As the coronavirus pandemic rages, London is one of many cities in lockdown. Here, our London correspondent Emma Holmqvist Deacon gives a glimpse into how this usually heaving metropolis and its creative residents have transformed and adapted since the crisis hit.

Lockdown London is a ghostly shadow of its former self. The world-famous landmarks and retail behemoths I pass on my rare walks lie deserted. Tourist magnet Portobello Road is eerily quiet, and a few pigeons are the only sign of life outside the V&A museum, replacing the usual crowd of art-smart culture mavens. Continuing east along the entirely vehicle-free Brompton Road, the iconic Harrods building towers as imposingly as ever. Without the constant swarms of wallet-wielding tourists, retail meccas such as Harrods and Selfridges on Oxford Street have a solemn, almost menacing ambience to them. Harrods’ panoramic windows, known to host some of the shopping terrain’s most elaborate displays, are currently covered in an opaque rainbow-pattern, adorned with messages such as: “It’s always darkest before the dawn.”

Selfridges on London's Oxford Street lies deserted.
Photo: Emma Holmqvist Deacon
Selfridges on London's Oxford Street lies deserted.
At the time of writing, the UK has recorded over 16k Covid-19-related deaths, and it has just been announced that the lockdown will stay in place for at least another three weeks to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. While some pre-lockdown habits have ceased – shopping for non-essential items, going into the office and seeing friends among them – others have been established. Every Thursday at 8pm, Londoners emerge from their front doors or windows to clap, cheer, or bang pots as a mark of respect and appreciation for NHS staff and other key workers who risk their lives daily to help others. Also in support of the NHS, 99-year-old war veteran Captain Tom Moore has brought joy to the nation by walking 100 laps of his garden to raise £25m and counting – far surpassing his original £1,000 target.


Faced with the new reality, which has seen the fashion industry all but grind to a halt with shuttered stores, cancelled orders and plummeting consumer confidence, a good portion of London brands and retailers have taken steps to adapt. Some set out to inspire those stuck at home, others aim to support the NHS by making much-needed personal protective equipment (PPE). Burberry has partnered with the British government to make PPE, but will have to repurpose its West Yorkshire trenchcoat factory before production can begin.

London’s indie designers have been quick to react. Bethany Williams, who’s always been one to weave charitable work firmly into her practice, has joined forces with fellow London designers Holly Fulton and Phoebe English to establish Emergency Designer Network (EDN). Initially, ten small-scale UK manufacturers and designers signed up to support this volunteer-led collective. At the time of writing, the number has grown to about 70 – John Smedley being among the new recruits set to start making scrubs and robes for care workers. Among those offering strategic and financial support are Cozette McCreery, Fashion Roundtable and Yoox Net A Porter Group. A Go Fund Me page is open for donations: gofundme.com/f/emergency-designer-network.
Portobello Road during London's lockdown
Photo: Emma Holmqvist Deacon
Portobello Road during London's lockdown
As for retailers’ attempts to engage with quarantined consumers, community-based concept store 50m (@50mlondon) is currently running an initiative called Creating Whilst Isolating. It involves a cluster of sustainable designers – Liam Hodges included – making pieces in isolation and sharing their progress live on Instagram with 50m’s followers.

The upcoming Fashion Revolution Week (20-26 April) has also been digitalized due to the lockdown. A dedicated “denim day”, sponsored by Isko, will take place online 20 April via Fashion Revolution’s sister initiative Fashion Open Studio. As part of the event, denim guru Mohsin Sajid of Endrime will give a denim history lesson along with a tour of his studio and archive. Catch it live 10am (BST) via @fashionopenstudio, which will also put on a panel talk on the future on denim at 4pm. Register to attend these two events – and many others – via this link: linktr.ee/denimhistory.

Shortly after the lockdown was enforced on 23 March, denim artist Ian Berry went about setting up an Instagram account (@staybehindcloseddoors) documenting lockdown life in London and beyond. Berry invites anyone to send photos for consideration to give a nuanced portrayal of the lives of others in home confinement. The project has been picked up by Holland’s Museum Rijswijk, where it’ll be showcased from 28 November 2020 until 4 April 2021 – something to look forward to when things revert to relative normality.



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