Fashion Rocks bills itself as the most glamorous event on the planet. If there is a night on the London fashion calendar that can compare to the see-and-be-seen status of New York's Costume Institute Gala, this is it. It was originally started by the Prince's Trust, a UK-based charity which endeavours to bring new hope to the lives of underprivileged youth. Proceeds from the event are directed to this worthy cause.
The first Fashion Rocks was held at Royal Albert Hall in London in 2003 and teamed famous musicians and fashion designers together, strutting their stuff (quite literally) in a series of fabulous performances, complete with pyrotechnics, choreographed dance ensembles, and of course, some no-bones-about-it fashion glamour. The event was reprised two years later in Monaco, taking on Swarovski as its lead sponsor.
Since then, Fashion Rocks has gone on to become a bonafide business in its own right. In 2006, Fashion Rocks was bought by Big Group Ltd and Premium International Ltd, which, according to the Big Group website, ensures
that The Prince's Trust continues to benefit from every Fashion Rocks event through annuity and profit participation, in addition to receiving a substantial purchase figure. The new management of Fashion Rocks will also expand the concept worldwide providing greater opportunity for charitable fundraising for The Prince's Trust.
Fair enough. With a business partner like Big Group, The Prince's Trust may actually be able to generate more cash for its projects, but I wonder whether some of the original meaning behind the event has been diminished by the supernova concoction of the fashion and music industries, combined with a corporate sponsor and a private sector owner intent on making a profit.
Which brings me to the night itself. The Prince's Trust was scarely mentioned during the event, except for a humorous introduction by comedien(ne?) Dame Edna, occasional soundbites from emcees Uma Thurman and Samuel L Jackson, and the odd video about a Prince's Trust success story.
In theory, a series of performance collaborations between fashion designers and musicians sounds like a brilliant idea, as fashion and music have always been inextricably linked. But, each of the collaborations on the night was punctuated by a 10 minute transition and from the start, it was clear that this was a made for TV event (it's being broadcast on Britain's Channel 4 tonight with worldwide broadcast later this year).
So, when Beth Ditto of the Gossip brought the house down in her sparkly Christopher Kane dress and Timbaland finally got the crowd on their feet for his set with Dolce & Gabbana, the momentum they built was completely lost afterwards. People twiddled their thumbs, waiting for the set to be changed while watching videos which had the impossible task of keeping people's attention between these fiery live performances. How do you compete with a Marchesa-clad Dame Shirley Bassey as the opening act, doing an unforgettable rendition of Goldfinger?
You can't. So naturally, most of the famous fashion, television, music and sports personalities used these breaks (9 of them in all, plus a 30 minute interval) as an opportunity for some seriously high-wattage networking, mingling and air-kissing. I have to admit to being undeniably and completely star struck as I walked the halls behind the VIP boxes. I saw a smoldering Tom Ford and ultra-glam heiress Daphne Guinness in an intense conversation, leaning up against a wall. Tamara Mellon worked the VIP boxes one by one, looking impeccably turned out, perhaps stepping up her efforts to promote the revival of Halston, which would fit perfectly on the Fashion Rocks red carpet.
On stage, mixed in with the starry names of Donatella Versace, Giorgio Armani, Dolce & Gabbana and Valentino was London prodigy Christopher Kane. And, the young London designer set was out in full force to support him, with Giles Deacon, Rodnik's Rich and Phil in character, Roksanda Illincic, Jens Laugesen and others all on hand. Many important editors were there too but they, like me, were clearly not there for the fashion as the dresses were so far away, they couldn't be seen.
Given the size of Royal Albert Hall, this is forgivable. But, surely events like this should still be engineered to deliver stronger messages about the problems that still need to be addressed in the charity's quest to address the inequality in our society.
Legendary fashion designer Coco Chanel once said that "Fashion is in the sky, in the street; fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening." She was right. And the fashion community should continue to support and contribute to events like Fashion Rocks, using the allure of its glamour to draw attention and donations to important causes such as The Prince's Trust. We just need to be careful not to let that glamour drown everything else out.
As for the sponsors, owners and beneficiary of the event, it is important that they balance their objective of creating something great for TV with the opportunity to engage an unprecented group of influential people, all assembled in one room. How often does that happen? With a captive audience like that, it is a shame not to seize it.