London Fashion Week: an editor’s view from the front row

Our features editor takes you along with him to the London Fashion Week runway shows.

London Fashion Week begins with stairs. In fact, I’ve climbed so many stairs, that by the time I sit down at the first show, I feel out of breath and in need of more deodorant. Such a glamorous way to start, checking for sweat patches.

The first show is taking place at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, halfway between Trafalgar Square and Buckingham Palace, on The Mall. The high-ceiling room has two rows of benches running either side of it, with photographers gathered at one end. Large windows provide natural lighting, and I can see Big Ben in the distance. I’ve arrived, it seems, just on time. The rows of benches are already starting to fill up as I’m shown to my seat on the second row, seated next to a magazine editor and designer. By the time the show starts, people are standing in any available corner they can find.

A fifteen minute mirage of clothes then follows, all dancing rhythmically to the music that blasts in the background. This is the Graduate Runway X Hamstech show, showcasing some of future rising stars in the fashion industry. On my way out, the stairwell is blocked by an instagrammer posing for an entourage of people: one holding the phone, one holding a light ring on a pole, two others holding people back. A few of us congregate awkwardly at the top of the stairs, as we wait for the perfect shot to be taken. Finally, we are released and disperse into the street below, where we are greeted by photographers who are picking out people to be snapped.

RELATED ARTICLE  Restaurant review: Double dipping at HIPCHIPS - Soho, London

My next runway show is in the evening, so I’ve time for a presentation and to pop home. The evening show is being held in a church on Hyde Park Crescent, near Paddington station. As I walk through the leafy residential area, I wonder if I’ve taken a wrong turn. Then I see a church in the middle of a square, illuminated in white and blue, with a line of guests waiting to go inside.

I join the queue and observe some people calling out to others, having met them at shows earlier that day. There are also a few photographers poised to take pictures of those who have dressed to impress, and perhaps feeling slightly chilly in the evening air. Soon somebody comes to the church doors and asks us to form two queues: VIP and standard. We file into the church, to find rows of inward facing chairs, three on each side, and a group of photographers setting up their cameras at the end of the runway.

Tonight I’m seeing two runway shows, both organised by London Represents. The shows are an opportunity for several designers to showcase their work, which they have made specifically with the disabled community in mind. Despite it being 2023, these shows are still a rarity in the fashion industry. It’s also clear from conversations in the room that more needs to be done from designers to advertisers, when it comes to designing clothing for the disabled community.

Our host for the evening tells us that for some of the models, this is their first time on a catwalk. After the first show is over, I turn around and chat to a lady seated behind me. Her son is one of the models. She explains how challenging it is to find clothing for somebody who is four feet tall, and that she spends more money having clothing adjusted or tailored, than she does on the actual clothes to begin with. I offer to switch seats with her, so that she can enjoy the second show from the front row.

To punctuate the evening, there is a panel discussion between the two shows. The four panellists are all working tirelessly to increase the representation of the disabled community in the fashion industry, as well as advocating for a change in attitudes towards this community. One panellist, Jamie Gill, is on the Executive Board of the British Fashion Council, and switched from the corporate world to fashion. Gill explains that if people at the top of fashion labels don’t represent those who buy their products, nothing will change. It’s something that could be said of any characteristic, he says.

RELATED ARTICLE  Backyard cinema - where camp, creativity and whimsy collide
Hadley (holding a blue phone) on the front row of a runway show at London Fashion Week. (Image: Yuanmeng Li)

On the following day of London Fashion Week, the weather forecast has let us down. As I exit Shoreditch High Street station, the drizzle begins. I’m also lost, which doesn’t help either. I eventually find the venue, and the rain stops just as I join the queue outside. Here I meet a costume designer and stylist for television, and we get chatting about New York Fashion Week, where she’s just returned from. Then the usual routine of opening up an email and trying to get a QR code to load begins, as somebody on the door dressed in black with a headset scrolls through a list of names on their iPad.

We’re here to see designers Figura Services, Felix Bendish and Gyouree Kim, as part of London Scout’s Future Collective show. The show is another exhibition of how designers can take fabrics and turn them into something mesmerising. I’m particularly drawn to Gyouree Kim’s show, who has a model in a dress twisting herself continuously in a circle, as her dress becomes tighter and tighter around her legs and waist. Meanwhile, models weave around her along the catwalk. At one point I worry she might fall over.

The final show of the day is in a record shop in Soho. I arrive minutes before it is supposed to start, as London’s public transport lets me down for the first time this weekend. Photographers have assembled across Poland Street, and some tourists have stopped, doubtless wondering why so many people dressed to the nines are queuing to buy vinyl. The queue snakes along the front of the shop and into a neighbouring multi-storey car park, passed the ticket barriers and into the underpass. The photographer in the queue in front of me is on the phone saying she hasn’t had a chance to eat all day, whilst trying to open a protein bar with her teeth. Meanwhile there’s a woman behind me who is telling her friend that she really needs to pee. Her friend suggests she uses the car park’s stairwell, “I’ll use my trench coat to block you,” she suggests.

RELATED ARTICLE  Introducing... Binge Designs

The queue moves quickly enough and thankfully no trench coat nor stairwell was used – she hopes she can hold it until the end of the show. We are invited to walk through the shop, which is still open to customers, through the back door and down the stairs into the basement. Here, rows of people are already seated, waiting for the show to start.

I’m taken to the front row by one of the organisers, and squeeze myself between a fashion photographer and the parent of one of the designers. Somebody catches my eye immediately: a man in his seventies opposite me, wearing an inflatable ring around his shoulders and a Tamagotchi on a chain around his neck. He also has a little plastic figurine glued to the top of his left shoe.

Digital pets aside, this is the University of Salford graduate show, featuring the work of graduate from the MA Fashion Design course. They are (in order of appearance) Patrick Garstang, Beth Rothwell, Luke Clarke, Anna Salad, Daria Austin, Anna Li, Debbie Babalola, Millie Renshaw, Jade Williams, Rebecca Hearne, Jessica Whittingham, Ryan Greenwood and Mark Buendia. As the models walk down the runway, I’m impressed by the quality of work that has been produced by these graduates, and wonder what exciting opportunities lie ahead for them.

As we file out of the basement and into the streets of Soho, the magic of fashion week slowly dissipating behind me, I realise just how exhausting these past two days have been. But I can’t wait to do it all over again.

About Hadley Stewart

Hadley Stewart is Features Editor at Vada Magazine.