London Fashion Week has been thrown into crisis after heavyweight Italian fashion brand Gucci, who will show their spring/summer 2012 collection in Milan on Wednesday, ordered countless models to fly to Milan early to begin fittings for their show.
The move has left the bi-annual fashion event in chaos with models being pulled from shows at the eleventh hour, leaving London-based model agencies outraged and threatening to boycott London Fashion Week next season if the British Fashion Council don’t re-organise the London schedule and intervene to prevent what they perceive as bullying tactics by both New York and Milan Fashion Weeks.
Problems began when Marc Jacobs moved his New York show back to make up time his design team lost when Hurricane Irene hit the East Coast of America. Jacobs’ show ran so late on Thursday night that the models couldn’t catch the last flight back to London so had to be pulled from Friday’s London shows.
"We’re not just talking about one or two big girls," Carole White, the founder of London-based model agency Premier Model Management told us, "Jacobs had numerous models holding on options right up until the day of his show meaning they all stayed in New York just in case they got cast."
With London Fashion Week kicking off on Friday, this meant that several models who could have been free to appear in shows here missed the whole of the first day.
Then on Saturday, Gucci dropped a bombshell with creative director Frida Giannini requesting a pre-casting for her show.
"Gucci demanded that girls fly to Milan on Saturday to meet Frida to see if she would consider them for her show, which meant Saturday got trashed" White explained. "Then the girls were expected to fly straight back to London, and if Gucci were interested, fly back to Milan again on Sunday for another round of casting, then for fittings on Monday."
With Gucci being such a huge show and a potential career maker for up-and-coming models, the New York and Milan agencies who wield all the power, pulled as many girls as possible out of London for the chance to meet with Frida.
"Only a tiny fraction of them realistically have a shot at being in that show – we all know it will be full of mega girls," said White. "I find it insulting that a designer like Frida thinks London is so insignificant that she would do that. Where’s the camaraderie?"
A number of high profile shows at London Fashion Week have been affected with Monday’s hit list including Todd Lynn, Erdem, Michael Van Der Ham, Temperley, Aquascutum and Louise Gray.
"It’s been a total nightmare for us"; a source from Todd Lynn told us. "We lost 10 out of 19 girls.
"We were getting calls from agents at 1.30am on the morning of the show pulling girls we had just fitted, while other girls just didn’t turn up to fittings at all after they’d been confirmed. When we called their agencies to find out where they were, we were told sorry, they’ve gone to Milan."
"It’s not the London agent’s fault. With all the big money advertising work coming from New York, Milan and Paris, London has no power. We are seen as the poor relations," said Nick Burns from Star & Co casting agency who were responsible for casting Todd Lynn and PPQ.
"We had to totally re-cast PPQ on Friday because of Marc Jacobs, and now the Gucci situation has ruined all the work we’ve done for Todd Lynn.
The upshot of all this will be that models will stop coming to London all together because it’s just not worth it, and any decent designers will be forced to stop showing here because they can’t get good enough girls."
Many of the affected parties are pointing the finger of blame at the British Fashion Council, accusing them of mismanaging the packed London show schedule, and not standing up to the organisers behind New York and Milan fashion weeks.
One stylist we spoke to who didn’t want to be named suggested that rather than save all the major London show until the back end of the London schedule (a practice designed to attract as many of the international press into town as possible while they are in transit to Milan), the BFC should negotiate a free day between New York and London for the models to travel back and attend fittings, and then have all the big shows to provide a buffer before Milan starts.
"The London schedule is too packed, there are too many designers crammed into such a small time frame it’s unworkable", he told us.
The geography doesn’t help either. "In every city shows are spread all over town, but in New York, Paris and Milan, there are only two-three shows per day vying for the same models. On a day like Monday in London, you have 11 designers all fighting to get the same girls and with shows packed back-to-back all over town, everyone loses," said Burns.
"The girls get off a plane from New York, jet-lagged and are expected to stay up all night doing castings and fittings" explained White. "It’s a logistical nightmare and extremely unprofessional".
"Historically, there has always been challenges regarding models in London" responded Caroline Rush, CEO of the British Fashion Council. "Many of the smaller businesses showing here do not have the resources to compete on price with the global fashion brands in, for example Milan and Paris fashion weeks.
"Over the past year, we have invested time in developing direct relationships with model agencies to better understand their challenges and encourage them to send more internationally-recognised catwalk models to London. This season, the models at designers such as Jonathan Saunders, Erdem, Christopher Kane and Tom Ford have been of a global standard."
Also adding to everyone’s woes was Monday night’s Giles Deacon show styled by LOVE magazine editor Katie Grand. Such is her power in the fashion industry (her show list also includes Marc Jacobs, Louis Vuitton and Topshop Unique), that Grand demanded a five-hour call time for Giles’ show, effectively block-booking any of the models left in town after Burberry’s show.
A fashion insider who wouldn’t go on the record told us: "A five-hour call time is unnecessary, absurd, selfish and wrong. It’s one designer spoiling it for everyone else.
"In Paris it’s illegal. There’s a two-hour call time limit to stop precisely this thing happening. They have much bigger shows than us and they manage. The whole thing is so much more efficient".
"It’s really sad as this year we have such good shows: Tom Ford, Burberry, Giles, Christopher Kane, Jonathan Saunders etc" said model agent Rhiannon Jones from Viva London which counts top catwalk models Natalia Vodianova, Raquel Zimmermann and Saskia De Brauw in its ranks.
"London has become a really fantastic fashion week, and everyone just wants the best for it before it’s too late."
A number of London model agencies and casting agents have united in an effort to get the situation addressed by the British Fashion Council amid fears they will be forced to boycott the London shows next season if the situation doesn’t improve.
"The agents are losing clients and being made to look incompetent," said Todd Lynn stylist, Clare Richardson. "It just shows how beneath the surface, London is still not taken seriously because of the lack of money here. Because designers cannot afford to advertise, they basically have no control. It’s a sad state of affairs."
Wow, you have to admire Frida for actually not giving a fuck. It’s pretty shady, but any model would rather walk for Gucci than a smaller show in London that doesn’t pay as well lbr.
…And when will LFW stop being seen as the red-headed stepchild? The shows this week have proven that it’s simply h a u t e r than NYFW.