LFW: What a catwalk show looks like during a pandemic

Fashion week during a global pandemic is a little surreal. In an
instant, a five-day London Fashion Week schedule, usually packed with
back-to-back catwalk shows and presentations, is literally just a handful
life events to accommodate social-distancing and ensuring Covid-19 safety.

While most have opted for a digital viewing of their spring/summer 2020
collections, there are a few designers who are putting on a traditional
catwalk show, the first of which was Bora Aksu, who opened day two of
London Fashion Week with his signature ethereal silk tulles and frills.

A catwalk show during a global pandemic is a little different. First
off, there were less than 30 guests invited to see the collection. Each
editor was led through the doors of St Paul’s Church, in the heart of
London’s Covent Garden, to the beautiful courtyard gardens where we were
shown to our quintessentially English park bench. Mine was in memory of Eva
Harbert, described as a “remarkable and respected lady,” which felt fitting
as Bora Aksu’s collection was a celebration of women.

While in past seasons, there probably would have been four or five
editors crammed onto one bench, it felt very luxurious, each editor had
their own bench and told to sit in the centre to assure maximum social
distance from their neighbours.

It felt strange, waiting for the show to start and looking down the
catwalk at just a handful of an audience. There was none of the usual
catwalk mingling, the rush of people trying to find their seats or the
usual celeb spotting. Instead, editors were seen waving at one another,
smiles hidden behind masks, waiting for the music to start.

On each bench, Bora Aksu also provided his guests with a Covid-19 ready
goodie bag, with a neon-infused face mask, hand sanitiser, and a vitamin
drink to boost your immune system.

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When I asked Bora Aksu why it was important to do a physical showcase
under these extreme circumstances, he stated: “I think after being isolated
for so long and not being able to interact with each other, it was very
important for me to do a physical show during LFW in a totally new way.

“The old ways of operating and communicating in fashion seems so far
away that we are now discovering more intimate ways to communicate and be
more inclusive. Being creative is something that I feel we shouldn’t
compromise as creativity is a way to bring light into our world.”

Bora Aksu takes inspiration from nurses treating the 1918 flu pandemic
for SS21

The designer was also keen to express that while creativity is
important, he also made sure that practical measures were put in place to
ensure the catwalk event was Covid-19 secure, from showcasing outdoors with
social distancing measures to working with the British Fashion Council on
risk assessments backstage to keep staff and models safe.

If there was any pressure on the Turkish designer on hosting London’s
first catwalk show since lockdown you wouldn’t know it, as model after
model floated through the churchyard in their nostalgic ruffle-edged tulle
dresses.

The spring/summer 2021 collection was an ode to nurses, not the current
key workers dealing with coronavirus, but those from 1918, who faced the
Spanish flu pandemic following World War I. A time the designer describes
as “a time of contrast, conflict, and tension, followed by victory and
prosperity”.

The opening looks were starched whites, a reinvention of the white nurse
uniform with tiered skirts and frilled sleeves, with embroidered hearts and
doves displayed as armbands, on the front of apron-style layers, and on the
collars.

This was followed by a flurry of ethereal silk tulles and transparent
silk organza dresses in frosted pink and blue pastels inspired by the 1920s
flapper dress, which were offset by prints, lace, and embroideries
specially designed for the collection. Alongside tailored suits and trench
coats.

Each model also wore a sheer organza face masks, a nod to this year’s
biggest accessory. While the thin gauze wouldn’t offer much protection
against Covid, this is fashion week, instead, it highlighted the bold
lipstick underneath, from hot pink to blue to represent the rebellious
trends of the 1920s.

While for some digital prospects offer innovation and a different point
of view to showcase their creativity, the traditional catwalk still remains
the focal point of any fashion week. For Bora Aksu, the catwalk is still a
special experience, with the designer adding: “I think it’s important for
designers to be able to bring hope and creativity into these challenging
times. I always worked with emotions and even my design process is always
based on emotions.

“The last couple of months were one of the most challenging times for me
as we all have to communicate with each other through screens/zoom
meetings. I feel that having this exclusive show brings that intimacy we
have been so longing for. This show was a way for me to show that we can
dream and we can imagine.”

Images: courtesy of Bora Aksu by Chris Yates

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