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It’s cool to be kind in the new normal, even in the fashion world

I’ve just met Paul Costelloe, the legendary designer at his SS21 presentation. His was one of the few in-person shows in what was an almost entirely virtual London Fashion Week. It is a gorgeous collection with cool neutrals, pastels and textures. There are so many pieces one would love to have in their spring wardrobe. But the most positive part of the entire experience was meeting Paul himself. His old-world charm, good manners and warmth seem to be in stark contrast with the new normal of zoom calls, face masks and social distancing. Above and beyond that, in the six years I’ve been covering fashion week, he was perhaps the most welcoming designer who seemed genuinely happy to chat and say hi.

The context: I started covering London Fashion Week when I was just fourteen years old. The year was 2014 and mainstream media still dominated coverage. Bloggers were the newcomers and this was just before the dominance of the Instagram influencer. Fledgling teen bloggers like myself were at the very shallow end of the media pool. I’d started a fashion blog about 18 months prior and set my sights on covering fashion shows. I needed to build up a body of work to justify an invitation so I covered some trade shows and then in 2014 sent out scores of emails to press offices politely requesting an invitation. To my (and my parents) amazement, I actually received a handful of invitations. Some I had to decline because the shows were during school hours and attending a fashion show for my blog was not seen as a worth excuse to get me out of lessons.


I’ll never forget my first show. An Orla Kiely presentation in a warehouse studio off Carnaby Street. My mum dropped me off and I was terrified. I had my camera hanging around my neck and held my breath as I walked in the door. I was worried about fitting in, not knowing anyone, and not really having a right to be there. I was, after all, only fourteen and surrounded by seasoned veterans of fashion media. My mum gave me some sage advice before I went in which has fared me well at every season since - find someone else on their own and go and say hi. And I did just that. I went up to a girl standing by herself and said hello. I took a few pictures and a few notes and left. But I didn’t talk to many others. I saw a couple of other shows that season and followed the same pattern - chat with someone who looked lonely, take notes, take photos and leave. My coverage started me on the path to earning unsolicited invitations.


My adventures seemed bold and glamorous to my peers and school teachers at the time but in reality it was quite lonely and intimidating. It’s no secret that the fashion world is an exclusive place and it can even be hostile, especially to newcomers. You might remember the OG teen fashion blogger Tavi Gevinson who caused outrage in the front row of New York Fashion Week for blocking the view of those behind with her bow-shaped hat. While I was never openly rejected and occasionally people were welcoming, there was definitely an air of snobbery and I was not embraced as part of the ‘gang’. I was routinely quizzed at the door, receptionists not really believing my name was on the list and would be openly surprised when they found it was. Frankly I understood; I was so young, and didn’t have a publication or brand behind me. But I got used to the format of the shows, how to work the crowd, the etiquette, and became more confident in what I was doing. My dad, a very experienced journalist who accompanied me to my early forays to pre-fashion week trade shows, gave me some advice - always go up to the people in charge and introduce yourself. Look them in the eye and ask questions. You are covering the event, he said, so you need to be curious and not be afraid to go straight to the big players. When it comes to your camera, look through the lens when you take the shot but don’t hide behind it.


And aside from all that, the collections were inspiring, I was pushed out of my comfort zone and it was a privilege to experience the creative passion bustle of London Fashion Week.


This season, fashion week had barely crossed my mind. With the pandemic’s relentless disruption and some accusations that Spring fashion month exacerbated the spread of the virus across Europe, it seemed unlikely it was going to happen at all. There is also the sustainability issue and the debate about the ethics of fashion week, as reflected in Stockholm cancelling the event altogether last year.


But to my surprise and delight, I received an invitation earlier this week. Paul Costelloe was showing his SS21 collection at The Waldorf in London and I could attend virtually or make an appointment to see the show in person. Visits were being staggered and set up to ensure COVID-19 guidelines were followed. I didn’t hesitate to accept. I was flattered and excited. Some of the first designer pieces I ever owned were Paul Costelloe, including a blazer I wore throughout Sixth Form as I moonlit as a teen fashion blogger. If I was only going to attend one fashion show at these uncertain times, it seemed the most fitting.


Arriving at the Waldorf, face mask on and hands sanitised, I was temperature checked before being allowed into the beautiful and spacious Palm Court room. Unlike the packed, cliquey presentations I’d often attended in the past, I was greeted warmly. There was a virtual show on a screen and the collection was hung on racks around the room. Next to some of the garments were the clothing patterns and pieces mocked up in cloth - the first time I’d seen the process from paper pattern to finished piece at a fashion week presentation. And right in the centre was Paul himself, sketching designs among the fabrics used in the collection.

After immersing myself in the whimsical fabrics and silhouettes, I channelled the advice my Dad gave me - as I have done much more successfully over the last few years - and introduced myself to the legendary Paul Costelloe. I congratulated him on his collection - it is truly stunning - and said how wonderful it was he was hosting this show in person. He looked at me and exclaimed with great enthusiasm, ‘Well, I’m alive!’ At 75, during a global pandemic, he showed no ounce of fear of strangers or conversation. He was giving away sketches and offered to sign mine. I was, of course, thrilled. He was immensely kind and polite, complimenting me on my warm nature (thanks Mum and Dad). He also said I had a great, open face - a compliment I will remember for some time to come. He wished me luck in the future and thanked me for coming. It was the friendliest and most encouraging experience I’ve had in fashion week after six years of covering it, from a frightened 14 year old to a more confident 20 year old university student. Being able to chat with the designer himself and finding him to be so charming and welcoming was the sort of encouragement which will motivate me to continue.


The show was very different but not in the way I expected. I thought COVID would trigger fashion to become even more elitist and closed off to only those in the inner circle and unwelcoming to rookies. But it was absolutely the opposite. And more broadly, the fact that most shows are virtual means anyone could ‘attend’ London Fashion Week - no more fighting for an invitation or convincing gruff and dismissive organisers that you deserve a seat at the show up. But for me it was the face-to-face, being able to see the detail of the designs in a fashion bubble. I smiled and chatted with others in the room, and they smiled and chatted back - we were sharing a unique experience. Though all the appropriate measures of social distancing were applied there was a positive energy unlike anything I’ve previously felt at fashion week - I think everybody in the room was happy to be there.


The presentation itself was open too - clothing patterns hung next to finished pieces and the central table where Paul sat sketching was adorned with fabric scraps and sewing machines. Further, the process of making the collection was an integral part of the show. The often hidden aspects of a fashion house and how designs are created was part of the exhibition. I think I’m coming of age as a blogger and a writer. Perhaps the fashion shows are doing the same in these times of pandemic and great disruption.


The first line of the press release for the show reads: ‘a spirit of optimism and new beginnings sets the scene for Spring/Summer 2021 at Paul Costelloe’. In the new normal, even in the fashion world, it’s cool to be kind.


TikTok vs Instagram - unlearning the digital rulebook

I am now a TikTok convert. More and more people seem to have downloaded the app in the time of social-distancing and lockdown, and while I was initially resistant, I succumbed to the implied pressure. To my astonishment, I had almost instant success. As one of my first pieces, I made a silly video introducing my family and for some reason known only to the gods of the algorithm, it took off. That video now has 100k views and counting. While there is something to be said for hashtags and pleasing the app’s algorithm, I still can’t work out why it has been so widely viewed. Each of my family members believe they are to take credit.

I’m fascinated by digital culture and an avid consumer of social media. But at first, I dismissed TikTok, as I think many of my generation did. I thought it was for young teens. I had been playing around with it for a few weeks and a journalist got in touch and asked me a question; did I feel pressure to look like the girls on the app and produce certain types of content. Good question. It got me thinking about how I might use TikTok compared with other social media.


In my view TikTok conventions are different, especially if you compare them with Instagram. While there is some overlap - beautiful people are often successful - I don’t think the approach is the same. Among the dances, the pretty, skinny girls, there is a more grounded component. There is a massive section of comedy, often which is self-deprecating. Even the beautiful people sometimes show themselves in a less flattering light. When people post dancing videos, they’ll do it multiple times and include takes where they mess up. Unlike Instagram, where the feed is carefully curated and each shot has to be perfect, TikTok is more about producing mass content hoping something goes viral. In my view the TikTok fun, stupid, wild, ratio is higher than the Instagram equivalent. Sometimes you’re more successful when you mess up or don’t look good.

Since my small bout of TikTok fame (did I mention, 100k views?), I’ve posted a few others which haven’t gained anything like the same attention. I’ve been experimenting and the results have surprised me. I did a filter challenge where you’re supposed to look your best under a certain light. I thought putting my face in it, where I looked quite nice, would help - but it’s been among the least successful of my videos. My most successful video of my family and I being silly, I’m wearing no makeup - it is unfiltered. The next couple have a higher fun component. And therein lies a lesson.

There have been times when I have paused before posting something on TikTok. Why? Because I’ve not been wearing makeup, didn’t look my best, and thought I could get a better shot. In a sense, I was applying the principles by which I use Instagram to TikTok. But it seems I need to unlearn the digital rulebook. The content which succeeds is genuine, fun and sometimes less than beautiful. It’s often shot in bathrooms and bedrooms, in bad light, in trackies. TikTok is teaching me to take myself less seriously online, and enabling me to have fun and create in different ways. Perhaps it is a lesson we should be applying to all our platforms - not to be such a perfectionist, not to take ourselves too seriously.

If you’d like to follow my experiment and future imperfect adventures, follow me on TikTok @lexi.l.lawrence.

I’ll see you there - makeup-free, badly lit and possibly in my pyjamas.


In isolation - but not alone

I’ve been trying to find a suitable collection of adjectives to describe the current state of our world. Surreal, unbelievable, crazy. Anxiety-inducing, depressing, uncertain. Sad, unstable, unpredictable, stressful. All of those words apply but they’re not sufficient. I feel like I’m living through an episode of Black Mirror (or Fringe, but many of you might not know that show - something to watch in isolation). We are all facing the global crisis of the Coronavirus. As of last Sunday night London has been on lockdown. It is the biggest social restriction since the Second World War and we are now a week in with more to come.

2020 has been a bumpy year for me so far, personally. My boyfriend went through a hard time, which affected me; there were disruptions in my social circle, and overall I felt low. There were also the disruptions and tragedies on a greater scale - the final exit of Britain from the EU, the bushfires in Australia, just to name two. Things were starting to look up for me in February when Matteo and I escaped to Barcelona for a few days to stay with our friend Tash in her flat. It was exactly what we needed. We walked in the sunshine, ate delicious Tapas, played football and drank beer on the beach, danced in VIP clubs. We were reminded of the vast joys of life, something both of us had lost sight of in the previous couple of months.

When I look back at that week now, the memories appear like a haunting daydream. I see an eerie sequence, reminiscent of something out of a sci-fi film, full of sunshine and laughter when everything is at peace, just before the chaos starts. The serenity before the crisis.

Fast forward to now and we are in the midst of an unprecedented storm. The world is in uncharted territory and we are all living through it.

I’d already had a taste of self isolation just before the lockdown. I was sick - not with Coronavirus but with Gastroentiritus, a very nasty stomach bug. I had a taste of the social distancing and quarantine before it became a government directive. The day I got the bug, I was gutted because I was missing our university varsity week. Heavily involved in the uni sports scene, I got major FOMO watching all my friends go to our big sports games and celebrate. By the end of the week, the big finale game of football got cancelled due to the virus. Now it’s not just me and there’s a much bigger picture. The world is on lockdown and my tiny experience, insignificant in the scheme of the crisis the planet faces, gave me a taste of what was to come.

I’ve been glued to my phone watching the people I follow on social media broadcast the crisis through their respective lenses, from empty shelves in supermarkets, brawls over toilet paper to budding Tik Tok careers. Everyone I know has chosen where they want to be and who they want to be with to get through the lockdown. In this time of isolation, who do you call? When the shutters go down, where do you go? Who do you want to be with? It’s fascinating to see where people land. I have an international group of friends and peers and many have fled to their home countries to be with their families.

COVID-19 is going to test more than just our geography and our relationships. It will be a defining moment of our generation. Businesses will go bust, the economy will be catastrophically effected, lives will be lost. Thousands of students will be affected - studies disrupted, exams cancelled, experiences and memories shifted from nights out to weeks in. Our mental health will be put under more pressure than ever before. There may be a baby boom of sorts - look for a higher birth rate in nine months from now. In years to come, I will meet people born in 2021 and I will ask if they were a product of COVID-19 isolation.

There is nothing but uncertainty. People are scared. Some, trying a positive spin on it say we should use this time to read, write, draw, cook. Great advice which may help for a while but I’m not sure if that’s a long term solution should this go on for months rather than weeks. I am a definite victim of cabin fever already, how do I proceed?

In 2016, I wrote a post after the election of Donald Trump, referencing his win in the US election and the UK’s decision to leave the EU. I titled it, ‘The Year the World Went Crazy’. I don’t think any of us could have anticipated subsequent events. I wrote some words at the time:

‘I’m going to remember exactly where I was when the US election result came in. And I'm going to do the same for the day when the Brexit Referendum was announced. These events and this year, 2016, will be studied in history, by my children, your children and their children. My advice is remember where you were, remember how you felt, because it will be important to hand on those stories to the next generation. It will be a tale of deep divisions, of political classes being challenged by different groups who are united only by their discontent. It will be remembered as a time of setbacks, protests, possibly revolution. And who knows what else?’

With a few adjustments I could write the same for March 2020. Remember where you are, who you are with, what you are feeling, who you are talking to who you are not, who you miss, who doesn’t matter. How you survived. Keep a diary. Because while historians will study the facts, economists will study the economy and medics will study the disease, it is the personal stories which should endure. When I’m 90 and in a nursing home (hopefully a luxurious one with a pool and a bar) I can imagine my great-grandkids studying for their history A-levels and telling me they’re writing about the 2020 pandemic and I can tell them what it was really like to be there.

We don’t know what is coming but we know that it is era defining. Stay in touch with the people you love and value. Take care of your physical and mental health. Try to have fun, as trivial as it sounds.

Write it all down. Live to see the other side. Take your stories with you.

Edeline Lee AW20 | LFW

The Edeline Lee presentation is always my highlight of fashion week (see past shows in the blog archives HERE). This season was no exception, and definitely my favourite yet. Held at the Apollo Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue, the clothes were shown through a series of vignettes directed by Josie Rourke. Models walked on stage as narrators Theo James and Rebecca Trehearn read out a series of quotes about women. They began as literary references and transitioned into feminist statements, creating a dynamic dialogue about the way we view and understand the idea of a powerful woman. According to the press release, the audience are ‘invited to consider female power, the potency of sensuality and the historical impact of the male gaze’. The collection looked enchanting under the spotlight. Bold, sharp tailoring in the form of jumpsuits and dresses exuded elegance and authority. In keeping with AW20’s climate change focus, Lee’s linings, interlinings and packaging has now been switched to sustainable alternatives. The fabrics are woven in France and Italy and each piece is handmade in England. It was a truly stunning show. 

‘I sat down on the edge of a deep soft chair and looked at her. She was worth a stare. She was trouble... I stared at her legs. They seemed to be arranged to stare at. They were visible to the knee and one of them well beyond. The knees were dimpled, not bony and sharp. The calves were beautiful, the ankles long and slim and with enough melodic Kline for a tone poem.’ - Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep.

‘Men should think twice before making widowhood women’s only path to power.’ - Gloria Steinem. 

‘Some women choose to follow men, and some choose to follow their dreams. If you’re wondering which way to go, remember that your career will never wake up and tell you that it doesn’t love you anymore.’ - Lady Gaga.

‘I grew up wishing for protectors, strangers to carry my bags, truck drivers to whistle out windows. I will never be feminine, and feminine in the worst way. Submissive. Dependent. Soft-spoken. Coquettish. I was no good at any of it, no good at being a girl; on the other hand, I’m not half bad at being a woman.’ - Nora Ephron, Collected Works. 

Katie Ann McGuigan AW20 | LFW

I kicked off London Fashion Week AW20 at the Katie Ann McGuigan presentation. Featuring a near endless array of layers, each ensemble offered diverse textures. Suit trousers, hoodies, tulle skirts and puffer jackets were brought together through a careful, muted colour palette of mauve, mint, brown and pink. The domestic setting of a calm living room was a nod to McGuigan’s inspiration for the collection - the ordinary. She looked to Irish-born photographer Tom Woods’ work, who focused on everyday life in North London in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. She said: ‘It’s the every-day person, that isn’t looking to make a conscious fashion statement, that I felt so enthralled by’. This sentiment can be seen in the layering - it’s almost careless, functional as well as playful.

Another focus was sustainability. The knits were hand-made in London using recycled materials and the screen prints were sourced locally. In an age of climate change, it was exciting to see so many collections at fashion week demonstrate a sustainable focus. The British Fashion Council dedicated their show-space exhibition at the Strand to ethical designers - perhaps a necessary shift in order for London Fashion Week to survive long-term.

I was a digital baby - where do I grow from here?

I'm a millennial baby, born in 2000. The end of the second decade of the century happens to mark the end of the second decade of my life.

I've read reviews of the last decade in the media - the shift in politics, the damage in climate change, even the death of the high heel.  

For me the last decade obviously saw significant growth. Every major school milestone: starting secondary school, GCSEs, A-levels, graduating and starting university. The decade was one of education, one of growing from childhood to adulthood, one of self discovery. 

Unlike kids growing up in previous generations, there's been one stark difference. I've grown up as part of, an active player in, and a contributor to the new digital universe. I've not just watched the growth of the Internet and social media, I've been part of it, and seen it quickly cement itself as an integral part of almost everyone on the planet. 

I've looked back on the past decade and it's breathtaking how much my own experience of technology has changed. Remember MSN? I remember using it and emailing my friends in primary school. As I moved into secondary school, Blackberries and BBM were all the rage and having an iPhone was unconventional. Soon enough, Apple took over. The smartphone is now an accepted accessory - an essential one too. I and others of my age group evolved with the tech. We not only observed digital trends, we underpinned them. 

In 2013 I started this blog, fairly early in the history of blogging. I watched YouTube and the phenomenon of the Influencer move from the fringes of society to being a recognised and profitable career. I engaged with the Internet from the early days of Instagram - I don't remember existing as a grown up without it. A world without social media is alien to me.

So I sit here and wonder what this next decade will bring, from the state of the world to the digital universe. I imagine my twenties will offer more growth in career, relationships, independence. We all wonder who will be the political leaders, how climate change will effect our world, who will be in our lives. But I wonder what the digital landscape will look like. What will another ten years of tech bring?

What tools will I use? How will I connect? How will we share and consume content? Will mainstream platforms like Instagram, Twitter, Facebook still exist, or exist as we know them? 

I've always shared personal style on this blog, mainly through photos and sometimes video. In 2030 will I be using VR or something that doesn't exist yet?

In the working world, will we even have to interact with people face-to-face or will the digital universe be so pervasive, a handshake or a kiss on the cheek will become a thing of the past? 

Online dating is now a huge source of people finding relationships. In ten years time will it be unusual to meet someone at a bar?

Something that also worries me: who will be watching me and how? Will I regret my digital footprint? While I love being part of the digital universe, are there more sinister outcomes on the horizon?

A recent article in the FT asks if we have reached 'peak influencer', predicting the demise of the online creator. If that is the case, how will people profit off the Internet?

I've loved being part of the digital growth, an active consumer and participant. And I expect I'll be just as enthusiastic in the next decade - the social science of the Internet and how it shapes the world will remain a key interest.

Happy New Year.

Australia and I

I am a West London girl, born and bred but I'm also a proud Australian. The daughter of an Aussie Dad, some of my earliest and fondest memories are of travelling 24 hours to the other side of the world, to the warmth, the sunshine and the people. From the Aussie words and slang in my vocabulary, to watching NRL (rugby league to those unfamiliar) to feeling my most content at the beach, I love being Australian. Even if my home is on this other side of the world, in London, part of me yearns for down under.

My Dad grew up in Sydney. He is one of six and the only sibling to have left Australia. The family tree is deeply rooted in Australia with many branches in the Sydney network. We are the odd ones out, my brother and I, as we have been raised in London. While there's the huge geographical gap, I feel a deep attachment to and affection for Australia, and my family that live there. 

In April I went to Sydney and to Byron Bay. This trip was special for three reasons: it was my first time in Australia in six years; my first time in Australia without my Dad; and my first time in Australia as an adult. I went with my best friend Lily, and we had three weeks of fun. But for me, it was also a deeper experience. 

I stayed with my Uncle and Aunt in Cabarita in North West Sydney, and the family could not have been more welcoming. Lily and I had dinner with that branch of the family and I was struck by the sharp wit of the Aussie banter. I was also taken by their deep connection with sport, each of them a player in their own right, and with the injuries to prove it. My cousin Emma had just recovered from hip surgery. My soon to be cousin-in-law Nick, a knee injury. My cousin Brook just had her wisdom teeth removed (ok not a sport injury but she plays netball). But none compared with my cousin Chris, the professional rugby league player who was recovering from major facial surgery acquired in a head clash in training. At one point Brook complained how hard it was to eat with her face recovering from the teeth. Chris responded, 'Your face hurts? My face has nine metal plates in it'. Apart from the humour, I was impressed by the resilience they all showed. They take the hits, move forward, and laugh about it. I think this is indicative of the Aussie culture. 

One of the best nights I had, would you believe, was going to dinner with two men in their mid 50s - Uncle Roso and Uncle Apps. These guys were the legends of my childhood, the heroes of my bedtime stories - my Dad's two best friends. I was in awe of their wild nights, their adventurous spirits and their plain stupidity and humour. I spoke of their legendary status to my childhood friends, and they'd pass on the stories too. Pascale, who I first met when I was 6, will still ask me, 'How is Roso?', despite never having met him. Lily and I went out for dinner with them and laughed the entire  night. We  ran into one of Roso's ex-girlfriends in the restaurant who they called 'sausage' (I'm still not sure if that is her real name). She didn't believe his story that we were their tinder dates. But it was a night of great hilarity. My Dad's friendship with them goes back nearly fifty years. It was forged in a tough working-class environment and at times a fairly brutal world but it is unbreakable. The fact that my Dad left thirty years ago and they remain as close as ever reflects the sort of friendship to which we all aspire.  

I took Lily to one of my favourite childhood spots in Sydney -  Coogee beach. From the surf shops to the pavilion, it felt so nice to be back to the part of Australia that felt like home for me. We also watched a rugby league match with my team Souths, although we did lose to Manly and I did sulk afterwards.