Will Raf Simons Make London Fashion Week Great Again?

Will Raf Simons Make London Fashion Week Great Again?

Will Spring/Summer 2023 mark a turning point for London Fashion Week? With homegrown talents and titans such as JW Anderson and Burberry returning to schedule, and Raf Simons making his debut in the capital, it feels like this coming season of LFW is shaping up to be a spectacle to remember. 

Since its beginnings in 1984, LFW has gained a solid reputation for incubating emerging designers, while providing a creative platform for established brands. To this day, London differs from Milan, Paris and New York (which all came before LFW), as other cities become home to the crème de la crème of fashion editors, influencers and stylists. London, on the other hand, maintains its effervescence and irreverence, looking to harness smaller names and give them a platform as opposed to the antiquated and hierarchal schedules of similar fashion weeks. Almost 40 years on, London’s notoriety for originality is something that has transcended throughout the decades, and many are hoping this energy will return for SS23. 

“Seeing this season’s line-up made me think about when I was 21 and had just started at Central Saint Martins,” Daniel W. Fletcher recalls to Hypebeast. “They made us go out and try and get into shows. There was so much hype and energy at that time.” 

The birth of LFW saw fashion activists flung onto an international platform. Names such as Vivienne Westwood and Katherine Hamnett – the latter being the designer who showcased the anti-nuclear war-slandering “58{a0ae49ae04129c4068d784f4a35ae39a7b56de88307d03cceed9a41caec42547} DON’T WANT PERSHING” T-shirt that, as The Guardian reported, “made Margaret Thatcher squawk like a chicken” – set the tone for many years to come and paved the way for some of the most notable aesthetic anarchists. Perhaps the most famous of them all was Lee Alexander McQueen, whose shows in the ‘90s and early noughties became the stuff of industry legends.

Up until his death in 2010, McQueen’s shows would seasonally rip up the rule book of what can and can’t be done on a catwalk. FW97’s “It’s a Jungle Out There,” which took place in Borough Market, garnered attention for all the wrong reasons – it was soundtracked by punk-ravers The Prodigy and a car was accidentally set on fire inside, all while an iron background fitted with fake bulletholes commented on the area this show took place, it being a far cry from the sophisticated spaces that LFW had since called home. SS99’s “No. 13” saw Shalom Harlow twirl as robots sprayed her white gown with black paint, going down as “the only [show] that actually made [McQueen] cry.” 

As Susannah Frankel wrote for AnOther in 2016, “It’s not news that London Fashion Week in the mid-to-late-90s was home to fashion shows more akin to performance art than any traditional runway presentation.” Likewise, in 1998 Vogue Runway proclaimed, “It wasn’t a fashion show. It was performance art… When it was over, Harlow practically stumbled into the audience. Potent stuff.” In short, McQueen respected and simultaneously updated LFW’s anarchist roots, setting the example for the creativity we’ve come to expect from the capital’s talent.

Since, then-emerging designers like Christopher Kane held inaugural shows with fashion’s upper echelon attending in abundance, while names like Gareth Pugh – who echoed McQueen’s penchant for performance – continued to soar. And since, British Fashion Council NewGen talents (an initiative that uplifts emerging designers and aims to create global brands) such as JW Anderson, Craig Green, Molly Goddard and Stefan Cooke have become mainstays at London Fashion Week. 

But it all went south once the pandemic hit. A sharp turn to digital meant many had to find new avenues to showcase collections. But despite the effort made, few online moments lived up to the circus that is a physical fashion week. Simply put by designer Chet Lo, “London’s had a really hard go of it for the past couple seasons.”

Since the return of LFW IRL last September, the capital has struggled to capture the spirit we speak of above. Big names opted for glitzy displays in Paris or subverted shows in Milan, (such as Bianca Saunders and JW Anderson, respectively) and even the emerging designers got a slot on other fashion week’s schedules, despite the often traditional representation of heritage houses. But with 110 names set to light September’s schedule on fire, it seems LFW is finally returning to its former glory. 

“London Fashion Week has always been the epicenter of creativity, highlighting the best of emerging designers that will become the future fashion powerhouses. But what happens when fashion powerhouses choose to show during LFW?”, asks Machine-A’s founder and buying director Stavros Karelis. For him, it’s a unique chance for new and established names to sit alongside one another. “Raf Simons’ debut is an unprecedented moment to highlight the best of London, its culture and, of course, its sheer amount of creative talent. Simons has always championed subcultures, independent spirits and pushed fashion in ways that very few have. In that sense, his presence can only create a unique stage that will celebrate the best of London and bring this energy on a global level.” 

Menswear designers Stefan Cooke and Jake Burt echo Karelis’ sentiment. “We definitely feel positive about the LFW lineup in September, especially Raf Simons as his collections are predominantly menswear too. With strong designers adding weight to the lineup for LFW it will re-center London as the home of the avant-garde.”

Designer Chet Lo notes that with the big name designers come the big name buyers – resulting in better visibility for the less established names. “It’s so exciting to have such amazing brands back” Lo adds. “They’re really going to help younger brands, such as ourselves, get a footing and will help emerging brands garner attention. Having the editors and buyers physically in London will [also] really help a lot of younger brands.”

In addition to being a huge pull for all those involved in this season’s fashion week, Simons’ September attendance is also a momentous occasion for the designer himself. “It’s been a dream for a while to show in London – a city where fashion and creativity are omnipresent in the streets, and where I see exceptional people with a strong unique style,” he said in a statement.

Ultimately, SS23 shows promise of reigniting the very same excitement that Fletcher remembers some 10 years ago – a time at which LFW had the unique ability to celebrate everything and everyone. “This season feels like [that energy’s] really back,” he adds. “London’s emerging talent scene is really strong but having some of the big names back will really help to bring the focus back to London as a serious fashion capital.”