LONDON — They may have kept calm and carried on, but life hasn’t been easy this week for London’s designers and brands, which have been showing their spring collections against a backdrop of terror and protest.
Most chief executive officers, designers and journalists interviewed said they didn’t alter their plans in the wake of Friday’s terrorist attack in which a crude, homemade bomb exploded on an Underground train in west London. The event, however, put a damper on the first day of London Fashion Week, and left visitors and city dwellers alike spooked, although they remained resilient.
“You and I take the Tube. We all do. Nothing has changed. You get on with life,” said London retailer Simon Burstein on the sidelines of the Alice Archer presentation.
“It’s sadly an ongoing situation that we’re all sort of living with daily,” said designer Phoebe English, who presented a monochromatic, sombre lineup on puppets. “It’s sadly a quite regular situation in London and a real part of living and working here. It’s a case of carrying on and not being run down by it.”
“It’s really sad and horrible, but that’s the reality of the world now,” reiterated British milliner Stephen Jones.
On Friday morning following the attack, during which scores were injured, the U.K. threat level was raised from “severe” to “critical” although it has since been downgraded to “severe” following two arrests over the weekend.
Separately, hundreds of antifur protestors gathered at the Burberry, Versus Versace and Gareth Pugh shows demanding that brands — and the British Fashion Council — give up fur and accusing them of having blood on their hands.
For the first time in a long while, fashion was pushed to the sidelines during one of the industry’s most important weeks of the year.
Since Friday’s attack, the BFC has tried to heighten security measures, ensure safety and demonstrate confidence and control. “London is open,” said London Mayor Sadiq Khan backstage at Molly Goddard’s show.
Caroline Rush, ceo of the BFC, also stressed that the organization has been working closely with the police to ensure that everyone still has a “fantastic fashion week.”
“We take security very seriously; yesterday we were in constant contact with the police,” said Rush. “At our main venue there are bag searches and there is a very tightly controlled security procedure. We operate at a very high level of security in any case. You know we’re an international event and we want to make sure that our priority is that everyone’s safety and well-being come first.”
The manhunt following Friday’s attack and police announcements that a second attack was “imminent” could only lend a sober air to the week.
Designers responded to the surge in tensions in different ways; some chose to strip things back and embrace a raw, pared-down aesthetic while others took the escapism route.
At Burberry, Christopher Bailey said he looked to the “rawness” of “working class, gritty, Northern images” and delivered a collection with a punk flair, while Roland Mouret toned down his usual glamour to celebrate everyday women.
At the other end of the spectrum, the likes of Mary Katrantzou, Halpern and Alice Temperley doubled down on all things embroidered, sequined and bright.
It was not a season that produced noteworthy fashion moments or excitement — at least not so far — as terror seems to integrate itself into everyday life in London.
The antifur protests added another layer to the already-tense atmosphere.
On the opening day of LFW models and PETA supporters gathered at 180 Strand, the official BFC venue, wearing eerie skeleton face paint and faux-leather dresses and holding signs with slogans such as “I wouldn’t be caught dead in leather.”
They continued to make their presence felt throughout the weekend.
At Burberry, protesters brandishing placards and megaphones screamed “shame on you” and “blood on your hands” as guests, who included Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell and Gosha Rubchinskiy, entered the show venue at East London’s Old Sessions House.
The protestors’ screams could be heard inside the venue. “I heard there might be something going on today, but not to this extent,” said Bailey during a backstage interview.
Rush said that the shows provide an opportunity for media attention for organizations such as PETA but the priority is to ensure that the protests remain peaceful.
“The thing about free speech is that everyone has a right to protest. We’ll continue to have a dialogue with designers on their thoughts on fur.”