‘Significant change’ arrives at London Fashion Week

With London Fashion Week taking place in the capital this past weekend, around 18 events showcased the latest collections from designers working in menswear, womenswear and genderless clothing. The two biggest “stars” of the event, Priya Ahluwalia and Martine Rose, walked their collections on the catwalk on Sunday. Surprisingly for an industry not known for its diversity, both are women of color – suggesting there may be a shift in fashion towards broader representation.

Speaking ahead of her show, Ahluwalia said that since starting her brand in 2018, there has been a shift: “Representation is getting more visible and there are a lot more different brands, from different owners from different backgrounds. I hope we are on our way to significant change, rather than just performative.”

The designer has consistently explored her Indian and Nigerian heritage in her designs, as was the case on Sunday at her show, titled Africa is Limitless.

“It was inspired by the way people refer to Africa as a homogeneous nation,” she said. Ahluwalia explored the different African countries, even creating a spreadsheet of each country’s national clothes, flowers and animals. This research provided a starting point for her projects. “It’s not a Chad top and Ivory Coast pants,” she said. “It’s more of a merger.”

Ahluwalia often says that she is not a sustainable designer, but often uses raw material in new fabrics. This also goes back to her heritage. “I started my brand because I started noticing second-hand clothes flooding Lagos and India,” she said. However, with success comes different problems. “Now that we’ve grown up, it’s really harder because the clothes aren’t there,” she says. “It’s hard to get access to that… We have to work hard to make it all happen.”

Sportswear is set to be a big trend at this weekend’s shows. Rose and Ahluwalia have had pieces like football shirts and track pants in their collections, while menswear stylist Robyn Lynch is known for outdoor wear. Saul Nash, who also works as a choreographer, showed his collection digitally on Monday. He recently won the Queen Elizabeth II Award for a revamped tracksuit that has become his signature. Business of Fashion recently called it “the future of active apparel”.

As part of the event, Circle Zero Eight, a magazine dedicated to sport and style, took over the London Fashion Week Instagram account. “There was almost a snobbery around sportswear until some of the bright young designers changed the scene,” said the magazine’s editor, Elgar Johnson. He added that the increasing visibility of sportswear at London Fashion Week is also due to changing dress codes: “Sportswear is so intertwined in the public’s uniform now,” he said.

Johnson hopes this is all a sign of more inclusivity and openness to come. “I would like it to continue opening up for everyone to be a part of,” he said. “The days of exclusivity are over. There is no hierarchy”.

This London Fashion Week event marked 10 years of shows in the capital in January and June. Originally part of a menswear lineup – which is followed by events in Milan and Paris – it has evolved to include menswear, womenswear and genderless clothing, and runs through physical shows and digital presentations.

Establishing diversity as a core value in London fashion is another shift that needs to be addressed. The British Fashion Council, which runs London Fashion Week, is part of the BBC’s 50:50 Equality Project, a monitoring system that will be used to track those working at the event, across all roles. A report will be released later this year focusing on ways to instill a more diverse culture. “It is critical to ensure that changing attitudes and priorities continue to translate into meaningful action,” Caroline Rush, CEO of the British Fashion Council, told Drapers magazine in May. “As an industry, it is important that we continue to work to build a system that we are proud of.”

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