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Time for Massenet to get serious – without spoiling LFW’s party

Undoubtedly the highlight of our season on Drapers is London Fashion Week, which just seems to get stronger and stronger as each one passes in terms of its profile on the global stage and the big names, both celebrity and designer, that it pulls in.

With the handover now complete from former British Fashion Council chairman Harold Tillman - who is widely credited with making the event what it is today - to the incoming chair, Net-A-Porter’s Natalie Massenet, attention has turned to what this new era might hold for UK fashion. Tillman took what was seen as almost a laughing stock among the more established fashion weeks, with few major ‘names’ showing and a reputation for less-than-slick presentations, and made it into a world-class event with the PR and column inches to match. London’s profile has now arguably eclipsed New York’s and has certainly got Milan worried. So what is Massenet bringing to the party?

There was much excitement in the room at the press conference to launch this season’s LFW, since it was the first time Massenet had spoken publicly about her plans since her tenure began. It was clear from the start that she meant business, with her opening remarks focused on her plans to build on the profile and buzz Tillman created to ensure the event provides a sustainable business base for UK designers and helps grow the British industry as a whole. This is an admirable sentiment, and cleverly creates a focus for LFW and the BFC that Massenet can make her own, as well as playing to her strengths as a shrewd and successful leader in the luxury and designer markets.

So far so good, although I must say that as a journalist I was clamouring for a little more substance behind her plan, which centres on ‘five pillars’: investment, education, innovation, digital (Massenet’s forte) and reputation. Beyond a ‘Best of British’ partnership with Marks & Spencer and a possible new MBA qualification in High Fashion and Luxury, there is so far only patchy detail - let’s hope more is forthcoming shortly.

It seems to me as if LFW is making the transition from exuberant teenager to adulthood, and turning its youthful excitement and enthusiasm into more serious commerciality makes perfect sense. I only hope it doesn’t lose its spirit in the process. The shows I attended this season were incredibly commercial, and while most buyers will no doubt be delighted, we have to remember that what attracts publicity and ultimately the big names is the level of excitement over the quirky and original designs London has become known for. To lose those off-the-wall and often bizarre looks from the schedule would be a shame, not just for us journalists but also for the next generation of designers who are inspired by them, and London might go the way of the overly commercial New York Fashion Week.

Massenet will know she needs to strike that balance.

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