Wonderland: Street Style at London Fashion Week

Wonderland: Street Style at London Fashion Week

Is London Fashion Week where we step into the land of Gossip Girl for a while?

I unearth fancy dresses from the back of my wardrobe. Glamorous dresses I had bought long ago while wincing at my student budget, grace my figure for the first time in months. I check for perfection in the mirror. Good enough. I am Fashion Week ready. I turn up to 180 Strand. Everyone is dressed to the nines. I fit in.

I attend catwalk shows and presentations, waving an invite and saying the name of the website I am writing for at the door. I am immersed in this world I have often admired from afar. I return to the hotel I once scrubbed tea pots at, as a Fashion show guest and marvel at the wondrous designs parading before me. I interview brands, designers and members of the public, mixing with other fashionistas, “influencers” and journalists like me. I get photographed by quite a few photographers. Am I Charlie Rhodes? I have my street style shots in the bag. I can’t wait to do it all again tomorrow.

It’s the last day of Fashion Week (London Fashion Week is for trade to sell and for press to cover). I take out my pre-planned outfit from the day before, throw it on and get going. One last check in the mirror. This will look good on camera. Let’s do this one last time. I give the name at the door again. This time, I’m locked out. I am told to go to the registration desk, to go through to the same area I went through the day prior, without needing to do so. In my white sequined dress and off-white, silver-tone blazer, I repeat the name again. It doesn’t matter. I have no status today. After 2 hours of back and forth and the reason I could not be let in and the evidence I needed to provide changed constantly, I go home in despair. No cameras look my way this time. Upon arrival, I swap the dress that made me feel $1 million nonchalantly for pyjamas, as I sit in reality: The reality that I just walked right out of a fairy tale and like all fairy tales, the story has to end sometime. I’m back in the reality that I do not truly belong in the clique of the elite. I am always to be apart. London Fashion Week and elitism are synonymous with one another and my incongruent walk through its world has abruptly ended.

The proof is in the fact that the lady at registration told me that hey had very strict criteria for press at the event. You had to have 30000 Instagram followers and 50000 monthly reads on your website or blog. It’s all a numbers game. It’s all a status game, albeit an artificial one.

Status tied to how many people are currently following your work compared to status tied to how much you have actually achieved is always artificial. Why? Because it can come and go. It is in a state of flux and true status is not in a state of flux. When a Physics student finally achieves his/her Doctorate, they have actual status as a Doctor of Physics from then on. They will not suddenly become any less of a Doctor following a decreasing follower count. However, the fashion industry chooses to operate in a contrasting manner to that of the Physics world.

Photographers, guests and the public outside London Fashion Week 2019 SS20

Photographers, guests and the public outside London Fashion Week 2019

Seeing everyone queuing up outside fashion shows dressed like they walked straight out of an episode of Gossip Girl, is reminiscent of the artificial status the fashion extravaganza is tied to. You dress to impress to fit in with this high requirement environment. If you’re not on the guest list, you’re not getting in. If you’re not important enough, you’re at the back if you’re lucky or completely turned away. However, is this not fitting of the fashion industry as a whole?

While this is changing, the industry is known as one to get into through unpaid internships, or knowing someone who knows someone who can get you in. This puts those in the right situations, with no rent to pay or in the right circles, in a favourable position, thereby creating the Elite-Other gulf that keeps the cogs of the industry whirring.

Just like those with higher status get front row to all the fashion shows, those with the right situation and connections are more likely to get in, while others get left out in the cold. Once in, it isn’t over. Just like the pressure to maintain artificial status online, people feel the pressure to keep proving themselves, so that their time in that all important role is not over faster than a designer collects items lent out to celebrities to wear for an occasion. So, this theme running through London Fashion Week itself should not be surprising.

Yet, this trend of the way someone is treated being directly linked to their status or perceived worth spans across other events and industries. Beauty Con was not too long ago in a lot of YouTube users’ Recommended boxes for the wrong reasons. YouTube content creator Sierra Schultzzie’s footage depicted her declining personal experience at the US event. While she started the day in high spirits, the experience she had at the convention had changed this by the end of the day. In her video, Sierra highlights “If you don’t have the look and have an ego and a bad attitude, people walk all over you.” She and Skylar, who she was with, explained that there were points at which, despite being talent at the event, they were treated as though they were “not talent enough,” at one point specifying that in a queue to get photos, they were told “This is for select talent.”

Although BeautyCon disputes that there were problems at the event, this account highlights an issue which is present in the fashion industry and clearly in the beauty one too. Once you think you have made it, you are not necessarily able to settle. You need to keep proving yourself. There will always be one gate for which you are never enough to go through.

People get treated differently at other conventions too, though. You may find that after paying entry to a large Comic Convention, unless you are anyone of importance, you have limited access and you are reminded that you are just an attendee, despite having paid entry. This stems from the fact that the rest of the media industry works on preferential treatment of some in comparison to others. So, this is not singular to the fashion or beauty industry.

Pera May LFW 2019 SS20 Collection

Model stuns in Pera May pink dress jacket at SS20 Collection catwalk as part of Oxford Fashion Studios Show

However, while at London Fashion Week, I saw sustainability at its centre, something I had been told had not been there in previous years. From the installation of sustainable designers with their work on display and the work of designers like Pera May, I could tell sustainability was forming fashion. This is the industry responding to public demand.

Fashion is at the start of a self-discovery journey. Its rise in work towards inclusivity is at odds with the elitism that remains at its heart. Whether the industry will ever find a way for the two to work together in perfect harmony remains a question. For now, if permitted by the industry, we continue to wander into Gossip Girl land and admire the creativity London Fashion Week graces us with until the show’s over.