At LFW, The Strong Do More Than Survive

Despite bleak times, London’s talents forge ahead

This season in London, there was something of that quintessentially British stiff upper lip. As Donald Trump prepared to threaten an entire country, its civilians be damned, a model in a Molly Goddard ball gown skipped down the runway, champagne in hand. It wasn’t willful ignorance, or ignorance of any sort—we all know the world is coming to an end. But like they say in that other creative biz, the show(s) must go on. 

I heard on BBC Radio 4 this morning that depression among youngsters is at its highest-ever levels. One 14-year-old girl said she wakes up and “it all just feels so hopeless.” I initially thought, Join the club, sweetheart, but then I realized, Gosh! She can’t even drink! And my sympathies soared. 

My experience of London fashion week this season was slightly blighted by headaches that started mid-New York and still haven’t stopped. My mother (she always knows best) advised me to go to the optician before my GP, since they’d just send me to get my eyes checked anyway—she’s been around the block, my mum. The optician ran all the tests, and do you know the line of letters that indicates 20/20 vision? I can read the line below that, which, fun fact, is the line you must read successfully when applying to be a fighter pilot (if this fashion thing falls apart, then, there’s always that). I could even have a rough stab at the very bottom line—point being, my eyes are fine. I went to the doctor before J.W.Anderson, and he wasn’t very friendly (the doctor, not J-Dubs). I was filing show recaps on my laptop in the waiting room, and when my name was called, I brought the laptop with me while I ejected my camera’s memory card properly. I sat down on a chair in the surgery, shut everything down, and turned my full attention to the doctor. He looked at me impatiently while I explained my symptoms. He asked about my lifestyle, and I told him. Then he took my blood pressure, and the digits were ridiculous—like, 80-year-old smoker-style numbers. He implored me to go to the ER immediately for an ECG—that’s a heart scan. I asked if I could go the next morning and he said “fine,” but the kind of “fine” that actually means, If you drop down dead, don’t blame me. He gave me a doctor’s note to bring to the ER the next day. I’d like to share with you, reader, actual, unfiltered quotes from that note:

Headache pain is tight around temples.
Nothing makes it better or worse.
Works as a journalist, so on the phone a lot and uses computers a lot. (On laptop while in surgery.)
Travels a lot.
Very stressed at the moment because of fashion week and has to run around a lot while this is on.
No recreational drugs, but some in teens.
Drinks large amounts of caffeine, 4 coffee, 3 tea.
Examination: 167 / 135mmHg, HR 47.
Diagnosis: Hypertension headache?
Plan: Avoid using computers and phone as much as possible.
Diagnosis: Very high diastolic BP.
Plan: ECG, Blood Test.
Patient flying to Milan on Wednesday.
Offered option to go to ER to get urgent ECG but needs to do fashion thing today. 
If headache worsens, urgent review or 111.

This note was soaked in so much irony. Just two days before, in an effort to encourage the FU team and remind us that fashion week, while stressful, is actually pretty great, our editor-in-chief had sent a link to an article on i-D entitled “The Concept of Surviving Fashion Week is Absurd.” As I read the title, and even as the author made mention of the fashion folk who “…might have up to 10 shows and five appointments per day for 30 days straight with no days or weekends off, all the while preparing trend reports and, in the case of digital editors, filing stories…often from early in the morning until…four in the morning,” I still thought, is she really capturing what it’s like to run around a major city with 10 shows a day, with front row and backstage photo duties, 500 word recaps of every show filed within 12 hours, backstage interviews, transcriptions, photo editing, and social media responsibilities? The doctor told me my blood pressure was “dangerously high.” Like, he told me I might drop down—not dead, but drop. And he told me high blood pressure is the “silent killer.” He said it does irreparable damage to your heart and your arteries. I told him yes, this is all stressful, but I love what I do, and that’s true. But when my editor asks me if I’m still alive, and asks me to please, “don’t die,” “surviving fashion week” isn’t as absurd as author claims. The physical backlash to all this hyperactive productivity takes its toll, and while yes, I signed up for it, four months a year with an average of four hours sleep a day, fueled on caffeine and champagne…anyway, after all this bad news (can’t have caffeine, can’t drink alcohol), my LFW experience this season may have been tainted, but I think just as much of it is to do with this oppressive, global sense of hopelessness that even the tweens are feeling.

But fuck it. London’s still swinging. There was a terrorist attack on Day 1 of the shows, and the industry still turned out in droves to support the city’s talents—that’s indicative of London’s strength and resilience, and it’s important. Theresa May and Boris Johnson are busting up over Brexit and backseat drivers, but creatives keep creating, and the cogs keep turning.

I talked to British Fashion Council chief executive Caroline Rush in the BFC lounge this season—she’s upbeat—about Brexit, among other things. “We’re working with the Creative Media Federation on visas,” she explained. “We need to support students coming to the country to study fashion, and make sure that when the Brexit deals shake out, talent from all over Europe will still be welcome.” Hear hear!

London’s newer talent is its strongest asset, and they’re all putting on a brave face. Ryan Lo, Simone Rocha, Dilara Findikoglu, and Molly Goddard all gave us dress-up escapism—big, embroidered gowns in silk tulles and lace that are far away from the dreaded daily news of earthquakes and hurricanes and, you know, nuclear war. Nicopanda gave us that pop-chic streetwear, which was also offered by other, more established labels like Tommy Hilfiger and Versus Versace with slightly less authenticity but with rich heritage and brand power. Anya Hindmarch and Christopher Kane presented prim-and-proper British sensibilities, those stiff upper lips, with their tongues in varying degrees of cheek—both with a ’40s wartime resilience that brocade house coats evoke in us younger generations.

Oh, and despite our world falling apart at our fingertips, Caroline Rush spoke enthusiastically about a partnership with “Dame Viv” to promote green energy in the fashion industry. I listened to her with a protrusion of printed invitations in my pocket and realized I’ve become disenchanted with tickets. All that energy to design, print, send, receive, and carry around all day in a stack seems like a lot of effort to extend our industry’s already significant carbon footprint. Even if the world is going to shit, and even if none of this matters when we’re all fifty feet below sea level, under the sunless sky of a nuclear winter, at least the sentient ancestors of the roaches that survive might know we tried, and will dress in more responsibly produced denim etcetera than we. Happy fashion week. 

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