Saturday 17 March 2018

The high street is a grounded constant amid the catwalk carry-on

Whistles autumn/winter collection
Whistles autumn/winter collection

Harriet Walker

Menswear, tick. Couture, tick. The first shows of 2013 are over, and only 10 days before the month-long ready-to-wear circus kicks off in New York. Thank goodness for the high street, a reassuringly grounded constant amid all the catwalk carry-on.

But that may not be the case for much longer, with the news that Whistles will join the schedule during London Fashion Week, and hard-up haven H&M has announced a show in Paris alongside the likes of Balenciaga and Chanel. What upstarts! What on earth is going on? Whatever next – civilians at the shows too?

Well, actually, yes. This shift is proof of how much more fashion-savvy the entire world is. The catwalk is no longer a currency exclusively for those with cash and clout; it is now a spectacle for the rest of us, too.

Ever since pioneers such as photographer Nick Knight began live-streaming shows online, Joe Public has been as much a part of the front row as, say, Anna Wintour or Insert A-lister's Name Here. And if Joe Public has one eye on the runway, why shouldn't he be looking at clothes he might actually be able to afford?

Topshop is a case in point: the high-street giant has been showing its Unique range at London Fashion Week since 2001. Such is its bombast (not to mention substantial budget) that it has become a highlight of the season here, airing clothes and trends that are a little more complex than its usual wares – and priced accordingly – while raking in the fashion credentials for being part of an industry event.

I don't decry the high street for wanting in on the fun of fashion week; I welcome the diversity. But it's easy to forget that a catwalk is for showcasing months of hard work and handiwork rather than automatically slick, mass-produced pieces.

Evolution is no bad thing, but it's important to maintain the distinction between what is essentially entertainment and what represents real enterprise.

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