- The coronavirus pandemic has battered a fashion ecosystem that was already showing signs of collapse.
- Some industry leaders are speaking openly about the need to completely overhaul the system.
- “I think in general, we’ve created a system that is unrealistic and a strain for even the largest of brands,” Anna Wintour told the New York Times.
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Industry leaders are declaring the death of fashion as we know it.
With shows postponed or moving online, customer orders and manufacturing delayed, and reliable sales channels disappearing, many are predicting that the fashion ecosystem will be unrecognizable once the coronavirus pandemic is over.
This week, Ralph Lauren and Capri — owner of Versace, Michael Kors, and Jimmy Choo — both reported massive drops in sales in the most recent quarter. Ralph Lauren reported a 57% drop in comparable sales and said it would be reevaluating its brand portfolio, real estate, and corporate structure. Meanwhile, revenues at Capri fell 66.5% year-over-year.
Store closures and a lack of tourism are important driving factors for these declines. But many experts also note that the pandemic has forced a hard reset, leaving the fashion industry wondering what’s next.
“What I do, the clothes that I make, and the way we present a show,” Marc Jacobs said during Vogue’s Global Conversations event in April. “It feels like that probably will never exist as we knew it.”
In a feature for the New York Times this week, Irina Aleksander outlined how the rise of social media, the need for novelty, and a sped-up fashion cycle created a perfect storm for the industry’s demise, even before the pandemic hit.
“I think in general, we’ve created a system that is unrealistic and a strain for even the largest of brands,” Anna Wintour, editor in chief of Vogue and creative director at Condé Nast, told Aleksander.
Once the pandemic engulfed the world, it began to expose the cracks in popular luxury brands.
Diane von Furstenberg, for example, has laid off some 300 employees and closed all of its US stores except for one while restructuring the business.
“There’s no shame in admitting you are in trouble,” von Furstenberg told the Times in July. “It kills me, but it kills everybody. Every designer is calling me. I want to tell people this happens to everybody.”
The struggles of department stores have certainly not helped matters. As stores have closed, avenues for selling designers’ wares have been eliminated.
Barneys, formerly a popular destination for designer goods, liquidated in February. Neiman Marcus has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy with plans to close four department stores and 17 off-price locations. And, Lord & Taylor could close all of its stores if it does not find a buyer in bankruptcy.
Nordstrom also recently announced it would be closing all of its luxury Jeffrey boutiques.
“I think all of us played a part,” Jeffrey Kalinsky, who founded Jeffrey and sold it to Nordstrom in 2005, told the Times a couple of days before news of the closures came out.
“It was the stores and the customers and the brands and … all of us. I hate what’s happening in the world. But I think if there’s anything good that can come out of this, it’s the chance to look at ourselves.”