Flocks of guests gathering to couture shows, crowded after parties, almost unlimited plane travels, Paris February 2020 fashion week was your typical one. Less than a month before the outbreak of Covid-19 and generalized lockdowns, who would have thought that it would be the last one of this kind for a while ? Now, as the prospect of returning to the usual fashion schedule seems unlikely before a long time, the future of fashion week seems rather up in the air. After months of lockdowns, restrictions and social distancing however, it appears that brands too have to adapt to this new normal and find a way to still reach their target audience. If anything, this global pandemic will also have revealed a few designers who were successful at adapting and creating something compelling despite the circumstances.
Going digital ?
Though the experience of an IRL fashion show truly seems irreplaceable, the traditional fashion calendar also appears fairly outdated. In a World where environmental preoccupations are rising, showing four collections a year is without a doubt not the most sustainable option. Indeed recently established brands such as Gucci and Saint Laurent created bewilderment by affirming their wish to step away from the usual schedule. They announced that they would not be showing physically four times a year anymore, a declaration acclaimed by the « slow fashion » advocates. Aside from the dominant environmental concerns, the traditional fashion show format is by definition exclusive and can feel far removed from the average consumer.
The prospect of digital fashion shows popularized during the current pandemic actually emerges as a partial solution to this problem. Granted, the perspective is far different than the one experienced at a physical event but this format has also revealed certain brands’ creativity and will to connect more to their wider audience. Paris native Margiela currently under John Galliano’s creative direction actually came out with a clever YouTube documentary blending zoom calls, FaceTime calls and backstage clips delivering a clever, accessible experience.
Upcoming Spanish brand, Paloma Wool also exploited this format in a unique and touching way. Rather than pretending to be a conventional runway show, this 3-minute creation cleverly blends Paloma Wool customers whether influencers, musicians and customers from all over the World sporting the new collection. Clever because it allows the audience to see the fabrics and shapes flow on various types of body shapes rather than the conventional size 0 we would witness on an actual runway. Touching because rather than an artistically staged performance, the makeshift « models » appear in their own backyards, living rooms and balconies making the experience all the more immersive
A « traditional » show with a twist ?
The main challenge currently facing designers when trying to stage a fashion show ? Social distancing. With more and more events getting cancelled and an increasing number of brands altogether postposing their traditional showings, the ones deciding to go ahead with their schedule are an exception. Showing while complying with the current regulations is actually extremely difficult. While Etro, for example, showed in July a collection in a fairly traditional way, only with more distance between seats, masks and hand sanitizers, some designers have taken this new constraint as an opportunity to let their creativity blossom.
One year after the legendary lavender runway, it indeed seems that Jacquemus took quarantine as an opportunity to renew his creative prospects. The last show titled « L’Amour » (« Love ») therefore turned out to be a fashion highlight of the year. Models parading through a wheat field, guests seating far apart almost hidden in the tall ears of wheat were the ingredients of this innovative fashion show. Luckily for Jacquemus who adopted last year a different rhythm – showing two collections a year instead of four- the current pandemic did not drastically affect its calendar. Simon Porte Jacquemus indeed describes the process behind this collection as one of collaboration despite the circumstances : « Shortly after my team members were separated from each other, each at home, with the desire to continue working, a new vision of the collection was born. We became a human chain, every step of the creative process carried out with love. » The result was once again a successful, imaginative vision coming to life in an unexpected setting an hour north of Paris.
Other original creative ideas were born during the covid-19 era when it comes to fashion shows. From Loewe’s #ShowinABox, a collection arranged as file index containing the silhouettes, posters, wallpaper and a letter from the designer to Dior releasing a miniature collection, the pandemic was a chance for designers to experiment with different mediums. Indeed as Jonathan Anderson (Loewe’s creative director) puts it « it’s sometimes better to embrace a moment that is challenging rather than pretend it’s not ».
In this new context, it seems that the best compromise lies in a mix between a traditional and a digital format. As, famous fashion show organizer Alexandre De Betak puts it “people need a better reason to travel for the shows, and we need to make a truly digital experience for each one, so that people don’t have to travel.” Enhancing the traditional format by a digital version not only would respond to the current needs but also address central issues of sustainability and inclusivity. What if this was the future of fashion ?