Donhall & Bell at London Fashion Week Men’s
On a wintry Friday in early January, with New Year hangovers a not-so-distant memory, a host of fashion and accessories brands gathered to show their collections in a multistorey office block on the Strand, as part of the debut of LFWM (London’s new menswear showcase). It was a big debut for Donhall & Bell, too; our luxury footwear went on display in the accessories section of the Designer Showrooms, a floor above the main runway space and a short hop, skip and turn from the ready-to-wear brands.
Anyone who’s ever been part of a trade show can testify to how exciting and inspiring these events can be. But fashion is a brutal business. The press are there to see the big shows; the buyers, predominantly, are there to see the big brands; and the bloggers are there to ensure they are seen wearing the big brands, at the big shows, by their followers. And of course, there’s a healthy smattering of celebrities lapping up any remaining limelight. So for small, emerging brands like Donhall & Bell it can sometimes be hard to get a look in.
Surrounded by some of the UK’s best and brightest labels, though, and buoyed by an early ‘morale booster’ visit from Mayor Sadiq Khan and GQ editor Dylan Jones, we rolled up our sleeves up and made the ‘Best of British’ out of a potentially challenging situation. With established luxury accessories brand Oppermann to our left and edgy new sneaker label Nekedi to our right, we stuck out our proverbial crook to persuade any passerby that would to stop and chat, in the hope it would generate a press or buyer lead. And all this to a backdrop of far-too-loud minimal techno, being banged out by a DJ collective who unfortunately hadn’t grasped that LFWM was actually a business event — one which requires, at the very least, the ability to be able to engage in conversation with others.
By the end of that first day we’d had zero leads. It was bitterly cold. And I had done so much shouting over those beats that my voice had deepened to Barry White-like proportions. I wanted my money back!
The following day was better, though. Buyers, bloggers and brand ambassadors started to trickle through the doors, and spend time reviewing our latest ranges of slippers and sneakers. As the event slowly shifted up into second gear, I made friends with some of the other brands and reviewed their collections. There was so much design talent across the accessories rooms: Eone, Good News, Alfie Douglas, Emily Carter, Fabrini Soltani. And in ready-to-wear, Gandhum, Home of Homme, Natural Selection and the gorgeous Enlist were stand-outs. We all deserved a better audience. But it was yet to arrive…
By Day 3, a mantra had begun to go round; London is for Publicity, Paris is for Buying. I was never sure whether this sentiment was true or not – and as we hadn’t planned to exhibit in Paris this season, we weren’t going to be in a position to find out. C’est la vie.
But the closing day was better than expected. A slow start (thanks to a last-minute tube strike) was followed by journalists from some of the bigger outlets finally having a snoop around our area. But they were on their last legs by then, defeated by a non-stop weekend of writing articles like ‘Colours of the Season’ and ‘New Looks for 2017’. All that was left was to clear up and exit, which I did with a heavy heart. But there was space for optimism. I was leaving with an envelope full of business cards labelled ‘Potential Leads and Collaborations.’ I’d made some new friends, and discovered some great new brands. And we’d had terrific responses from everyone to the slippers themselves. But after four days, I was too tired to car; I was delighted to be on my way home.