London Fashion Week opens under shadow of novel coronavirus
Models present creations during the On/Off catwalk show for their Autumn/Winter 2020 collection on the first day of London Fashion Week in London. AFP
London Fashion Week opened Friday with more than 60 shows scheduled over five days, including from Burberry and Tommy Hilfiger, but with participation dented by the novel coronavirus epidemic.
The British Fashion Council (BFC), which organises the event, said it expected attendance from Chinese media and buyers "to be significantly reduced" due to the travel restrictions imposed as a result of the outbreak.
To reach those unable to visit from China, the world's biggest consumer of luxury goods, the council announced a partnership with media group Business of Fashion China to relay images and details of catwalk shows. It would help "ensure that our two audiences remain incredibly connected", said BFC chief executive Caroline Rush.
The COVID-19 epidemic -- as the World Health Organization has formally named it -- has so far claimed around 1,400 lives and infected more than 60,000 people. The vast majority have been in China, the source of the outbreak, but it has also spread around the world, including to Britain where nine cases have been identified.
Fashion week organisers said they would carry out "deep cleans" every evening at the event's central London hub, while anti-bacterial hand sanitisers will be made available throughout the venue. But concerns about the outbreak go well beyond the immediate threat to those attending.
British fashion house Burberry warned last week of a "material negative effect on luxury demand", as Chinese consumers stayed at home. "There are definitely concerns in the fashion industry," BFC chairwoman Stephanie Phair told AFP, while adding that it "has always faced challenges and is a resilient industry."
British fashion is already facing the challenge of Brexit. The country is preparing to leave the European Union's single market at the end of this year -- and with it, risks new controls on EU trade. "London is open for business," Phair insisted.
The showcase opened on Friday with the debut show by Yuhan Wang, a London-based designer originally from Weihai in north-east China. She showed long and light floral dresses, dominated by lace with a bohemian, melancholic feel.
Also showing in London this week are queens of punk rock culture Vivienne Westwood and Pam Hogg, along with big British names such as Chalayan, JW Anderson and Victoria Beckham. Meanwhile Vienna-based designer Petar Petrov will be among the newcomers showcasing at Fashion East, London's pioneering non-profit initiative championing emerging talent.
After largely deserting New York Fashion Week in recent years, Tommy Hilfiger returns to London to unveil his fourth "TommyxLewis" collection, which has a strong focus on sustainability. With climate change concerns paramount, an increasing number of designers are choosing to use renewable materials and support local crafts.
That trend is set to feature in the collections of Mulberry, Phoebe English, and Johnstons of Elgin -- all with a strong production presence in England. Under pressure from environmental activists, London organisers are trying to improve the image of the event and promote good practices.
They include a "switch to blue" campaign to bring the industry together "to lead in ambitious environmental action", as well as a collaboration with designer Richard Malone for a reusable canvas bag. On Tuesday, young designer Rosh Mahtani, founder of the jewellery brand Alighieri, will receive the Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design, for her "ethical approach and commitment to local manufacturing".
However, activist group Extinction Rebellion has called for next season's event in September to be scrapped, denouncing the fashion industry's "exploitation of planet, people and animals". It has previously protested at London Fashion Week and plans further "creative disruptions" on Saturday.