With such a rich and influential sartorial history, it may come as a surprise that London Fashion Week is the youngest of the “Big Four” fashion weeks, following in the high-heeled footsteps of its older sisters: New York, Milan, and Paris. It was founded in 1984, a year after the creation of the British Fashion Council, and has since cemented London as the capital of avant-garde fashion with the help of such cutting-edge designers as the late Alexander McQueen, Gareth Pugh, and the Grand Dame of punk, Vivienne Westwood.
London Fashion Week stays ahead of the pack by encouraging up-and- coming talent through its NEWGEN scheme, started in 1993 by the British Fashion Council. For the past 19 years, this program has offered designers financial support and an opportunity to showcase their work in one of the most high-profile venues in the world. Along with the aforementioned McQueen, NEWGEN has helped launch the careers of Mary Kantratzou, Meadham Kirchoff, Erdem, Duro Olowu, and House of Holland, among many others.
Another pioneering program unique to London Fashion Week is Estethica, a mentoring, sponsoring and showcasing program designed to encourage the use of fair trade, ethical business practices, and organic or recycled materials. Fifteen designers will exhibit their work this year, joining more than 100 who have been part of the showcase since its inception in 2006.
In 2012, London was the first city to hold an entire week focusing solely on menswear, which usually only warrants a handful of shows. Men’s Week in mid-June fell about halfway between the normal Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter fashion seasons with an impressive first-year turnout of 86 designers. It will be interesting to see if any other cities choose to follow suit.
London Fashion Week was also the first to offer video streams of its catwalk shows, beginning in 2010. This year, viewers can watch 40 different shows live from the official website.
In addition to Estethica, other fashion week installations include a jewelry exhibition called Rock Vault, and Headonism, a millinery showcase sponsored by that pinnacle of British headwear, the Royal Ascot.
Much like the city of London itself, this marriage of tradition and innovation is reflected in the venue, Somerset House. Constructed by King Edward VI’s uncle, the Duke of Somerset, in 1549, it was used by then-princess Elizabeth I before the original house was demolished in 1775. Subsequently rebuilt and used as a series of government offices, it has recently been featured as a location in such costume-heavy films as The Duchess and Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock
Holmes. It is now home to London Fashion week as well as several other organizations, including the UK branch of the Australian-owned wool organization Woolmark International Party Limited.
Unique to London Fashion Week this year is the Inspired by Minnie Mouse launch, a partnership between such designers as cobbler-to-the-stars Terry de Havilland and jewelers Tatty Devine with the British Fashion Council and Bazaar Fashion Arts Foundation. Designers will create a one-off piece inspired by Minnie Mouse to be auctioned on eBay as a fundraising effort to help foster British design talent.
Other can’t-miss events for Londoners include a designer jumble sale at The Church of the Annunciation on Bryanston Street, the proceeds of which will all be donated to charity.
London Fashion Week runs from 14 – 18 September for the Spring/Summer 2013 collections.