In designer Louis Gabriel Nouchi’s Spring/Summer 2021 video, made for Paris men’s digital fashion week, actors — including some from the venerable Comédie-Française theatre — read excerpts from Albert Camus’s The Stranger. “Many actors are unemployed because theatres are still closed. We cannot pretend that nothing happened,” the designer says. Nouchi barely had time to finish his collection, and there were fabrics missing, as some Italian suppliers remained closed. But the video generated nearly 25,000 views on YouTube and the brand gained more than 400 new followers on Instagram, a similar boost to the one received after a physical show.
The Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode’s first digital fashion week for SS21 mens and couture has been broadly praised by the industry. French fashion’s governing body’s event will be followed by Milan’s digital offering from 14 to 17 July, which will include five films from creatives including Willy Vanderperre and Juergen Teller for Prada. Both will return to physical shows in September, as well as London Fashion Week.
Dior Spring/Summer 2021 Menswear.
© Jackie Nickerson/Dior
“The digital format allows designers to tell their story differently and explore their DNA and be better equipped for a world where social media is predominant,” explains Laure Hériard Dubreuil, founder and creative director of luxury multi-brand retailer The Webster. The consensus: the digital event fulfilled its mission to keep fashion on the radar at a time when it could have taken a backseat. There were some frustrations among editors and buyers primarily regarding the feeling that clothes were at times subsidiary to the event. But overall industry players praised the digital platform for giving exposure to young designers and offering a wide range of editorial content.
Measuring social media traction is key. Data is not currently available for the Paris trade group’s platform but already the firepower and marketing prowess of the large houses helped pull in large audiences. Louis Vuitton’s video starring animated characters named “The Adventures of Zoooom with his friends by Virgil Abloh” garnered 2.8 million view in less than four days on YouTube, plus 1.2 million on InstagramTV. By comparison, London Fashion Week’s digital platform had 166,000 page views and 61,000 unique visitors from 11 to 24 June.
Virgil’s teaser video “is among the most popular YouTube videos around its fashion shows in the history of the house”, says Tony Pinville, chief executive and co-founder of visual data firm Heuritech. The collection will be shown later this year. “By comparison, the backstage video of the SS19 men’s show garnered 2.3 million views in two years,” Pinville said, noting that some houses also had their own players and that viewers could watch directly on the house’s website and social media rather than via the Paris platform.
Creativity under constraint
Loewe, which offered a creative answer to the current constraints, garnered wide industry praise. Creative director Jonathan Anderson teamed up with the graphic design duo M/M to develop the concept of a “show in a box”, inspired by Marcel Duchamp’s Boîte-en-valise, or box in a suitcase. Loewe sent out 2,185 boxes to fashion insiders containing all the details of a show in one box: the set, the music, the patterns, the materials to be reconstructed, and Anderson explained the concept and creations in a corresponding video. It was accompanied by 24 hours of editorial programming on Instagram.
Damien Paul, MatchesFashion’s head of menswear, described the Loewe concept as “extremely clever”. “This box was tactile, informative about the collection and made you really excited about the clothes, which is ultimately the role of a show, no?”
“Loewe was head and shoulders above everyone else in terms of innovation and I loved the personal touch from Jonathan,” says Ida Petersson, menswear and womenswear buying director at Browns.
Loewe Spring/Summer 2021 Menswear.
Other designers showed similar glimpses into the creative process. “The one thing you cannot do with fashion shows is pause and explain where it comes from,” Berluti creative director Kris Van Assche said in a video conversation with artist Brian Rochefort. “It was the once in a lifetime occasion to actually give people the background.” At Dior, men’s artistic director Kim Jones and Ghana-born artist Amoako Boafo, meanwhile, detailed their collaboration in a video entitled “Portrait of an Artist”.
Behind-the-scenes access was a highlight for Paul, who added that a downside to the format was the fight for attention that isn’t a problem during live shows. “I’d also say that with some of the more mood presentations that you need to show enough of the clothes so your ‘concept’ doesn’t drown the fashion,” he says.
Overall, the mood was subdued. “A flamboyant fashion show at that point is in bad taste,” said designer Rick Owens in an interview with Institut Français de la Mode professor Benjamin Simmenauer broadcast in the “Events” section of the platform. “It’s a quiet video. It’s a personal intimate video of me doing fittings in my studio quietly alone. There’s a modesty and authenticity to it.”
“From a commercial point of view, I love the digital format,” says Mytheresa men’s buying director Chris Kyvetos, who praised the Rick Owens video as well as Mihara Yasuhiro’s. While Kyvetos so far has bought everything that he would normally buy, “what we can buy in terms of size and depth is impacted due to preparation difficulties for some of our brands”.
Modern tailoring silhouettes and wide, easy-to-wear cuts stood out as trends. “There is an ease and casual element running throughout,” Browns’ Petersson says. “Comfort seems to be the key word,” says Hériard Dubreuil. Just forget sneakers, says Kyvetos: “Mules, loafers, slip-ons and moccasins have become post-sneaker crazes in luxury.”
New kind of coverage
A more subdued season called for more subdued coverage. The space devoted to covering Paris men’s season in the French daily newspaper Le Figaro was one page, compared to six for a regular fashion season. “We can mention a short film in a piece but not dedicate a one-page review to it, especially since there are very few collections for SS21,” says Hélène Guillaume, editor-in-chief. “That’s simply because designers couldn’t make the products in the Covid-19 context, partly due to the lack of fabrics.”
“Overall we got less press coverage than usual but still good results, which pleasantly surprised me,” says PR guru Lucien Pagès who represents brands including Lemaire, Études, Phipps and Loewe. “Paris remains at the forefront of leadership for the fashion industry.”
The Adventures of Zoooom with his friends by Virgil Abloh.
© Louis Vuitton
This season was the occasion to try new formats. Some influencers came up with the idea of digital chats in which they reviewed the video live. “I thought how it would be a little sad to watch the shows alone and not be able to discuss them in real-time with one’s neighbours from the bleachers,” says Monica de La Villardière. “Why not recreate this digitally and open it up so that everyone can follow along together?” Prada has since asked her to be an official live commentator during its show on 14 July.
Not all brands wanted to fit their concepts into a video. On 6 August, Louis Vuitton will stage a physical show in Shanghai, which will travel to Tokyo and other cities before the end of the year. Virgil Abloh marked the launch of this trip by presenting the blockbuster teaser with animated characters.
Before Paris Fashion Week returns physically in September, all eyes will also be on the much-anticipated Jacquemus show on 16 July outside Paris, the first physical show post-lockdown. Some 100 guests are expected to attend the live event, with all the sanitary conditions required.
Kati Chitrakorn contributed reporting to this piece.
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