If you can't bring celebrities to the front row, why not bring the show to them instead? As a very unconventional London Fashion Week kicks off today, Burberry proves there are still headlines to be made in a socially distanced world by tapping an all-star cast of Erykah Badu, Rosalía, Steve Lacy and Bella Hadid (the supermodel having just modelled the brand's latest bag campaign) to virtually host its SS21 show 'In Bloom'.
Going live from gaming favourite livestream platform Twitch half an hour before the collection debut, the luxury giant launched the SS21 season with a pre-show chat between the four guest hosts, who discussed everything from connecting with nature in lockdown and creating art in moments of stillness to their alter ego names (Bella's is Belinda, FYI) and meeting Burberry's creative director Riccardo Tisci for the first time.
As the chat – watched by a cool 35,000 people – came to an end, the cameras switched to multiple perspectives of models changing into the SS21 collection in a hall of mirrors-style changing room. Sounds of chirping birds and trees rustling in the wind set the scene. "As humans, we have always had a deep affinity to nature," read the brand's show notes. "Celebrating the connection between the earth and the sea, between the environment and humanity." The show commenced, depicting models (including fan fave Leomie Anderson) walking through an overgrown forest, an homage to nature and Britain's greenery. Perhaps, like the rest of us, the pandemic has given Tisci pause for thought and a chance to reconnect with nature (in lieu of a larger-than-life production, the brand planted 10,000 trees in the British countryside this season).
Clashing guitar music soundtracked models stomping between trees, which led in turn to "a radical meeting of fashion and art", a live performance choreographed by contemporary artist Anne Imhof. "Examining tensions at the intersections of togetherness and tradition; the natural and the man-made; the real and the unreal," models and dancers in black and white flowed through an open space in the forest, thrashing about to the music's stuttering staccato beats.
The collection itself? Hallmarks of Burberry's aesthetic – slick tailoring, timeless trench coats and heritage fabrics – blended seamlessly with Tisci's contemporary DNA: bold monochrome, futuristic leather and nods to streetwear via hoodies and joggers. There was something jarring about the luxury looks we're accustomed to seeing on extravagant catwalks being paraded along the forest floor, as if the models were returning from a debauched party the night before. Perhaps that's the tension Tisci was alluding to: what place do our man-made creations have in the natural world post-pandemic? What is the place of luxury fashion in such uncertain times?
While many brands have had to navigate the new normal and accommodate ever-changing government guidelines – brands like Victoria Beckham had to cancel plans for small, salon-style presentations at the last minute and instead go virtual – Burberry is no stranger to breaking the barriers of catwalk convention. In 2010, the heritage label became the first luxury brand to livestream a catwalk show to a global audience. As this virtual show proved, Burberry is always moving with the times, however uncertain they may be.