The future of Fashion Weeks after the coronavirus
When Milan found itself at the epicenter of the first major epidemic of Covid-19 in the west in February, the six-monthly appointment of Milanese fashion was about to end. The pandemic had not yet been declared, of course, but many immediately realized the threat that the coronavirus posed for an industry of over 65 billion euros like that of Italian fashion, since buyers and journalists, especially from China and surroundings, they had kept out. Perhaps most interesting was the rapid reaction in adapting the format of the fashion shows. While some have chosen to withdraw their collections entirely, others, Giorgio Armani first, have chosen to parade behind closed doors broadcasting the show in live streaming.
Chanel fall winter 2017 show
© Stephane Cardinale / Corbis / Getty Images
In the weeks that followed, the situation worsened: events and parades scheduled for the following months were canceled or rescheduled. Among these, the suggestive Cruise shows, on the occasion of which brands such as Chanel, Gucci and Louis Vuitton transport a small army of journalists and buyers to remote locations by plane to show their creations against the backdrop of breathtaking settings.
Even more important – especially for the survival of small businesses within the industry – is a recent announcement: both the men’s fashion week in Paris and the Haute Couture week, scheduled respectively in June and July, have been canceled, while the Milano Moda Uomo fashion week will take place in September together with Milano Moda Donna. The same is true of two other major men’s fashion events this summer: Pitti Immagine Uomo and London Fashion Week Men that the organizers have tried to keep on the calendar until the very end and then cancel them.
What will happen now?
The second appointment of the Vogue Global Conversations – live on April 15th at 3pm – is dedicated to the potential answers to be given to such a complex question. Because, of course, the most obvious answer would be to create a digital platform where stylists can present their collections, allowing the press to participate virtually and merchants to buy them remotely. But one of the problems is that the format is unprecedented and therefore there is no guarantee of success. There has been a lot of talk in the past about the need to review the traditional model of fashion week with its packed calendars and its significant environmental impact, but buyers cannot do much without seeing and touching the clothes live.
Perhaps, to get an idea of how to deal with this new normal, the Big Four fashion weeks should look at their smaller counterparts rather than within them. While cities like Paris, New York, London and Milan enjoy the presence and absolute attention of high-level buyers and journalists, other lesser known capitals, such as Shanghai and Lagos, have long exploited the internet’s ability to make the public known their thriving fashion scene, and are currently leading in the next steps the industry should consider to ensure survival.
For Shanghai Fashion Week for example, the solution was obvious and immediate. Its organizers turned to the Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, who provided them with the platform for the shows on its live streaming channel, Tmall, with many of the items that can be purchased at the moment. “It would have been a great regret if the coronavirus epidemic had threatened our brands, limiting their potential,” says Lv Xiaolei, deputy secretary general of SHFW. “As a platform long dedicated to supporting Chinese creative talents, we knew we had to take action.”
The model works well for a specific category of brand, but it is difficult to apply when it comes to grasping the craftsmanship of the creations proposed by the world’s major luxury brands; a possible solution would be the presentations in virtual showrooms that accompanied the fashion shows in Shanghai, in which the designers were invited to present their collections head to head to the spectators and to show them the details in a format more suitable for the web. The most important conclusion, however, is that if the next weeks of fashion want to move easily to the digital sphere, they will have to emulate Shanghai’s willingness to collaborate with the world of technology.
Rethinking 10-year formats
It is to this innovative energy that the biggest fashion weeks will have to look when they enter the unexplored territory of a fashion week no longer anchored to the traditional model. For some, the challenges are more radical, in particular for Pitti Uomo, whose unique model that combines the wholesale fair with the star-studded fashion shows requires a more subtle balance between the physical and the digital to work. “History tells us that when it comes to fashion, personal contact is needed,” says Raffaello Napoleone, CEO of Pitti Immagine, the company that organizes the event. “Of course digital gives you more alternatives, but I don’t think the parade or fair will disappear. The most sensible changes are those that offer different possibilities. “
For Steven Kolb, managing director of the CFDA, the Council of Fashion Designers of America, the current situation is also an opportunity to accelerate what has already been undertaken to make the model of the fashion week more socially responsible. “We have been considering the use of digital platforms for some time now, and continue to study alternatives for future seasons,” says Kolb. “Before the Covid-19 epidemic, we started a study with Boston Consulting Group on how to make fashion week more sustainable, and I think this will become even more important in the future.”
In particular, Vogue Fashion Fund and the CFDA have launched A Common Thread, a fundraiser intended to support the American fashion industry in this turbulent period. Even if the initiative is still in its early stages, the important donations it is receiving will probably be destined, at least in part, to the reorganization of the New York cruise season of this summer which has recently been canceled and its transfer to the digital sphere.
An opportunity to rethink the model
Although Arise Fashion Week, a showcase for the best African designers held in Lagos, Nigeria, this year postponed the event from April to October due to Covid-19, there is a lot to learn from his masterful ability to exploit social media to make his group of emerging designers known to the public. Last year’s sensational event saw international names like Pyer Moss and Mowalola parade, and had its highlight when Naomi Campbell took to the catwalk for Lagos-born designer Kenneth Ize, who used the platform as a springboard to set up a very applauded parade in Paris in February.
His philosophy is that there is no need to rush to find an immediate solution to ensure that everything goes on normally this summer, but instead take the opportunity to take a step back and get a broader view of the model of the fashion week. “In my opinion we should always ask ourselves ‘Why?'”, Says Bolaji Animashaun, producer of Arise Fashion Week. “Proposing a fashion purchase now is a nonsense, people will ask themselves ‘Why buy clothes when people try to survive?’ It is an opportunity to slow down, reset everything and ask us what is really important and what are the excesses in our industry. “
Although Arise will still be held in October, Animashaun is committed to ensuring that it will have a new and more innovative format than the fashion weeks of the past decades. “We don’t try to offer anything in April or May because it just doesn’t have logic for us. Whatever we did it would not be a simple putting on an online fashion show, but it would be to start conversations and ask our community how to move beyond the platform of the physical fashion show. “
Given the proven ability of these less established fashion cities to stay one step ahead, the authorities set up in the capitals of industry would do well to keep an eye on their next steps.
Kenneth Ize and Naomi Campbell at the Sunrise Fashion Week in Lagos, Nigeria.
© Bennett Raglin / Getty Images
What should fashion week be like?
For brands confident enough to pioneer on this front, there is the opportunity to take advantage of the most advanced connection that has recently emerged between fashion and technology. Just look at the growth of digital influencers like Lil Miquela or Noonoouri; the nascent phenomenon of digital fashion through apps such as Drest and Ada, where you can download the models of the collections in 3D and wear them on top of images of yourself; or even the potential of augmented and virtual reality to recreate the experience of a fashion show. This new world of possibilities to present fashion remotely could be a strong statement for those who will be bold enough to go into unexplored territories.
© Photography Landon Nordeman / Trunk Archive
Many have long said that the model of the fashion month needs to be revised, and now this global crisis seems to force them to do so. But the proposed measures to ensure that the show continues this summer will not be just quick adjustments. Given estimates of Covid-19’s long-term economic impact on the fashion industry, the decisions made now are likely to characterize the fashion week model for many more years – and will be the ones who will take the trouble to think deeply about these new opportunities and to fully exploit their potential to emerge on the other side stronger than ever.