LONDON, United Kingdom — The crowds at London Fashion Week are usually packed with magazine editors, department store buyers and celebrities but this season there is a new addition to the pack: the consumer.
Ordinary shoppers have been welcomed into parts of London's most exclusive fashion event to try to boost the value of the industry and raise Britain's profile as a fashion destination.
The move is part of the British Fashion Council's plans to change the way the fashion industry, often seen as mysterious and elitist, is viewed - with the hope of stimulating growth and add to the estimated 816,000 jobs in the industry.
"This season we have taken fashion week to the streets of London and rallied support from the whole capital by making London Fashion Week much more inclusive," Council Chairman Natalie Massenet said in an opening speech on Friday.
"Anyone, all of us are free to come down and join."
Among the ideas to generate a buzz about London Fashion Week are lining the city's main commercial artery, Oxford Street, with flags celebrating the designers; musical events and guest appearances; and a photobooth linked up to Facebook.
Fashion-hungry shoppers can also snap up items from designer collections, watch live streams of catwalk shows, and buy tickets for London Fashion Weekend, held for consumers by the British Fashion Council after the main shows.
"It's exciting to see all sorts of events celebrating fashion week and I do think London is just generally cooler than other cities. It's got the young, hip vibe," 19-year-old student Julia Glove said outside Topshop clothes store on Oxford Street.
However, not all consumers are convinced by the efforts to welcome the public into the fold.
"I don't know how they expect people to relate to an industry that is snobby and judgmental," 32-year-old Kate Hutchins, who works in marketing, said standing under London Fashion Week bunting.
NOT A PLAYGROUND
Despite a still struggling global economy, British fashion brands are hoping to cash in on evidence of a rebound in the luxury sector as solid demand in Japan and the United States combined with recovery in Europe offset China's slowdown.
Massenet hopes that the excitement generated on social media networks will help build on the fashion's industry's 21 billion pound ($33 billion) contribution to British economy.
But not everyone in the fashion industry is happy to share the catwalk and champagne world with consumers, as demonstrated by the International Herald Tribune's fashion editor Suzy Menkes' opinion piece highlighting the disdain for the public "peacocking" in their finery outside fashion shows.
"There is a certain portion of the press that would prefer it to be kind of secretive but the consumer has shown that they are really interested," said former fashion editor Navaz Batliwalla, who runs the fashion blog Disneyrollergirl.
"It's going to be interesting going forward how much more they do because obviously you have the old school press that want to keep it just to a trade show and don't really like the fact that it is open to the public."
Ken Downing, fashion director at U.S. luxury department store Neiman Marcus, said it was important to remember that fashion was an industry and a business.
"It's not a playground. This is what we do for work and whilst it's fun that people want to be peacocks and be photographed but it should not be the overwhelming reason of fashion week," Downing told Reuters.
"Hollywood does not let the mass public into a set when they're filming a movie or making a television show. We need to make sure that the people who are experiencing fashion shows and fashion week are those in the industry, first and foremost, before we start letting in the world." ($1 = 0.6303 British pounds) (Additional reporting by Marie-Louise Gumuchian; Editing by Alison Williams)