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London Fashion Week opens online as coronavirus shakes up industry

Traditional women's and men's catwalk shows have been set aside for the first post-Covid digital Fashion Week in London.
Traditional women's and men's catwalk shows have been set aside for the first post-Covid digital Fashion Week in London. REUTERS - Henry Nicholls

London has become the first of the four fashion capitals to take its runway shows online due to Covid-19 physical distancing. For the first time, womenswear and menswear shows were merged as the industry moves to reset its values to speed up economic recovery.

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Instead of the glitzy catwalks and front VIP seats, spectators were treated on Friday to a whole new digital experience of London Fashion Week, as the British capital showcased the latest collections online, signing a new chapter in the coronavirus-hit industry.

With the original shows cancelled due to Covid-19, experts had to find a new format.

“Cancelling London Fashion Week was never an option,” said Caroline Rush, chief executive of the British Fashion Council, the event's organising body.

“The big question was around what sort of format it would take in lockdown.”

New format

The answer is a homepage with virtual galleries and short films, podcasts and playlists that will be open to the public all from a new home (londonfashionweek.co.uk) and new hashtag (#LFWreset).

“Designers can tell a story and build their brand on this platform in whatever way they choose,” Rush said.

For the first time, the event is also gender neutral, abandoning the binary menswear and womenswear shows.

Official participants include established names such as Burberry and Victoria Beckham as well as designers such as Hussein Chalayan, Marques Almeida and Nicholas Daley.

However, not every brand was ready to embrace the new format, with some designers preferring to wait until September to focus on keeping their business afloat.

Coronavirus impact

The fashion industry has been negatively impacted by the coronavirus outbreak, which has slashed retail production and consumer demand.

Going forward, experts say the fashion world must prepare a sustainable tomorrow.

“The other side of this crisis, we hope, will be about sustainability, creativity and product that you value, respect, cherish,” Rush said ahead of London Fashion Week.

The British Fashion Council chief reiterated calls on Friday for a fairer and more sustainable industry.

The fashion world has been criticised for high levels of pollution; it produces about 1.2 billion tonnes of carbon emissions per year.

Changing values

It has also come under pressure in recent years to offer better wages to factory workers who produce "fast fashion", cheap clothes that consumers hardly wear and throw away, after garment workers were killed in a factory collapse in Bangladesh.

Top designers, such as Dame Anna Wintour, have called on the industry to take advantage of the coronavirus pandemic to rethink its values.

Digital London Fashion Week, which runs up until Sunday 14 June, may not achieve an overhaul in three days, but if Rush gets her way it will set "a global showcase for the future.”

It may also offer inspiration for Paris Fashion Week, which kicks off from 6 July.

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