborated with the poet and activist Kai-Isaiah Jamal to celebrate the release of a capsule collection that used deadstock fabrics from her studio. And Osman Yousefzada presented a moving short film called “Her Dreams Are Bigger,” which took clothes with “Made in Bangladesh” labels that had been bought in Britain back to their country of origin, where garment workers tried them on and envisaged the women who had once worn them.

Because the platform was open to all, not just the industry and media, there was considerable excitement online in the run-up to this fashion week.

  • Updated June 12, 2020

    • What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?

      So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.

    • How does blood type influence coronavirus?

      A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation’s job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.

    • Will protests set off a second viral wave of coronavirus?

      Mass protests against police brutality that have brought thousands of people onto the streets in cities across America are raising the specter of new coronavirus outbreaks, prompting political leaders, physicians and public health experts to warn that the crowds could cause a surge in cases. While many political leaders affirmed the right of protesters to express themselves, they urged the demonstrators to wear face masks and maintain social distancing, both to protect themselves and to prevent further community spread of the virus. Some infectious disease experts were reassured by the fact that the protests were held outdoors, saying the open air settings could mitigate the risk of transmission.

    • How do we start exercising again without hurting ourselves after months of lockdown?

      Exercise researchers and physicians have some blunt advice for those of us aiming to return to regular exercise now: Start slowly and then rev up your workouts, also slowly. American adults tended to be about 12 percent less active after the stay-at-home mandates began in March than they were in January. But there are steps you can take to ease your way back into regular exercise safely. First, “start at no more than 50 percent of the exercise you were doing before Covid,” says Dr. Monica Rho, the chief of musculoskeletal medicine at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago. Thread in some preparatory squats, too, she advises. “When you haven’t been exercising, you lose muscle mass.” Expect some muscle twinges after these preliminary, post-lockdown sessions, especially a day or two later. But sudden or increasing pain during exercise is a clarion call to stop and return home.

    • My state is reopening. Is it safe to go out?

      States are reopening bit by bit. This means that more public spaces are available for use and more and more businesses are being allowed to open again. The federal government is largely leaving the decision up to states, and some state leaders are leaving the decision up to local authorities. Even if you aren’t being told to stay at home, it’s still a good idea to limit trips outside and your interaction with other people.

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • Should I wear a mask?

      The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.

That isn’t something to ignore: Shanghai Fashion Week, which took place online in late March, reportedly drew 11 million viewers and sold $2.75 million worth of clothes and accessories direct to consumers during livestreams.

Retail, after all, is the reason that fashion weeks exist. And as stores are reopening in the West, fashion brands of all sizes need that potential support and audience more than ever.

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