Revolution In the Fashion World: The Catwalks Face Up To the Social Media Challenge:

IMG_1392Has London Fashion Week (and the ones in New York, Milan and Paris) become an anachronism? The BBC clearly thinks it’s still important: It devoted at least half of its prestigious “Today” morning radio programme on Friday 15th September (the first day of the latest LFW, which finished on Tuesday 19th September) to the event, with one of it’s presenters, Mishal Husain, broadcasting from the venue at The Store Studios in the Strand. As she pointed out, British Fashion Council (BFC) statistics show that the fashion industry is worth around £30 billion pounds to the country’s economy and that it supports 880,000 jobs in the UK.

IMG_1434LFW is thus “ an international event that showcases British fashion and the global brands that choose to exhibit in London because of its reputation for creativity”. However, the industry is all about “big business” and so is evolving rapidly. Nearly 7 out of 10 women (as the BBC’s business reporter, Lucy Burton noted) have bought clothes online. Sian Westerman, the BFC’s President of Business & Investment, acknowledged to Husain that e-commerce has caused “a great fashion revolution”, that it has dramatically changed customers’ expectations in terms of speed, delivery and accessibility to fashion. The “fast fashion brands” now turn to social media platforms as much as to the fashion weeks for an indication of the latest trends.

IMG_1391Richard Christofoli, Debenham’s Marketing Director, likewise accepts that it is “a fluid, dynamic and challenging situation” for the established high-street retailers:  Customers can now shop online and then collect at the store, or browse in the store then use their smartphone to decide what to buy and from whom. Christopher Bailey, formerly Burberry’s chief executive but now it’s chief creative officer, believes that LFW is all about “trying new things, experimenting and innovating, making sure we are talking to customers, media and buyers, pushing ourselves”. He agrees, however, that the rise of social media has created a completely different way of looking at every industry, not just fashion and that it has had a disruptive impact on “the fairly rigid timetable of fashion weeks around the world”.

This view is shared by Jo Ellison, Fashion Editor for the Financial Times, who pointed out to Husain that “the fashion industry has always been a very visual medium for most people, which makes Instagram the perfect platform for people to understand it”. Brands can now deliver their messages to a global audience to whom they didn’t previously have access. People are now able to find out things for themselves – they don’t really need the “ordination” of newspaper or magazine fashion editors anymore. Furthermore, brands are now offering “trans-seasonal” clothes: customers are merely “adding to their wardrobe each time, there’s not an abrupt change each season, there’s much more continuity”.

Nevertheless, as Christopher Bailey emphasizes, London continues to be “a creative hub for the creative industries”. That’s because we have “the best creative art schools in the world, which attract people who want to be educated here and then set up their businesses here”. Bailey argues that this provides enormous potential for post-Brexit Britain, that “Britishness” resonates globally due to the combination of the country’s “beautiful, historic, almost Victorian values” with its island culture, eccentricity and self-expression and that “street style”, which began here, is still “the strongest than anywhere else around the world” . He desperately hopes, though, that the current “anti-immigration climate” doesn’t undermine the openness with the rest of the world or inhibit “the collaboration with people of different cultures which is fundamental to any creative business”.

Bailey’s assertion that London is ideally placed to enhance its leading role in the global fashion industry is fully supported by the BFCs statistics: More than 5000 guests, including “the international press, buyers, broadcasters, influencers and industry insiders from 70 countries” attended the latest LFW. There were 85 catwalk shows and presentations and 33 other events. Burberry presented its new collection, as did Versace’s VERSUS, Fashion East and House of Holland. New participants were Tommy Hilfiger (USA), Nicopanda (USA), Emporio Armani (Italy) and Ralph & Russo (UK). Also featuring prominently were “internationally celebrated British designers” such as Emilia Wickstead, Fyodor Golan, Margaret Howell, Pringle of Scotland and Temperley London. The BFC described the diversity of the LFW schedule as “ a testament to the inclusive and innovative British fashion industry on display in London”.

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Filed under: Media, Society | Posted on September 18th, 2017 by Colin D Gordon

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