Fashion week is far from pointless

ANOTHER fashion week has finished and London has gone back to its (slightly) less glamorous self. The international circus of celebrity will return to wherever it came from for the six-month hiatus before the next round, and Somerset House will once again be a genteel government office complex and art gallery.

Every time fashion week sweeps in, there is a swell of loathing – it’s so ridiculous, unrealistic, the models are so thin, the hype is preposterous, fashion is just a self-serving world with no bearing on ordinary mortals.

But scratch a tiny bit below the surface and this starts to look like the naysaying of the ignorant and – probably – the jealous. Firstly, fashion week serves a definite commercial purpose. The looks seen on the runway, rather than the clothes themselves, inform the choices of the buyers from Primark to Selfridges, who decide what to order for the next season a few weeks after they’ve attended the shows. Fashion editors leave with an impression of what they think will be trends and decide what to highlight with pictures and articles.

Of course, women covered in spider webs or dripping fake blood aren’t wearing clothes we’re going to be seeing in the shops come autumn/winter. But to complain that the clothes are unrealistic is to miss the point. They are the designer’s most extreme creative output – it is rare in any huge commercial business for designers to be given free reign, twice a year, to work on something entirely the product of their creative desire (you wouldn’t see that with Nokia telephone engineers, would you?) It’s a luxury that they have to slave for but which can earn them the kind of repute that ensures the loyalty of Oscar-winning customers and other important rich, glamorous people. There is also a kind of built-in snobbery in catwalk fashion – these are “pieces”; designs constructed using techniques and making references that only those in the know will value. Such snobbery can be a useful for brands trying to establish or maintain their image as among the world’s most exclusive.

Fashion Week is also just incredibly exciting. Anyone who claims to be wholly unaffected by the sight of the gazelle-like models on the Tube and wafting about the Strand, or glimpses of pop stars and models, is surely lying. The atmosphere before and during a show is one of total excitement – similar in spirit to William Thackeray’s idea of Vanity Fair, with everyone strutting their stuff, fluffing out their feathers and peering intensely at what everyone else is wearing, who they are talking to and where they are sitting. The front row is a wonder in itself – full of mysterious glamorous people and stars, largely concealed by a swarm of paparazzi.

Then the whole room is in a sense of cool courtesy of the hip hop or similar that is pumped out on immaculate systems. Even if you’re wearing trainers and jeans, as I was this week, you feel a bit cool. The shows themselves are so short (around five minutes) you could ask, again, “why bother?” But they’re jam-packed with strange sights, and provide more than enough for an eye – even a trained one – to absorb.

Sure, it’s a bit of a bewildering zoo for those of us who aren’t able to wear skyscraper heels, harim pants and luminous puffer jackets all at once. But for those in the business, fashion week isn’t just about strutting your stuff, anorexic-looking models and being a tosser. It is very much a business with a bottom line, and we’re going to feel the effects of this week’s catwalks on our high street in the autumn.