This year, London Fashion Week has swapped Somerset House for a grimy car park in the heart of the West End
Some feathers will be ruffled this weekend, as London Fashion Week begins. Somerset House, the grand neoclassical pile that usually serves as a location for the British Fashion Council-sponsored show tent, is no longer LFW’s locus. Instead, the designer-clad fashion pack will be herded into a draughty, grubby, NCP car park in Soho’s Brewer street to watch the spring/summer 2016 shows.
“It’s been jet-washed for about a week!” insists Caroline Rush, the chief executive of the BFC, with just a hint of anxiety, when I ask how fashion’s glossiest editors will take to the new gritty urban setting. “The first lick of paint is down and it’s looking really good,” she says, firmly.
The move from courtyard to car park was Rush’s decision. “Somerset House is absolutely beautiful, but we were looking for a venue that would be more connected to the West End and right in the heartbeat of London. As you walk around Soho you feel a lot of excitement and energy. It’s really good for an international audience to witness that, and to understand the creative inspiration that we get from this incredible city.”
The district has always had impeccable fashion credentials. Whip-sharp tailoring – the kind the Rolling Stones and The Who ran around in – found a home in Carnaby Street in the Sixties; meanwhile Saint Martins College of Art bled talent from its Charing Cross Road location in the Seventies, talent which kept on coming when it merged with the Central School of Art and Design in 1989. Jonathan Saunders, one of a handful of young British designers this year celebrating the tenth anniversary of their businesses, remembers his time there as a masters student at Saint Martins being suitably diverting.
“I got the bus down from Glasgow – it cost me a pound for the ticket – and I was opened up to this Soho gang of interesting people,” he recalls. “We all drank in the Coach and Horses pub on the corner. It was such a haven for people who wanted to be individual, a group of kids who were extremely excited about creating new things.”
Soho is certainly enjoying a renaissance of sorts, however gorgeously seedy pockets of it may still appear. Once a murky mix of strip clubs, drinking dens and gay bars, it is now home to a number of innovative, independent restaurants, advertising agencies and tech start-ups. According to some business analysts, London’s Soho is now the most creative square mile in the world. Creative industry turnover in the locale is over £7 billion. Rather than the grit in the Vaseline, suddenly, Soho is starting to look quite the olive in the martini.
It explains why so many young designers are finding their feet in Soho once more. Hannah Weiland, the founder of the wildly successful faux fur brand Shrimps – loved by Alexa Chung, Lily Allen and Poppy Delevingne –