There’s something about watching photogenic fashion tribes that conjures up a David Attenborough or Bruce Parry voice-over inside my head. Something that says I’m in the presence of a species fundamentally different to my own, no matter how much I might want to understand them or imitate them. Ultimately there’s a little bit of fear in not knowing what their next move might be, or whether they’re about to bare their claws. Welcome to London Fashion Week, where the beautiful and the strange gather.
Whilst I normally write about style on my fashion blog, I felt strongly that the travel community could learn a lot from the twice yearly womenswear gatherings centred around London’s Somerset House when, for five days at a time, everyone waits with bated breath to find out what they’ll be wearing next season. Okay, so it’s not quite given the biological resonance of heading to the watering hole on safari or the cultural significance of witnessing a marriage ceremony in a far-flung country, but I firmly believe that travel bloggers could take a lot from the spectacle.
National Dress has Nothing on This
We Brits don’t actually have a national costume, however much people might try and fool you into thinking we go around wearing bowler hats or Beefeater outfits for special occasions. I’d argue that the kind of variety represented by the quirky individuals at LFW show just why we couldn’t pin it down to one ensemble. Of course, not everyone is from the UK, as Fashion Week is a melting pot of press, bloggers and photographers from around the world, but you’ll spot plenty of home-grown outfits as well.
I’ll be the first to admit that you can feel like a fish out of water walking amongst Amazonian off-duty models, editors and scene kids, not to mention the army of recognisable bloggers garnering press attention. It can actually feel pretty alienating to walk around as a fairly normal person – sans fairy wings/PVC cape/stripper shoes/jacket made of stuffed animals – and something of a relief to emerge into the Strand afterwards. But that’s just another part of the all-consuming atmosphere of LFW and it really has to be seen to be believed.
The Catwalk is a Cultural Playground
One aspect not to miss is the screening of live catwalk shows in the courtyard at Somerset House; after all, the Courtyard Showspace (the tented section in the middle) is one of the key locations for well-regarded brands to display their newest collections. The big screens outside give us mere unticketed mortals the chance to see what it’s like inside and find out what kind of inspiration has been gathered for the season ahead.
Designers are constantly inspired by travel, and that can mean anything from their most recent holiday or a specific purchasing trip for fabric, to a famous voyage that has caught their attention. For S/S14, which was shown back in September, Margaret Howell brought us a seaside collection with flavours of the French Riviera, whilst over at House of Holland there was an all-American flavour for Henry Holland and his ‘Homegirls’ designs for S/S14, via LA’s gangs and Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet.
Meanwhile, the Head of Design for Topshop Unique described some of their influences for the season as ‘holiday photos and beautiful interior images from North Africa and Morocco’, translating into deep indigo hues and intricate patterns. Maybe your own travels don’t inspire you to break out the sewing machine, but it’s fascinating to see how designers make that transition.
Food and Drink Involves Unusual Customs
It’s a massive generalisation to say that people in the fashion industry don’t ingest calories, especially when you see how much food and drink is on offer. At LFW events there will also be plenty of free drinks and snacks paraded around, from canapés to mini smoothies, whilst champagne will most likely be flowing (and no, it is not some special calorie-free version). One custom not to miss is the air kiss whilst balancing a glass of champers, a canapé and a goodie bag – a definite test of balance and multi-tasking. Think of it as a tribal ritual.
The cafe in Somerset House also contains gems such as a Guinness brownie, tested by yours truly, and tapas platters, which I have seen genuine fash pack types eating. However, it should be said that most of the outside tables at the cafe are taken up by people dressed in more outlandish outfits, waiting to be papped as they sit nonchalantly with a glass of wine.
Venues Show Off London
Whilst Somerset House is in itself an incredible building, some of the other venues chosen for catwalk shows and presentations have their own charm. Some designers return to the same locations time and time again – for example, Vivienne Westwood heads to the dramatic Royal Courts of Justice every season for her Red Label show. The building dates back to 1882 and is a sprawling six acre site which includes the strangely cold and unused room 666.
Other designers shake up their venues on a regular basis, such as Topshop, who have been known to transform the Tate Modern Tanks and Regent’s Park into their ‘Topshop Showspace’. Whilst any chosen space needs to be big enough for the crowds, it also needs to add something to the performance aspect of walking down the runway, whether that means adding minimalism, Gothic architecture or London eccentricity.
The Freemasons’ Hall, just along from Covent Garden, is the setting for Vauxhall Fashion Scout. This is where you’ll find exhibition spaces, catwalk events and special presentations from established and up-and-coming talent such as Hellen Van Rees and MASC. It’s also worth noting that the Freemasons’ Hall contains plenty of Masonic portraits and interior decor. Whilst access is restricted during events such as LFW, normally there are regular daily tours of the building to explain its long history.
No Ticket? No Problem
Even if you don’t have a ticket to any of the shows, there are ways you can enjoy LFW. Firstly, and crucially, there’s nothing to stop you accessing the courtyard of Somerset House through the Strand entrance and snapping away to get some fantastic street style shots of your own. This entrance is also where celebrities and high-profile editors will arrive, so watch out for the many black Mercedes vans drawing up in case there’s someone famous inside.
Secondly, wherever you are in the world you can watch many of the catwalk shows online, either through the official website or through designers’ own sites and social media channels. For example, Burberry is really active on Google+, whilst Topshop often streams through its site and has previously teamed up with Google to present show coverage.
So, even without a ticket, you can easily become part of the furore and discover the weird and wonderful world of fashion as a travel blogger. Just don’t even think about turning up in something practical and comfy from Mountain Warehouse and, if you do, say you’re channelling Christopher Raeburn circa S/S12…