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Luxury In Lockdown: The Role of Fashion in a Pandemic

Image: Flaunter

During lockdown, our lives were stripped back to the basics. We left the house only when necessary. We stockpiled food and barricaded ourselves inside, ready to weather the storm. Survival became our sole focus. When a deadly disease could come knocking at any time, we were faced with little choice.

Yet, while daily life was reduced to its core minimum, my mind was drawn to the antithesis of lockdown: a million miles from the bleak, relentless monotony of life trapped indoors. I began to dream about beautiful aesthetics – silk gowns, feathers and pearls. Whilst I immersed myself in its extravagant world, luxury Fashion became an easily accessible form of escapism. The more I read, watched and observed about fashion, the more distant I felt from the nightmare we were living through.

Although the pandemic placed physical restraints on daily life, fashion empowered me to rebel from the safety of my home. This is how I felt each morning, standing in front of my mirror, deciding what to wear. It became a ritual. While I had no control over the chaos beyond my front door, I had full reign over my wardrobe, spending hours each day experimenting with new clothing combinations.

I was far more adventurous than before. I paired bold colours with loud florals and flowing fabrics. Each piece of clothing brimmed with memories of freedom and the Great Before. Thanks to social distancing, no one ever saw my ensembles (beyond the narrow headshot on Zoom). It was purely about self-expression. Dressing up restored my sense of identity when the rest of my life was on hold – it was my way of saying FU! to coronavirus.

The fashion industry has always been rebellious. At its heart, it combines creativity and functionality to express how we feel. New styles emerge only by taking risks. After all, Alexander McQueen – perhaps my favourite designer of all time – rose to fame by refusing to conform. His collections during the 1990s were inspiring because they were subversive, lavish and unconventional. McQueen not only pushed the boundaries but completely ignored them, sending models down the runway in clingfilm and little else. His daredevil influence transformed fashion forever.

Re-watching his shows during lockdown, I was reminded of how fashion can transport you to a different world. When I wasn’t experimenting with my own outfits, I was scrolling through images of 2021 resort collections. Designers such as Jonathan Anderson of JW Anderson and Pierpaolo Piccioli of Valentino et al, defied the odds and produced gorgeous collections remotely. Both expressed simple joy and elegance. I was transfixed by Piccioli’s lean silhouettes and Anderson’s playful patchwork. They transported me to a parallel universe, where beaches and summer holidays are normal.

Whether it’s the drama of McQueen or the grandeur of Valentino, fashion has a transformative power. Mediterranean holidays might be out of reach, yet summery designs evoke similar delight and memories. Resort collections are no substitute for the resorts themselves. But they will do for the time being.

In fact, the fashion world is easier to visit than ever before. I still can’t afford Valentino, but I can stream their shows online. I attended London Fashion Week for the first time in June – virtually, that is. I explored glorious rooms at Ahluwalia via virtual reality. Technology and fashion have joined forces to bring designs closer to consumers and admirers. The result is not just innovative and exciting, but also democratising. Luxury fashion is not as exclusive as it once was. With online streaming of shows and photoshoots, the once sought-after personal invitations are no longer required. Stuck in my family home in Dorset, I might as well have been on the front row.

The improved accessibility of fashion certainly benefits me and other ordinary people, who are cut off from its ivory tower. Its most exciting events are no longer behind closed doors. Next, I will be streaming couture week in Paris. Thanks to their new online platform, the Fédération de la Haute Couture will unveil some of the most exclusive shows in the fashion calendar. I look forward to the spectacle at Balmain, with Olivier Rousteing and his supermodels parading along the Seine.

Meanwhile, life in Britain is edging towards normality – we are no longer under full lockdown, restricted to one outing per day. We can meet friends in cafes and bars, where I can finally show off my outfits and newfound flair. Fashion will continue to play a significant role in my life. The horrors of coronavirus still surround us – we cannot forget that hundreds still die every day. Fashion will always be my escape; a lens to filter out the evil in the world.

Yet fashion is far more than a superficial distraction. In fact, the industry has played an essential role in global efforts to fight the pandemic. LVMH and Kering, who together represent the vast majority of luxury brands, have shunned their usual quotas to produce PPE instead. Factories once producing Givenchy fragrances and Balenciaga shoes now supply hand sanitiser and face masks. Giorgio Armani has donated vast sums to Italian front-line hospitals, whilst Dolce & Gabbana has pioneered a coronavirus research project.

Coronavirus hasn’t been the only issue on the industry’s agenda – lockdown has engendered a moment of pause, allowing brands to rethink their sustainability plans in response to climate change. Each year, as its hectic calendar darts across the globe, the fashion industry contributes to vast amounts of CO2 in its wake. Fashion has clearly become unsustainable. It outsources production to developing countries, yet brands are rarely held accountable for exploitation and injustice. Now the industry is determined to reset. Dries Van Noten, Saint Laurent, Gucci and countless other brands have made unprecedented commitments to reform.

The pandemic has revealed the true colours of fashion, busting stereotypes about over-indulgence and excess. On the surface, it might appear extravagant, but this hides an authentic soul beneath. Fashion is about optimism. When faced with a global pandemic, it equips us with vital armour to fight back.

Edited by Ellie Muir, Essays Editor