December 1, 2021

A London Fashion Week Where Beauty Was a Balm

LONDON — It was Sunday morning, the fourth day of London Fashion Week, and as sunlight streamed through the vaulted skylights of the Victoria Miro art gallery in East London, Victoria Beckham was preparing to unveil her latest collection.

There was no runway, however, or front row or backstage scrum. Like all but two of the designers showing as part of a pared-back schedule here, Ms. Beckham had dispensed with a fashion show. Instead, she welcomed three journalists at a time, all wearing matching VB-branded striped silk masks provided at the door, as she talked through just 20 looks that hung on nearby clothes rails.

Several weeks ago, she said, the tentative plan had been to host a salon presentation like the ones she held in New York in the earliest days of her brand. But after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced new coronavirus restrictions that banned gatherings larger than six people (barring a handful of exceptions, including the English country pursuit of grouse shooting), she had returned to the drawing board.

“Still, I’ve always felt the best way to really see fashion is up close,” Ms. Beckham said, smiling as she leafed through items like vintage-style high-waist jeans with wide legs, frilled knitwear separates in shades of “banana” and superlong tailored pants in “hollandaise,” palette names inspired by the cooking hobby her husband, David Beckham, had developed during lockdown.

“Next season, perhaps we will get back to something a bit more normal,” she said. “But showing the collection to you like this feels so much more intimate and appropriate for this moment. Lockdown gave me a moment to pause, think and remember why I fell in love with making clothes in the first place.”

Similar sentiments could be heard in other studios, galleries and hotels across London. In recent years, the fashion week carousel has spun madly, pushing the business almost permanently off balance with the pace of relentless newness it demanded. Now, in London anyway, it had been forced to stop. Interestingly, no one really appeared to miss the fashion shows, not for now anyway.

In their place were scores of videos and digital presentations, staggered and streamed on the London Fashion Week website on a tight digital schedule that tried to mirror the way things had once been done.

For a handful of editors and buyers, after signing a medical declaration form, dosing up on hand sanitizer and a submitting to a temperature reading, designers in masks were on hand, sharing candid stories about how lockdown had reshaped their lives and businesses.

“We do what we can, but it feels like the scene we make our money from has simply disappeared in a swish,” Ms. Stokland said.

Simone Rocha was up front about the battle for an independent fashion business to stay the course, particularly when her studio was closed and her stores in London and New York were shuttered in the spring. But, she said, the adaptability shown by her team had both wowed and humbled her, hardening her commitment to them and to her business.

The latest collection continued her meditations on contemporary and historical portrayals of the female form, with ornate brocades, embroidery, pearl beading and taffeta on simple fabrics given modern wearability on cocooning, exploded silhouettes. Given the imagination and craft poured into the pieces, she was determined to have a physical presentation, which she hosted on Saturday in the round at a studio on Savile Row.

“What we do is a trade, but what I do is so tactile and textured that I really needed to share it in a physical way that was safe,” Ms. Rocha said. “It’s our challenge to see how you can do it in a way that feels right. And ultimately, to keep moving things forward.”

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