It’s a strange time to be thinking about clothes. And yet, that is what many of us will be doing this weekend. Because in an unprecedented state of affairs, this year’s London Fashion Week comes just eight days after the death of Queen Elizabeth II.
Given the official 10-day mourning period that traditionally comes after the death of a monarch, many expected the proceedings to be cancelled altogether. However, official guidance issued by the government suggested that “there is no obligation to cancel or postpone events and sporting fixtures, or close entertainment venues during the national mourning period”. Doing so would be at the discretion of individual organisations. The guidance added that “as a mark of respect, organisations might wish to consider cancelling or postponing events or closing venues on the day of the State Funeral”.
The Queen’s funeral has been planned for Monday 19 September, clashing with what would have been the penultimate day of LFW and some of the week’s biggest shows, such as Roksanda and Christopher Kane. They have all been cancelled or rescheduled.
It’s unclear what all of this means for the rest of London Fashion Week. From a business perspective, the timing couldn’t be worse. In 2020, the British Fashion Council released a statement calling on the government for industry support, with data from Oxford Economics predicting 240,000 job losses in the wake of Covid, resulting in revenues dropping from £118bn to £88bn. Emerging brands bore the brunt of it in terms of major losses, though established names weren’t immune: Burberry’s retail sales fell 48.4 per cent during 2020.
After two years of turmoil caused by the pandemic, the fashion industry was finally ready to make its big comeback. Burberry, Raf Simons and JW Anderson all made triumphant returns to headline the schedule, causing a flurry of excitement among the fashion pack, who have spent the past few seasons adapting to schedules comprising fewer shows and far less pageantry than normal. Think smaller venues, lower budgets, and nowhere near the typical number of A-list attendees.
On Friday, the British Fashion Council issued a statement announcing that the biannual event would continue despite the national mourning period, adding that they recognise the event’s importance for businesses and as a designer showcase. “Therefore, shows and presentations of collections can continue,” it declared, “but we are asking that designers respect the mood of the nation and period of national mourning by considering the timing of their image release.”
Shortly after the statement was released, though, Burberry and Raf Simons announced their decision to cancel their shows as a mark of respect to the Queen. For smaller brands, who have spent the last six months preparing their spring/summer 2023 collections, this choice was not quite so simple. Hence why many of them, including Molly Goddard, Rejina Pyo, and SS Daley, have chosen to respectfully go ahead.
“I think the mood this season will have been influenced by recent events and this will be very present at shows,” says designer Daniel W Fletcher, who will debut his new collection on Thursday evening. “There was a real excitement for LFW this season that I hope has not been lost. I think it’s important for brands and designers to be respectful, but also to remember that fashion shows are an important part of a brand’s calendar for sales and press.”
Fletcher adds that for his brand, which offers contemporary unisex clothing that has been worn by the likes of Harry Styles and Sam Smith, cancelling was simply not an option. “It would have had a devastating impact as we had already invested so heavily in it and would not have been able to recoup those losses,” he explains. “We will have a tribute at the start of our show [to the Queen] which I hope our guests will join us in.”
A similar sentiment was expressed by Harris Reed, whose gender-fluid label has been seen on Adele and Beyoncé. On Sunday, the designer issued a statement on Instagram explaining his decision to continue with his spring/summer 2023 show this season, writing that his fellow young designers “have put their entire brand budgets into their shows to bring in sales and brand awareness with the outcome being they are hopefully able to grow and not go under or have to restructure”.
Reed tells me that emphasis at this time should be on the sense of community that LFW offers. “It’s so important that we have this moment of artistic expression,” he says. “We’re all small businesses and we put our hard-earned money into these shows. So it’s crucial that, when big shows are pulling out, us young designers stick together and make a statement with our clothing. We’re here, we’re together and we’re supporting the British economy in that way.”
Reed explains that “thousands and thousands” of hours have gone into preparing his upcoming show, alongside “six-figure” financial investments. “Cancelling would have completely halted the progression of the brand as it stands,” he adds. “We would be in a very difficult position had we not been able to show this season.”
There will inevitably be those who criticise the fashion world for forging ahead at such a sensitive time. But, as designers have pointed out, such criticisms are likely to be rooted in a common Devil Wears Prada-fuelled misconception around LFW. That it’s gratuitous. Just for fun. Superficial.
“Even though LFW could be entertaining and fun to the outside world, it’s a serious business event which is part of the official fashion calendar,” says Bora Aksu, who will be showing his spring/summer 2023 collection on Friday afternoon. “There is so much hard work that goes into creating seasonal collections and I believe carrying on [and] showing our work will only help maintain the reputation of London being one of the major fashion capitals. I’m sure the Queen would have agreed and supported that.”
Of course, the Queen famously made an appearance at LFW herself. In 2018, she sat next to Anna Wintour in the front row at Richard Quinn’s show to present the designer with the inaugural Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design. Quinn, who has since established himself as one of the annual highlights on the LFW calendar, had originally been due to present his new collection on Monday evening; his show will now take place on Tuesday.
It’s likely that many of the shows that have chosen to go ahead this season – particularly Quinn – will feature tributes to the Queen. After all, fashion is nothing if not a reflection of society, even if that society is grieving. And like all art, it has the power to send a message to the masses, offering a sense of much-needed unity where there is often division. Considering this alongside the fact that the late monarch was a staunch supporter of the British fashion industry, perhaps it makes more sense for proceedings to continue than not.
“Thriving through difficult times was one of the late Queen’s trademarks,” says Mark Fast, who will debut his spring/summer 2023 collection on Friday. “When it comes to business, the show must go on. As a brand, we will continue with the show to demonstrate our strength and belief in our business while simultaneously paying our respects to the Queen.”
We don’t yet know how designers this season will pay homage to Her Majesty, or other matters of national significance. Reed, though, is quick to tease his show. Sartorially speaking, fans can expect “massive silhouettes, incredibly detailed garments and louder than life clothes”. Additionally, there will be a secret performer “that will blow people away, acting as an emotional homage to the times that we’re in”. If this approach is reflected by Reed’s contemporaries, the result could be something truly special – and more needed than ever.
London Fashion Week begins Friday 16 September and runs until Tuesday 20 September