by Georgia Luckhurst
2020 marks the 19th year of DONT WALK, the largest privately-run student charity fashion show in the UK (and needless to say the only one to have featured a future Queen). In its 19 years of garnering mythos, from the spectre of the Duchess of Cambridge to featured designs by names as major as Anna Sui, DONT WALK has had to contend with more than just unpropitious weather conditions to stay relevant, fresh, and exciting. St Andrews Charity Fashion Show might historically represent its biggest competition, but our small town makes up for its size in its sense of ambition, and names like Ubuntu and the youthful VS are attracting more and more attention. In a fluctuating climate for St Andrews’ fashion shows, I was curious to see if this year’s DONT WALK could live up to the weight of its own reputation.
Staying pertinent is more than about meeting past success–each year, DONT WALK is tasked with creating an end product that not only justifies the expense of a sought-after ticket, but also proves that it has done something newly visionary as a sartorial, cultural, and charitable enterprise. The 2020 theme, “ANOTHER WORLD IS POSSIBLE,” appeared both tantalizingly vague and tentatively aspirational. Allied with its international charity partner, the Rainforest Alliance, I was looking to see exactly how committed the show would be to sustainability, considering the colossal threat the fashion industry poses to the environment. Would the show be able to demonstrate its commitment to ethical fashion without sacrificing its aesthetic identity?
Two days before the event itself, I caught up with two of DONT WALK’s own to find out how the show envisages itself.
“What were three words you associated with DONT WALK before this year?” I asked model Benjamin Osugo, a first-timer on the DONT WALK stage.
“Mysterious,” he said, “dark, and…” He paused before settling on a conclusive adjective: “edgy.”
To be truly edgy is to be somewhat side-lined: mainstream-adjacent, if you will. Sure, DONT WALK pursues a considerably more unbuttoned attitude than FS–marrying streetwear with high fashion–but just how edgy could an established St Andrews fashion show, considered by so many to be synonymous with our town’s social elite, really be?
“What would you say makes DONT WALK different to the other fashion shows here?” I challenged Xavier Atkins, a model returning for his second year on the catwalk.
“There’s been so many things this year that committee have actually done. They actually seem to believe in the cause […] It’s pushing people to think sustainably in their outfits, not just go to H&M, which other events in St Andrews fail to do.”
The models informed me that approximately 80% of the clothing on display had been sustainably produced–a figure I confirmed with Head of Press, Beth Robertson. I was heartened to hear that it was such a healthy majority, but I was also surprised by how little this fact had been publicized. If DONT WALK was doing things differently, they deserved to brag about it–but more importantly, the more transparent major names in St Andrews are about the push towards ethical events-production, the more rivals will feel pressured to keep up.
Fortunately, the show opened with a powerful audio-visual mission statement: as the first models stepped slowly onto the stage, their movements eerily fluid thanks to the commendable choreography of Alexis Wilkins, news footage foretelling environmental collapse and natural disaster after natural disaster played damningly on loop. For those first two minutes, the audience were hushed; mesmerised by the sensorial overload and the message it conveyed.
And then, the fashion. Fashion shows in St Andrews often have a less than faithful commitment to their theme: sometimes they seem less like stimuli and more like meaningless buzzwords. DONT WALK, however, delivered: in “ANOTHER WORLD IS POSSIBLE,” they found sufficient room to play with futurism and fun, as well as to demonstrate their environmental conscience. Gong Ke’s designs were a particular highlight, with their clean, sparse eye for the simple perfection of a well-cut denim jacket.
Despite the ominous opening, DONT WALK’s aesthetic favoured the light: moving away from the garish neon and baffling prints of Spring/Summer collections of last year, the trends which continue to dominate festival season, the looks on the Bowhouse catwalk preferred a more muted, mature style identity. There were plenty of creams, whites, and pastels–suggesting that lilac might be due for a spiritual rebirth, and no longer just your Granny’s favourite colour.
Perhaps my one criticism is the failure to play more boldly with gender. In a show repeatedly described to me as “edgy,” DONT WALK could have afforded to rework the heteronormative script surrounding fashion. The bold eye palettes of the female models–sweeping flicks of greens and reds–were nowhere to be seen on their male contemporaries; meanwhile, the women were navigating runway stairs in stiletto heels. It’s a minor point, but in the cultural aftermath of Lil Nas X’s pink bejewelled Versace cowboy outfit at this year’s Grammys, or Harry Styles 2019 Met Gala look, the distinct lack of daring was disappointing–especially so when I saw so many male attendees dressed in a winking nod to the increased androgyny of red carpets of late.
DONT WALK 2020 asked if another world is possible, and they answered that question with resounding success. As champions of a revitalised drive towards genuine sustainability in the St Andrews events scene, not to mention the wider world of the fashion industry, the team have proven their claim to trailblazing. I hope DONT WALK retains its mystique–but I also hope that its commitment to social change becomes less edgy, and more mainstream, following its example.
by Annabel Steele
I asked DONT WALK’s Head of Music, Mikey Alessie, to describe the event in three words: “creative, unexpected, fun.” I think this sums up DW2020 perfectly. From the outset, it was obvious that every single decision had been thought through in order to achieve a clear and unique creative vision which pushed boundaries more than I’ve seen any other St Andrews event do. While DONT WALK is a fashion show, the fashion is only one element of a cohesive whole–there are so many different aspects, and pretty much every single one was done right.
The music throughout the event was flawless; fashion shows in St Andrews tend not to be particularly experimental with their music, instead using recognisable songs in order to maintain the “party/night out” vibe of the show. DW2020 felt like a high-end fashion show, and the music played a big part in this: the stunning opening montage of news reports and footage of the effects of the climate crisis was accompanied by a thumping bass which captured everyone’s attention and hushed the whole crowd, perfectly executing the quick shift in tone to mark the beginning of the showcase. The whole soundtrack felt futuristic, which suited the theme of the event brilliantly. The only widely recognisable song used in the soundtrack was Madonna’s “Hung Up” for the finale, which worked perfectly, boosting the energy of the crowd and providing a great transition between the showcase and the afterparty. The physical DJ set-up was also innovative; the booth was integrated into the stage, so that the music and the fashion were completely symbiotic. The set-up of the whole room was pretty raw and minimalistic–my favourite part of the walkway (although I can imagine it wasn’t popular with the models) was the staircase which formed the arch into the VIP section. It was an exposed metal structure which looked quite industrial, giving some edge to the catwalk as a whole. The entire runway played with levels in an inventive way, minimalistic so as not to distract from the fashion, but unique enough to tie together the aesthetic of the show in a way I hadn’t seen done before. On that note, the lighting design was also outstanding, maintaining a sort of discourse with the music which took the show to another level.
The music for the underwear section was the highlight of the soundtrack; it was refreshing to see a fashion show which avoided the use of popular music during this section, as tempting as it can be to accompany a collection of beautiful, half-naked people with The Weeknd or Ariana. The song was gorgeously sexy and fun, and worked so well with the choreography–which, as Georgia has mentioned, was incredible throughout the entire show, but particularly during this section. With the music, choreography and outfits (or lack thereof), this part of the show almost felt burlesque, and reinvented the underwear section in a fresh and beautiful way.
The only criticism I can give regarding the music is the way the models interacted with the BPM; this isn’t a direct criticism of the DJ or the models, but rather a lack of communication between the two. The models were all trying hard to walk to the beat of the music, which I understand can look really powerful, but at times it felt as though they were focusing too hard on keeping up with the music, to the extent that they looked a little rushed. That being said, it was only noticeable at a couple of points, and overall the models did a really incredible job. In particular, Xavier Atkins and Esta Madenge were exceptional; while all the models looked phenomenal, Xavier and Esta held themselves like professionals, executed every move and every walk immaculately, and just looked entirely comfortable on the runway.
Regarding the rest of the event, the DONT WALK team pulled together a show which felt like it was doing more than just throwing “sustainability” around as a branding device. My advice to the team, to reiterate Georgia’s sentiment, would be to brag about this more; I only found out about the different steps being taken to combat unsustainability in the fashion shows through direct communication with the team. This should have been plastered all over social media. While this is a criticism of sorts, it is criticism I think the team should be happy to receive–we just want to see them expressing more pride in their achievements. DONT WALK is undoubtedly doing the most out of any St Andrews fashion show to remain sustainable and environmentally friendly, but their social media presence failed to boast about this enough! The team should be incredibly proud of the way they’ve adapted in order to fulfil their sustainable goals; it’s really difficult to put together such an impressive event whilst staying conscious about this, but DW2020 didn’t sacrifice the creative vision in any way. DONT WALK has always been a strong competitor for the biggest event in the St Andrews calendar, and I think this year, given their ethos and how successfully they stuck to it, they established themselves as the frontrunners.