Fashion is, quite obviously, nothing new on the internet. Since the inception of the online world, clothes brands have swapped paper tags for Insta’ tags, glossy pics for lossless pixels and intricate fabrics for equally fraying Twitter threads.
Equally, though, it’s always had one foot firmly in the physical. High fashion’s aspirational visage relies on things only the real can hold: tactility, fragrance, fragility, allure, lighting, colour.
These qualities can be replicated online but never, ironically, to the same quality. How do you translate the dreamily soft cashmere of a Versace knit, or the gossamer sunray-pleating of a Dior dress, when everything is boiled down to raw code? It’s this emphasis on the physical that makes it so damaging to the real world around us. The fashion industry is the second-largest consumer and polluter of water, which, a day after World Oceans Day, doesn’t sit too nicely.
After all, if high fashion is one thing, it’s decadent (literally, from décadence, meaning ‘decay’). From elaborate press days to everyone’s-a-winner gifting, extravagant runways to extortionate costs, it auraticises the physical at the very detriment of it. Harold Macmillan’s quip of ‘events, dear boy, events’ might as well have been referring to fashion’s obsession with them. People are seen to be there and there to be seen, the fashion calendar eternally filled. If a Fall collection drops in a Soho studio and no-one is there to see it, does it make a pound?
Covid-19 has forced this thought experiment to be made real. High street shopping may have already been on the way out, but lockdown has seen an end to all IRL events, showrooms, flagship stores and runways. Something which events like London Fashion Week rely on.
For the first time in its history, LFW is going fully digital. Launching today, its digital-only platform is styling-out the pandemic until June 2021, open to both industry bosses and fashion fans. The whole programme has seen a full quick-change: the Mens and Womens shows have fused into one gender-neutral event, run across three days.
Change has been brewing for a long time. Just recently, Gucci said goodbye to regular collections and shows, branding ‘summer’ and ‘winter’ as ‘stale and underfed words’ in a deliciously postmodernist soundbite. Sustainability has been on the rise, too, from Burberry’s decision to introduce a transparent labelling system to Chanel’s ambitious ‘mission’ to tackle waste. Meanwhile, the mind-bending world of virtual fashion has seen Carlings produce digital-only collections (the buyer uploads their photo and is e-tailored to an outfit that only exists on their screens), while Louis Vuitton recently entered the esports market with luxury in-game outfits.
It’s impossible, though, to discount the galvanising effect that Covid-19 has had. The ultra-capitalist fashion world is sadly one still based on supply and demand and simple economic forces. Lockdown, though, has seen the invisible hand of the market become infected, placing an obsidian dome around everything usually in its reach. The physical, for the first time ever, was out of bounds. No money could bribe its way past security through the VIP entrance.
This level playing field is one to be celebrated. As well as gender-neutral shows and digital access, LFW has launched the LFW Catwalk Challenge. The general public (us!) are invited to dress up in an outfit that makes them happy, use #LFWCatwalkChallenge and get the chance to appear in a video aired on Sunday. This example of inclusivity, of online entry, demystifies the fashion world. Why were Burberry so keen on burning £28m of unsold clothes? Why is the Met Ball invitation only? To maintain exclusivity, status.
But, excitingly, LFW is enacting real change in making its programme more available to all. It’s risking a loss of the physical aura surrounding fashion, but potentially gaining a whole new (front row) audience. That’s something to be applauded, really. It’s high-time high fashion treated the world a little better, and let the world be treated to more high fashion.
Imagery from the Marques’Almeida reM’Ade Collection. Catch their Digital LFW show on Friday 12th June @ 6pm.