London Fashion Week 2015: From catwalk to High Street

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Media captionInside London Fashion Week

Twice a year, London's grand neoclassical Somerset House, welcomes a tumult of fashion designers and their models dressed in their finest gladrags.

The courtyard becomes the centre of London Fashion Week - a far cry from the building's sober past as home to the Inland Revenue.

This year sees the event's 61st year, during which more than 250 designers will showcase their collections for autumn and winter to a global audience.

For those outside the fashion industry, it can be difficult to appreciate why this week is so important. Fashion has long been criticised as frivolous and superficial, dictating trends that are swiftly cast aside.

Indeed, watching the crowds teetering on vertiginous heels, heads topped with designer sunglasses, arms toting handbags and hands clutching smartphones, it is easy to understand why.

Yet while it may look like a big party to outsiders, the week is a crucial one for the industry.

"It is incredibly important because it's the showcase of the very best of British businesses to an international audience," says Caroline Rush, chief executive of the British Fashion Council.

"The British fashion industry is exceeding the current economic growth we are seeing in the UK - because we are exporting all over the world."

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Image caption Some catwalk fashions may seem outlandish or frivolous....
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Image caption ...but the sector is important to the UK, employing some 800,000 people

The fashion sector plays a significant role in the UK economy - it generates £26bn for the UK each year, rakes in £10.7bn from consumers and supports almost 800,000 jobs.

London Fashion Week is a crucial element in this, as orders of approximately £100m are placed during the five days - and the shows are watched online by audiences in 190 countries worldwide.

Trickle-down trends

The spectacular clothes worn by models on the catwalk can appear impractical, unaffordable and sometimes ridiculous. So will they really affect what we wear, come September?

Traditionally, the idea has been that the clothes and styles adopted by the richest in society eventually filter through and influence the rest of us, the so-called "trickle-down" theory - first put forward by the American economist and sociologist, Thorstein Veblen, in 1898.

It is true that since the social upheavals of the 1960s, an inverse process has evolved, whereby designers have been increasingly inspired by the clothes people wear on the streets.

Yet although the trickle-down process might not be as clear-cut as it once was - when designers dictated the trends and people slavishly followed - it is still in evidence today.

"The High Street is very much influenced by what they see at London Fashion Week," says Carla Buzasi, global chief content officer at the trend forecasters WGSN.

"We have a global network of experts, their job is to have their eyes and ears out - all the apparel brands in the FTSE 500 are WGSN subscribers."

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Image caption These days all shows are available online for a global audience...
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Image caption You don't have to be among the invited celebrities to see the designs

Internet catalyst

"Although you may not wear the exact look that you see coming down the runway on a model, you will pick up little things. There's always something reflected in the High Street that comes through from London Fashion Week," says fashion journalist Hilary Alexander.

"A few seasons ago, Simone Rocha showed these pearl collars on her dresses which would have sold for hundreds of pounds, but within weeks up and down the High Street pearl collars and trims appeared," she says.

"We're looking for trends that our High Street partners might be able to translate," says Carla Buzasi. "What you see on the catwalks is about press and the designer brand.

"For example, Mary Katrantzou does these wild prints on structured dresses. The prints influence the High Street but you'd be less likely to see that kind of structure carry through."

The internet has acted as a catalyst to speed up this process and democratise fashion even further.

Collections that were once viewed only by the ticketed few appear online later the same day and on social media, instantaneously.

Catwalk to High Street

As everyone can now see what is being shown, this has meant that the procedure of translating catwalk designs to the High Street has vastly accelerated.

"In years gone by it could take six months to a year for runway trends to hit the High Street. Now it can be as short as three weeks," explains Carla Buzasi.

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Image caption For those taking part, London Fashion Week can be an intense and exhausting five days
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Image caption And within three weeks some of these designs could already be in a High Street near you
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Image caption Anthony Cuthbertson of sass & bide is keen for his designs to be re-interpreted on the High Street

"London Fashion Week is really important because it offers such a wealth of inspiration," says Zeba Lowe, head of fashion at the online retailer Asos.

"A couple of seasons ago we saw Marcus Almeida doing ripped denim and the idea of those raw hems influenced how we might have approached denim," she adds.

"We might see an amazing catwalk show and a colour that could work for the season, or a specific theme might come through that we take inspiration from," says H&M's Claire Wakeman.

Designer approaches

Many designers are keen for their ideas to be popularised.

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Image caption Green faux-fur coats could well be among this December's winners

Anthony Cuthbertson, creative director at Australian fashion label sass & bide, says he is flattered when he sees his designs re-interpreted on the High Street.

"It's great that we can filtrate the looks down. It's important that someone who's buying a dress for $8,000 can still buy the same dress in a High Street store for $120."

Designer Jasper Conran agrees: "If it's a good idea, why wouldn't you make 2,000 of them? I don't get up in the morning and think about making clothes for only two people. I'm interested in actually having an influence."

In recent years designers have been collaborating with High Street retailers to create affordable versions of their own designs.

Conran, who was one of the first to do so, says: "That's why I did it myself. You might as well get in there first and be really good at it, rather than second rate."

High Street retailers say they benefit, too. Claire Wakeman at H&M says that its designer collaborations "are hugely successful" for the retailer.

"We started in 2004 with Karl Lagerfeld and last year, Alexander Wang. It shows our customers that they can have access to designer clothes at an accessible price," she says.

Fashion influence

Although it may be preferable to imagine that we are the agents of our own sartorial lives, it is undeniable that how we choose to dress ourselves each morning is the result of countless hours of trend forecasters, industry analysis and designer innovation that has trickled down from the catwalk to the High Street.

As Hilary Alexander says: "When we get up in the morning and decide what to wear, we're making a conscious fashion decision, whether we realise it or not."

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