At Royal Theatre Drury Lane, a full house had taken their seats at the behest of the voice of God, who happened to be Sir Ian McKellen. Onstage, a giant projection of Big Ben struck 8 p.m. — where the dials remained for another 12 minutes. The audience wasn’t surprised: Fashion shows always start late.
On the eve of London Fashion Week, this was Vogue World, a one-night-only entertainment extravaganza packed with celebrities from fashion and the arts both onstage and off. After being photographed, A-listers and ticket holders descended a red carpet lined with roses (accompanied by music from a live orchestra) and up the theater steps, where most were greeted by a receiving line that included the mastermind of the evening, Anna Wintour.
“Thank you for coming,” she said from behind her signature dark glasses and in a silver trench coat, flanked by the movie director Baz Luhrmann (friendly) and the British Vogue editor Edward Enninful (less so). “I do hope everyone enjoys the show.”
For Condé Nast, the publisher of Vogue, much is riding on the success of its Vogue World venture after its debut in New York last year. The might of magazines has crumbled, and the future of fashion may well be as blockbuster entertainment.
And Ms. Wintour is betting on events like this one to bring plenty of sponsors and patrons willing to pay for one-night-only access to the starry Vogue universe over which she reigns (not to mention advertising buyers for the accompanying live coverage and social media content).
On Thursday night, her full power was on display, with insiders chattering that she persuaded Michael Kors to bump his New York show up a day so that models could fly to London in time. There were cocktail bars hosted by Gucci and Burberry and a coat check sponsored by Coach giving out free pashminas, while Harry Styles’s new beauty brand, Pleasing, was available in the bathrooms.
There were also, as one onlooker said with a near gasp, “really famous people everywhere”: Leonardo DiCaprio in a black baseball cap, Kate Winslet in a white trouser suit, Sienna Miller revealing her bare baby bump in Schiaparelli couture. The Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie were there, and so was Twiggy, the face of Swinging Sixties London, as well as almost every London designer one could think of, including Erdem, Simone Rocha and Molly Goddard, all taking a rare night off ahead of their fashion week shows.
Then came the 37 minute stage spectacle itself, directed by the “Crown” writer Stephen Daldry and designed to celebrate London’s heritage as a cultural powerhouse and support the city’s performing arts (proceeds from the ticket sales, about $2.5 million, will be donated to British performing arts organizations).
After curtain up, Kate Moss stalked onto the stage in an ethereal John Galliano for Maison Margiela gown, vogueing as the opera singer Hongni Wu sang “When I Am Laid in Earth” from Dido and Aeneas. FKA Twigs and Cara Delevingne shared a kiss mid-show in a re-creation of the Madonna and Britney Spears moment at the MTV Video Music Awards two decades ago.
Stormzy, the British rapper, sang as the actress Sophie Okonedo, dressed in ornate Elizabethan regalia by Andreas Kronthaler for Vivienne Westwood, recited lines from William Shakespeare’s “Henry IV.” And James Corden, Ms. Miller, James McAvoy and other tartan-clad A-listers performed a comedy skit that then led into a tribute to “My Fair Lady.”
“Whether you’re interested in Stormzy, Shakespeare or Stella McCartney, the performing arts and fashion only make each other stronger,” said Mark Guiducci, the creative editorial director of Vogue, who worked closely with Mr. Daldry on the show. “We wanted to show that barriers between the cultural disciplines no longer exist.”
Toward the end, Annie Lennox, dressed with a heavy hat tip to London’s cockney pearly kings and queens by Richard Quinn and backed by the London Community Gospel Choir, came out belting her 1980s hit “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” as models including Emily Ratajkowski, Ashley Graham and Jill Kortleve walked in looks from the latest fashion collections. For the finale, four of the original supermodels — Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford and Christy Turlington — closed the show as nearly all the performers came onstage.
Everyone, from the fashion students who nabbed free tickets to attendees from the Vogue 100 Club — where membership costs $100,000 a year — was on their feet and dancing. All were out by 10 p.m. sharp, when the doors closed and Vogue World was disassembled. The theater was then reconfigured overnight to get back to regular programming: the Disney musical “Frozen,” the next day. That’s entertainment.