Fashion Weeks Are Set for a Radical Makeover, and Not Just Because of COVID-19

Tristan Fewings/Getty
Tristan Fewings/Getty

The fashion calendar is built around four major cities: New York, London, Milan, and Paris. As coronavirus has affected every facet of life, the fashion industry has been put on pause. However, with a moment of pause also comes a moment of self-reflection. 

An open letter started by fashion designer Dries van Noten and Lane Crawford CEO Andrew Keith called for global fashion industry reform, including adapting the format of fashion shows and Fashion Weeks.

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New York Fashion Week recently announced that the September shows would be shortened to just three days from Sept. 14 to 16. None of the New York shows are expected to have live audiences, but, rather, they will be static presentations where models will be stationery and attendees can walk in and out. London Fashion Week is also moving ahead as scheduled, with Burberry already planning an outdoor show. 

This month, Italy’s governing fashion body, the Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana, is hosting a digital Fashion Week from July 14 to 17, although brands like Etro and Dolce & Gabbana are still planning in-person runway shows.

France’s governing fashion body, the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode, has said that Paris Fashion Week will proceed as usual in September. While some brands try to move forward business as usual, there is still the conversation of how fashion needs to change and what should be done about global Fashion Weeks amidst a global pandemic and economic downturn. 

Several major brands have already pulled out of showing at Fashion Week this year. Marc Jacobs and Michael Kors have announced they will not be showing at New York Fashion Week in September, meaning the event is losing two of its biggest headlining acts and household name designers.

Virgil Abloh, founder and designer of Off-White, has said he won’t be showing his next collection for the brand until January 2021. Acclaimed luxury label Saint Laurent has also dropped out of Paris Fashion Week.

With so many designers going off calendar or not showing, do we even need two Fashion Months this year? This has led to some in the industry and environmental groups toying with the idea of consolidating all Fashion Weeks into one global fashion month once per year.

Some attendees believe that one global fashion month would be beneficial. Chris Lavish, the global digital director of Fashion Week Online, said, “Theoretically, one annual global fashion month would be a great idea to make Fashion Weeks eco-friendlier and more sustainable, but we are still far from seeing a ‘global fashion month.’”

In a shifting digital world, Lavish also feels that the designers are also better off going online and this will also leave more room for independent designers to compete.

“I feel the playing ground is now leveled more than ever since everyone has to go digital to showcase their products to consumers,” he said. “The companies and brands that innovate the fastest will win the majority of the audience. Now is the time to really focus on online sales via all platforms including Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, and online boutiques.” 

Diane Pernet, a fashion film curator and founder of the blog A Shaded View on Fashion, also believes collections could be presented in other ways using technology. “Given more time, I’m sure the designers will stretch their creativity and take us out of the last century and an old system,” she said. “The biggest winner will be the planet and technology companies helping designers to produce what is ordered, and not fashion pollution, which will also help with the current landfill problem.”

While it is unclear how much waste or emissions fashion shows produce, there are environmental costs involved with fashion weeks that have been addressed, including carbon emissions from travel, waste from printed programs, and the high electricity consumption to stage a show.

The idea one global fashion month would be more sustainable was also echoed by Lindsay Peoples Wagner, editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue, who said, “The more consolidation the better because it’s not just about consumption of clothing but also the excess that goes into editors traveling to fashion weeks year-round that has become harmful to sustainability on every level.”

She also believes that shows will have to adapt to a new normal and the digital shift won’t just be a trend. “People are going to have to start thinking about how to amplify all their ideas virtually, not just in a time of social distancing but from here on out forever,” she said. 

While the sustainability of one global fashion month is appealing to many in the fashion industry, others don’t find it quite as feasible.

Jessica Michault, senior vice president of industry relations for GPS Radar by Launchmetrics and editor-at-large of ODDA Magazine, has been attending shows in the four fashion capitals for 20 years.

Michault doesn’t see one annual fashion month working, but, rather, believes that seasonless “continuity” collections shown twice a year make more sense. Gucci recently announced it would be taking this approach.

She says this seasonless approach makes perfect sense because, “Asking buyers to buy for an entire year might be a bit much.” She added that, “On the other hand, I do feel that combining the menswear and the womenswear shows is a smart move. There is clear data that shows that brands that present both lines together on the catwalk are more impactful. This would also make it possible to align and even streamline the editorial staff that travels to the shows.”

More co-ed shows would help consolidate Fashion Month, thereby reducing the carbon footprint of those in attendance and the need for some industry professionals to travel up to eight times a year. Michault also says younger generations are “over the whole binary way of identifying themselves.”

She also thinks the number of cruise collection shows produced per year needs to be reconsidered, and she even has a plan for getting smaller fashion weeks more industry attention.     

“I think it might be worthwhile to perhaps highlight a fashion week outside of the four capitals each season,” she said. “Sort of like the Olympics, where every six months a different fashion week would be highlighted by the global fashion industry.

“For example, one season Madrid would hold the honor of showing during the prime fashion month, fit in between the other fashion capitals that have finally streamlined their line up, and then the next season perhaps the fashion torch would be passed to Lisbon, Prague, Tbilisi, Moscow, São Paulo or Mexico. It’s time to give some of the spotlight to those other Fashion Weeks.”

Compared to some of her colleagues, Michault is hesitant on a majority digital experience, however.

“As a fashion critic it is very hard to judge a collection online,” she said. “There is something about being in the room. Nothing else can match it. A fashion show is a fully immersive experience. The staging, the lighting, the music, the hair and makeup, the choice of models, the way the collection is presented, not to mention the clothes!

“Attending a fashion show is like going to the theater, you can feel it in the room when a collection is exceptional, mediocre, or totally missed the mark. For the moment, you just don’t get that from watching a show online. Maybe in the future, with advancements in AR and VR that will change, but for now nothing beats in-real-life fashion shows.”

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