Cultural References in Vogue World: London
Fashion

All The Cultural References You Might Have Missed In Vogue World: London

The timing of Vogue World: London (at the kickoff of London Fashion Week) is no accident: theatre and fashion have always spoken to each other. What is a fashion show if not a very current (and very fast) reflection of the world, and what is theatre if not a (somewhat) slower-paced presentation of the same thing?

Vogue World: London put some of both worlds’ guiding lights into conversation at London’s Theatre Royal Drury Lane, transformed for the evening into a spectacle celebrating those two art forms. As show director Emily Burns told me, the performing arts in London “are a rich tapestry that is woven every night”.

Amid the spectacle, it was easy to miss some of the deep cultural reference points embedded within the show that speak to the history of art, fashion, and place. Here are some of the ways in which the ongoing dialogue between theatre and fashion was reflected.

“Remember me but forget my fate”

Burns wanted to have an operatic moment – something that would capture what people sometimes think of as the “couture of art forms”, as she puts it. So much opera, of course, is not written in English, but it felt important that this performance resonate in the language of London, which led her to the very famous Dido’s lament from Henry Purcell’s 17th-century opera Dido and Aeneas. The lyric that opera singer Hongni Wu performed, “remember me but forget my fate”, speaks to “the art we’re engaged in”, as Burns says.

“There is so much work that happens before the event,” she notes of theatrical productions. “I felt that this was true of seasonal fashion as well – so much work is put into the collection before they are shown, and then they make a mark or not, and are replaced six months later by the next thing.”

FKA Twigs brings us back to the present

In the handoff from Hongni to FKA Twigs, more of a pop-culture energy entered the show. But the thinking behind that movement goes all the way back to the Bard himself. As Burns explains to me, there’s a certain structural logic (encapsulated by literary critic Northrop Frye as the “Green World”) to Shakespeare’s plays, in which the characters move from the more orderly world of town and city to the wilder, more experimental realm of the forest. (Think A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with all the Athenians losing their minds on the banks of wild thyme.) Twigs, appropriately, brought us to the forest in a euphoric rave, performed with Rambert, that welcomed everyone in.

A conversation across centuries

“Heavy is the head that wears the crown,” sings Stormzy in his 2019 single “Crown” – a direct reference to Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 2. (The popular phrase is actually a slight mis-quote, if you want to be precise about it: “Uneasy lies the head…” reads the original text, later delivered by Sophie Okonedo.) In this part of the show, the two Londoners – embodying moments separated by four centuries – speak to the burdens of being a public person in the world. In the Elizabethan era, it was a role fulfilled by monarchs; in our own, it’s celebrities. But for both figures, the conscious crafting of a public presence is central, and so we have Sophie Okonedo, who first appeared in something resembling a simple nightdress, transformed by an elaborate Vivienne Westwood concoction, complete with 16th-century-influenced bodice and ruff. As Burns puts it, “the idea of self-fashioning begins in monarchy and finds its home in celebrity”.

Romance and the New Romantics

If anyone got lost in that detour through the past, the tribute to romance and the New Romantics should have brought them back to the present. We didn’t lose track of Shakespeare, however; Tom Sturridge and Helena Wilson reinterpreted the famous star-crossed lovers, though this Romeo and Juliet ended up at the club. (Look closely at Juliet’s costume, which was inspired by one of the iconic looks worn by Claire Danes in the film version by Baz Luhrmann – who served as the creative advisor for Vogue World: London. The allusion speaks to the way that fashion changes culture, and vice versa.) Wayne McGregor’s Herrera Codes, an entirely new dance created for the evening, then pulled the audience more fully into the now with its even looser riff on Romeo and Juliet, performed by Royal Ballet principals Fumi Kaneko and William Bracewell. Watch out for the AI-influenced projections behind the performers that are also part of this piece.

A transformation, reimagined

We all want to escape sometimes, don’t we? Whether through the spectacle of theatre or into an alternative identity altogether – which just so happens to be the underlying premise of that quintessential piece of London musical theatre (albeit one written by Americans), My Fair Lady. (We could, of course, trace the story back to London via George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, but we digress…) Today’s culminating set piece paid tribute to the iconic West End production, a large part of which is set in Covent Garden, almost the precise location for Vogue World: London. There was the obvious tribute in the dress worn by Lila Moss, a direct reference to Cecil Beaton’s costumes for Audrey Hepburn in the 1964 film adaptation – but the reference was also, more broadly, about the convergence of fashion and theatre. “Watching the Ascot scene in My Fair Lady feels like watching a catwalk show,” says Burns. “It’s all about big poses and stylised walking – the creation of a total world that’s lived in for a moment, and then left.”

This article was originally published on British Vogue.

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