Fashion seemed worlds away during the peak of the COVID pandemic, but now that lockdown restrictions have been slowly and relatively relaxed around the world, people from within to without the industry seem to be more eager and desperate than ever to try to put Fashion Weeks “back on track”. But what exactly is “back on track”? The unprecedented worldwide disaster (or a blessing in disguise?) has forced the entire industry on pause and practically driven it into a corner, where crowded fashion parties and extravagant live shows are non-existent — until clever marketing and PR management had figured out that digital shows were the way to go. So does having more relaxed social distancing restrictions mean everything should go back to “normal”?
The Spring/Summer 2021 womenswear runways are set to be held in Paris from September 28 to October 6 this year. According to the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode (FHCM), the shows will “comply with its implementation to the recommendations of public authorities,” regarding public safety and the novel coronavirus.
Having cancelled multiple physical shows for Paris’ men’s and couture fashion weeks earlier due to the pandemic, the FHCM redirected its shows’ audience online where digital shows were presented instead of live ones.
However, just because FHCM has cancelled shows before doesn’t mean brands would necessarily follow suit. One of the most prominent live fashion shows carried out during COVID has to be Jacquemus’s Spring/Summer 21 show — “L’Amour”, that took place in a “hilling, undulating 35-acre wheatfield in Us, an hours drive from Paris”. Seemingly never-ending wheatfields were transformed into Jacquemus’s dreamy and social-media-perfect 600-metre-long runway/backdrop. All 100 guests who arrived each received a goodie bag not just consisting of the seasons’ lookbooks and printouts but also the decade-defining mask, hydro-alcoholic gel, and water. Some guests came masked and some not, and they were spaced apart from each other during the presentation. Though the same recommended distancing measures were not followed during the preparation of the show.
“For me, the runway can’t be a video. It’s at the heart of what we do… It’s important to all of us to continue, just like a restaurant that reopens. It’s like a movie of a summer day. It’s our life,” the designer explained when asked about his proposition about hosting a show during this controversial time.
CEO of small heritage brand Paco Rabanne, Bastien Daguzan expressed that fashion shows are how brands “make people dream and show creativity”. A firm supporter of live physical fashion events.
However, other brands including Valentino, Hermès, Christian Dior, Giambattista Valli, and more have adopted a digital move to outmaneuver the everchanging social distancing measures and the virus itself.
Instead of doing a traditional, models-down-the-runway kind of show, Italian luxury group Valentino had models suspended from swings in their fall/winter 2020-21 haute couture gowns. Ditching the traditional catwalk shows, Valentino amongst other brands has replaced them with films, videos, and other formats to showcase their collection. Bringing the show in ways traditional catwalk shows can’t before, getting up close in ways the audience can’t previously do when sitting on the side of the runway, the show came alive to a small media attendance and an immense audience on the internet across different online platforms. Not only appealing to industry insiders, but the show was also accessible on an average customer’s smartphone, democratising fashion in a way high fashion brands can.
The British Fashion Council was the first to adopt an online format when it announced that its usual men’s fashion week would continue as a co-ed digital fashion week as a way to adopt “digital innovation to best fit our needs today and something to build on as a global showcase for the future”.
A slightly different side of fashion — fashion trade shows were also hit hard by the coronavirus, but it had always been troubled before the virus as business models have been making a continuous shift from industry-centric to consumer-centric practices. “We don’t actually secure orders during trade shows, [they’re] just a place for meeting and catching up,” said Angel Chan, president, and managing director of Chargeurs PCC. According to a survey by McKinsey’s State of Fashion 2020 report, 55% of brands and retailers saw trade shows as having little to no relevance to securing orders.
So this begs the question — in this day and age, where we can literally order straight from an online streamed live fashion show (see what Burberry and Victoria Secret did with their See Now Buy Now shows), bypassing most if not all retailers, do brands really need to host physical fashion shows to allow industry insiders to have a preview? Or adapt and innovate to make use of our digital advancement? Or is it important to preserve the “dream” and carry on even in difficult times?