The show must go on: That seemed to be the message of Burberry Chief Creative Officer Ricardo Tisci’s fashion-show-as-performance-art spectacular that kicked off London Fashion Week this morning.
Following a quiet, mostly digital New York Fashion Week, during which many designers opted to showcase their spring 2021 collections via look books and prerecorded fashion films, Tisci made a powerful statement about the power of live performance by livestreaming the Burberry spring 2021 show from a forest outside of London. Coming at a moment when unprecedented wildfires are ravaging the West Coast of the United States, the return to nature was all the more poignant.
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Long before the COVID-19 pandemic made international travel for fashion shows an impossibility, Burberry recognized the power of technology to share the front-row experience of watching a show with other living, breathing humans with a wider audience. In 2010, Burberry became the first luxury brand to livestream its London runway show globally—something the brand has done ever since.
This time around, and with no audience at all physically present, Tisci added a new dimension—or four—to the proceedings by inviting Bella Hadid, Rosalía, Erykah Badu, and Steve Lacy to serve as virtual “hosts” for his show, which was broadcast in squad mode on Burberry’s Twitch account. Livestream fashion shows are usually shot from a single camera angle, but here, each host remotely controlled a camera.
Hadid and co. alternately zoomed in on details fusing utility with romance—dresses featuring allegorical prints, fishnet knits studded with crystals—or panned wide to showcase the majestic forest setting. Though it wasn’t the same as being there in person, more than 30,000 fans tuned in, sharing their own instantaneous reactions to the four simulcast perspectives in the Twitch chat.
Tisci, who has previously collaborated with performance artist Marina Abramović, tapped art world insider Anne Imhof to help stage the show. Imhof is a performance artist who won the top prize at the 2017 Venice Biennale for her modern retelling of the Faust legend at the German Pavilion, which involved a unique combination of dance, installation, sound, and sculpture.
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Together, Tisci and Imhof sought to tell their own contemporary fairy tale, reflecting the juxtaposition of the mystical and the natural. Models emerged from the woods wearing Tisci’s signature tailoring-meets-streetwear staples, which came in classic Burberry beige and a spectrum of blue tones, accented with fisherman’s hats in mariner orange.
Then, in a signature Imhof move, the models went to stand on plinths, sometimes bringing out cell phones to video the main action: Performers dressed head-to-toe in white rolling around on the ground at the center of the forest clearing. Imhof’s longtime collaborator, painter and vocalist Eliza Douglas, provided the live soundtrack, adding to the eerie, otherworldly mood.
In a one-line synopsis, Tisci called the scene “a love affair between a mermaid and a shark, set against the ocean, then brought to land,” according to his inspiration notes, which were sent to editors afterward.
“I was thinking about regeneration, about dynamic youth, about nature constantly recreating itself, always growing and evolving, always alive,” his statement continued. “Water is a symbol of that also—of newness, freshness and cleansing. And through water, life grows—water is what allows nature to bloom. Everything is circular.”
Burberry’s brand DNA is, of course, historically tied to water: The British heritage house first created its iconic water-repellent trench during World War One. What looked like portholes—small, round openings based on the handle of Burberry’s new signature Pocket bag—featured prominently across Tisci’s spring 2021 accessories and garments. This added to the dystopian sense that he was prepping his followers for life on a new Atlantis.
This story originally appeared on Harper’s BAZAAR US.