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London, UK – Buildings emerge as the stars of Fashion Week

The beauty of London’s Fashion Week lies in more than just the clothes

While the Autumn/Winter 2010 shows came to a close with the end of Paris Fashion Week on 10 March, people in the UK have not yet forgotten London Fashion Week (LFW). The clothes have yet to transit from catwalk to consumer, but fashion insiders are still talking about what they saw at LFW.

An oft-heard term this season was ‘architectural’. Generally, it means a piece that is minimal, structured and geometric, like a trapezoid-shaped dress. And, though these details rarely appear in style reviews, editors and journalists are still talking about the real architectural stars of the season: the runway show venues.

Haute couture shows in Paris have a tradition of taking advantage of beautiful venues: Karl Lagerfeld is famous for unveiling Chanel collections in the spectacular art nouveau Grand Palais. But quirky, young and hip LFW has never appeared interested in making the most of the grander side of London’s built environment - or at least, not until this season.

The main venue for LFW 2010, sponsored by the British Fashion Council (BFC), has been at Somerset House - a nice change from its former home at the rather cumbersome Natural History Museum.

The main BFC tent is erected in the courtyard of Somerset House and buzzes with fashionistas. William Chambers’ magnificent neoclassical gem, situated just off the Strand, is a sensational venue for LFW: it is central and the snug courtyard provides a sense of enclosure, ideal for an industry that likes to feel exclusive, but also for keeping most of LFW in one place.

There are designers who opted to show outside the official venue. Early last year, Burberry moved into new headquarters at Horseferry House in Westminster, an old government office building redesigned by Gensler. The building is just around the corner from the Chelsea College of Art and Design’s Rootstein Hopkins Parade Ground (redesigned by landscape architect Planet Earth in 2007), where Burberry staged its last two catwalk shows.

This year also included three of London’s more interesting - and often publicly off-limits - architectural landmarks. English designer Vivienne Westwood showed in the Great Hall of the 1870s Royal Courts of Justice, which was transformed into a gothic catwalk lit with giant candelabras. I heard more people comment on the general splendour of the venue than on the design of the clothes.

The stunning art deco headquarters of the United Grand Lodge of England, the Freemasons’ Hall (designed by architects HV Ashley and Winton Newman and opened in 1933) was also used as the setting for a number of designers. One particularly memorable show, by Oman-born BodyAMR, was held upstairs in the banqueting hall, which is divided into two sections by an intricately carved wrought-iron three-arched gate, through which the models strutted to reach the press pack.

Perhaps LFW’s most stunning and original venue was that which hosted Erdem Moralioglu’s show. Set in Charles Holden’s 1930s Senate House at the University of London, models gingerly made their way down the marble staircase in the splendid art deco Great Hall.

Why do designers seek out these venues if such details never make it into the show reports? For the same reason the general public isn’t allowed to attend them: exclusivity. In fashion, it’s never about the clothes alone.

For those present, the venue and the clothes become impossible to dissociate. The hundred or so attendees will refine then broadcast their perception of the designer, the clothes and the show to the rest of the world. Shoppers will head out to purchase an Erdem dress because a senior fashion editor thought the whole production was one gloriously entertaining spectacle, enhanced by some of London’s most notable buildings.

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