From High Street To High Fashion


Wardrobe malfunctions, hairbrush-wielding mobs and heated exchanges may be commonplace behind the scenes of international fashion shows, but they are a world away from the realm of retail.

So why is it that an increasingly large number of High Street stores are taking to the catwalk?

Last February, luxury high-street brand Whistles made its London Fashion Week debut. On the decision to step onto the fashion week circuit, Whistles CEO Jane Shepherdson told ELLE magazine: “The only place and time that you can showcase your brand to the international press and buyers is fashion week. It really helped to raise our profile and reposition us as a contemporary brand.”

And, as Whistles began trading in China and Hong Kong last August, it seems that garnering this level of international interest can be worthwhile. They also showed a further two times during the spring/summer and autumn/winter 2014 presentations, suggesting that they considered their debut to have been successful.

Whistles is not the only High Street brand to embrace the catwalk, however. Last February, H&M showed for the first time in eight years – this time in Paris, rather than New York – and River Island unveiled its first collaboration with Rihanna to an audience in London.


Whistles AW14

Julie Bradford is a fashion journalism lecturer at The University of Sunderland.

She said: “Fashion weeks used to be trade shows, where independent designers showed their wares to boutique buyers and journalists. Now they’re more of a direct marketing tool, because everyone can watch them via live-streaming and social media. Brands are putting on a show directly to their customers and, naturally, the high-street stores are going to want in on that.”

But this store-to-catwalk movement is not particularly new. In September 2005, Topshop became the first High Street store to move into the high fashion arena by showing its premium range, Unique, at London Fashion Week. Since then, they have secured a regular place on the fashion month schedule and have shown a further 16 times.

Also, events such as Clothes Show Live and independent fashion weeks have existed for a number of years. They allow catwalk presentations to be organised to showcase what certain areas have to offer.

Sandra Tang is the head of programming and events, including Newcastle Fashion Week, at NE1. She said: “People in general are more fashion savvy, so want to see the collections brought to life.

“During NE1’s Newcastle Fashion Week, retailers involved experience significant peaks in both their sales and footfall – with an average 53 per cent increase in footfall and an average 33 per cent in sales. Hosting big fashion events and catwalk shows in Newcastle also gives a renewed buzz to the high street and city as a whole.”


The intu Metrocentre’s Fashion Live Event

Shopping centre fashion shows have been found to have a similar effect on sales. Over the first weekend of November 2013, Gateshead’s intu Metrocentre hosted Fashion Live ’13, during which various retailers from the centre took part in a number of fashion shows.

Lisa McLeman, digital media and PR coordinator for intu Metrocentre, said: “Fashion Live ’13 achieved positive results, with a number of items on show on the catwalk selling out in retailers.”

Using fashion shows to showcase clothes from the high-street may not be the height of innovation, but it’s most definitely an area of the industry that will continue to develop. Retailers that brave the catwalk appear to benefit from doing so, and this is sure to drive others to follow suit.

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