“THE WORLD AS WE KNEW IT IS OVER,” says Donatella Versace, and she’s right. Across every spectrum of society in virtually every nation, the COVID-19 pandemic has upended our outlook. As for the future? In a script that’s being rewritten each day, there are a few constants: We’ll need to look forward, to adapt, and to take nothing for granted.
Fashion has long been a community driven by passion, artistry, joy, and invention, though, of course, around it has evolved an industry of perpetual motion, always moving, faster, faster, faster . . . until everything stopped. Thrown from our carousel, sheltering in place, coming to grips with our ever-shifting new reality, we’ve all had the opportunity to reflect—and then to react.
It took only a few days to realize that the fashion community could be of immediate practical help in a global medical emergency. Factories and studios that were able to pivot to producing hand sanitizer and medical gowns and masks quickly retooled and got to it. Many emerging designers across America anticipated shifting CDC guidelines and began developing their own takes on what will be the defining garment of this year and maybe more to come: the face covering. Meanwhile, we looked out for one another: In collaboration, the Council of Fashion Designers of America and Vogue launched A Common Thread, a fund to help the most vulnerable designers and their teams weather the sudden shutdown. (As CFDA chairman Tom Ford observes of the landscape these designers must negotiate to survive, “It’s brutal.”) Contributions at press time totaled $4.1 million—money that is being carefully distributed to save jobs and keep some of America’s most talented young creatives in business.
Until March, the one thing in fashion that was set in stone was its perpetual calendar of seasons, collections, and shows. This year, however—for the first time in the history of fashion—all of these long-established plans have been rudely scattered to the winds. The resort shows planned for April and May were canceled; the menswear shows set for June have been canceled. The couture shows in Paris this July—also canceled.
What is apparent from all the conversations with designers that helped to shape these pages, though, is that in addition to the obvious practical challenges, the short-term changes have created space to conceive of purposeful, galvanizing change over the long term, and given them the sort of time needed to reinvent—or reimagine—creative leaps forward.
“I think we are rediscovering a whole new value to what we do,” says Francesco Risso, Marni’s creative director. “It may be a paradox, but this isolation is leading us through unexplored paths.”
While each designer is of course unique, the broad consensus seems to be that the garments and objects that fashion produces, the manner in which it produces them, and the way in which it shows them to the wider world all need to be reassessed and redesigned for the better.
“I hope that the system, which has to change as a result of all of this, will allow us to define what we do in a new way, in a different way,” says Marc Jacobs, “to express it in another way. To show it, to make it, to produce it, to distribute it, to communicate it: All of that will have to change.”
Along with this instinct for disruption is a parallel imperative to use fashion’s creativity and passion not to return it to where it was but to take it to where it should be.
“There is a realization that we have too much product,” says Joseph Altuzarra, “that some things are antiquated and out of date: flying to different cities, collections being too big, draconian markdown cycles. We need more creativity, things that make us feel optimistic and positive. What’s going to bring people back into stores are things that are emotional and exciting. We should be brave. We should break the rules.”
“Instinctually, I know that everything will be different,” says Tory Burch. “As an industry, we should be questioning how much of everything we make and thinking about what the product—and the cycle of product—means. Less is more: That means everything now.”
And while July’s couture shows may be canceled, the collections themselves—and the wildly creative outbursts of expression that inform them—may not be. As Balmain’s Olivier Rousteing puts it: “There’s no couture show? We can present couture in a different way. We are simply going to have to be more creative. Yesterday we had rules we had to follow. But now. . . .”
“Couture is the life of dreams, of positivity, of beauty,” adds Valentino creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli. “I don’t want to skip the collection—I want to do it with a different medium.” Expect to see shows unfold in new ways. Initially these will be, for the sake of safety, overwhelmingly online. Even then, they will have to negotiate social distancing—with the traditional buzzy backstage transformed into the absolute opposite. Shows may be staged on Instagram, on Zoom, on TikTok and YouTube and WeChat—and with different narrative rhythms that grow from being modeled in isolation.
Even before our world was upended, some designers had already begun upending the status quo. In February in Milan, Alessandro Michele—in what may be remembered as one of the last great shows of the Old Fashion System—presented a Gucci show that delicately pulled the traditional fashion spectacle inside out by making its backstage its front door in a spectacular, Fellini-informed presentation. “Friends keep asking me, ‘When will we go back to normal?’ Michele says. “I hope we will never go back to that ‘normal.’ We will go back to life—but, I hope, to a different life.”
Balenciaga’s Demna Gvasalia is one of the many designers who have—with an ever-growing consensus—been considering how we might reconstruct our dismantled system in a better way. “I do not believe in seasons in fashion anymore, and Fashion Weeks have outdated themselves for a while now,” he says, “so I hope this is finally the moment of inevitable change. I really want something new to happen, and I will do my best to come up with my own solutions to that.” What might those solutions be? Although he reveals no specifics, he says that “we must embrace the present and look forward to the future. There may be a hidden remedy in this lockdown because connecting to yourself—and finding balance with other people around us—is what our busy humanity needs.”
One major practical change forced upon fashion may be a kind of silver lining for those who love and wear clothes: The self-isolated pause of March, April, May, and possibly beyond is obliging the industry to realign its crazily ahead-of–itself schedule of delivery to stores and to e-tailers. The result: This summer, for the first time in what may seem like forever, you could be able to go into a store and actually buy summer clothes. Delays in producing pre-fall and fall collections, which are causing real pain in the Italian manufacturing system that creates a huge percentage of all luxury goods, mean that the summer collections will hang around longer. Though this is an accident borne of terrible circumstances, in the future it should be done intentionally: As designers and creatives have been telling us for some time now, we all need to slow down. Retailers should reconfigure to give designers the opportunity to sell their clothes when customers are most likely to want and wear them—everybody would benefit.
Our current moment provides us with a window of opportunity in which the stimulus of mutual self-interest, applied decisively and collaboratively, could yield profound progress from profound peril. Why not move the two show seasons—for both men and women—to mid-January to mid-February for fall and mid-June to mid-July for spring? Doing so would allow factories to make the clothes in time for the seasons they are designed for, and allow retailers to sell them when they are timely and relevant. The whole resort-show template, while beautiful, could use a rethink. The victim of this restructuring, though, would be couture—but as there are only a few thousand couture clients in the world, why not give them April and September? (One more fashion shibboleth to call out and cast aside, while we’re at it: collections that are developed only in sample size so that one very particular—and increasingly uncommon—body shape dominates the runways. Let’s forget that.)
Making these changes would be an act of pragmatic progress. More profoundly, the very notion of what a fashion show is, what it should and could be, is—as Gvasalia notes—a question that demands new, freshly inventive answers. Over the past decade, shows have become, more and more, an analog vehicle communicated by an overwhelmingly digital medium: While the collection and its models are the main event, the audience itself—the few dozen or few hundred in attendance as well as the few million potential digital viewers worldwide—has become part of the show, which, at its heart, is about telling a story. The next few seasons of disrupted shows, then, represent an opportunity for designers and producers to play with entirely new forms of storytelling. Why not hold shows on video-game platforms? Why not forget about flying models across the world to wear their look on a runway for 10 minutes, but instead shoot them as they spend a day in a look going about their daily routines?
As we emerge from our current crisis, the very notion of luxury will surely be transformed. Instead of signifying something that is gorgeous but ultimately unnecessary, it will likely come to signify something for which you are thankful—something that represents an act of contribution rather than one of consumption. An increased focus on localism, collectivism, and the kind of mindful manufacturing in which natural resources are not exploited but, rather, renewed or reused is—or should be—front and center for designers now. Fashion has been talking sustainability for years; now is the time, says Chloé’s Natacha Ramsay-Levi, to walk the walk.
“Let’s drive our creativity to limit waste,” she says. “Cancellations have been very impactful on our materials—we have a lot to reuse. Let’s commit to it with strength and belief and reuse not only raw materials but past patterns, and even finished products that won’t have the chance to be sold properly. Let’s have looks that integrate new pieces, old pieces with new fabrics, new pieces with old fabrics.”
Stella McCartney, long a champion of sustainability in fashion, echoes those thoughts. “We can come out of this moment as a fashion industry and go, ‘You know what? We can do so much better. We can do so much more with all this waste; we can consume completely differently.’”
Doing so would demand (and deserve) a total overhaul of the engine that has propelled fashion until now—one based on something far more tangible than mere rhetoric (as sustainability in fashion so often has been). Far more than focusing only on the materials from which pieces are made, we need to put front and center the questions of how they are made; how many of them are made (and purchased); by whom they are made and in what conditions; what happens to any excess fabric. The most precious characteristic in an item of fashion, as we move forward, needs to be the knowledge that by consuming it, you have done no harm—and maybe quite the opposite.
Before our lives—in and out of fashion—begin to accelerate again, we must do what everybody is thinking and design a better future. While the precise path ahead might still be unclear, its direction is not. The world’s last great pandemic, which lasted from 1918 to 1919, ushered in the decade remembered as one of the most progressive and creative of the 20th century. That then is our now. As Domenico Dolce says, “The old way does not work anymore. So we make a new way that is better.”
Below, as part of our Postcards from Home series, 10 more designers capture their lives during quarantine.