As we’re talking about London, it seems apt to use a Spice Girls analogy. Like a member of the former girl group, each fashion city can be characterized by a single adjective. New York is commercial, Milan is trendy, Paris is chic, and London is … what? Chaotic? Exasperating? Occasionally brilliant?
All of those. And so much fun. It’s unlikely, for example, that Paris Fashion Week will ever host a late-night party on the site of a former psychiatric hospital with designers, musicians, and catsuit-clad fashion students gleefully raving it up, while outside, another crowd drinks Champagne from the bottle on a double-decker bus. This did, however, happen here during Fashion Week in February.
Fashion is viewed differently in this city than in those other, snootier capitals—an irony, considering that London is so nauseatingly expensive. This most glamorous industry is more closely associated with costume-loving, outrage-provoking, DIY fashion students than well-groomed socialites. The average audience at a fashion show in New York tends to include people with names like Tinsley, Aerin, and Tory; in London, it’s more likely to be the aforementioned students, some editors impatiently tapping their toes, and, if the designer is really lucky, Lily Allen.
Here, fashion is not a loftily distant entity that only a privileged few are meant to see and partake of. The fashion colleges, particularly the renowned Central Saint Martins (where Alexander McQueen, John Galliano, and Stella McCartney studied), encourage an approach more experimental than commercial; they teach students to see fashion as part of the club, art, and general cultures. This may go some way to explaining why British fashion designers struggle to make the sort of money their American, French, and Italian counterparts do. But it also explains why London Fashion Week is just more fun: Socialites may be able to actually buy the clothes, but clubbing teenagers throw better parties.
This year’s Fashion Week was particularly good—not so much because of the clothes (which were okay), but because of the nightlife. The three most talented designers on the schedule—Giles Deacon, Marios Schwab, and Christopher Kane—all have at least one foot in the club culture. All showed beautiful but decidedly morbid collections, heavy on black and dragging hems and reflecting the goth-lite look that’s ubiquitous here. Henry Holland, the popular young designer of House of Holland, turned his show into a club night starring his best friend, model Agyness Deyn; she closed it wearing antlers and a tartan dress. Not exactly wear-to-work gear; then again, who in this crowd has anything resembling a normal job?
Perhaps the most telling moment of the week came at the beginning of Holland’s show. In true half-assed London Fashion Week style, the show was running an hour and fifteen minutes late. As Holland’s eccentrically dressed friends lolled, happily sipping mini-Champagnes, some editors grew impatient. “Come on, Henry! You’re not Marc Jacobs!” one called out. Holland’s friends laughed in her face. Seriously, Marc who?