Fashion shows in their traditional format are not likely to return, according to industry experts.
Digital solutions are stepping up to preserve shows in some form, while designers are rethinking their approaches to opt for smaller, more intimate showings.
Ancillary industries like celebrity styling and photoshoots are adopting new norms to stay afloat.
With a push from coronavirus, a decade’s worth of fashion show evolution is about to take place in a matter of months. That requires a rewiring of an entire industry as executives, creative leaders and event producers break with hallowed traditions to adopt technologies already familiar to the film and television industries.
“I think this is a start of a new era and we will never go back to the way it was before,” says Alexandre de Betak, founder of Bureau Betak, the production agency behind shows of labels including Christian Dior, Saint Laurent, Kenzo, Michael Kors, Rodarte and Gabriela Hearst as well as high-profile events such as the LVMH Prize.
As a result, fashion shows and presentations will rely more on digital technology and less on who is seated in the audience, even when there is finally again a guest list. De Betak is currently experimenting with a live show for a brand that will have no audience in attendance. He has been reviewing digital filming technologies that will allow for streaming complex layers of images that would allow viewers to see, for instance, the catwalk and the front row with inserts for details.
It’s increasingly likely that the Autumn/Winter 2020 shows that concluded in Paris in early March were the last of their kind on that grand scale, at least for several years. The regimented human mashup that is a traditional fashion show — elbow-to-elbow guests from around the world, nose-to-nape models in line-up, back-to-back hair and makeup stations — have no place among sensibilities defined by Covid-19. Fashion’s most beloved spectacles won’t disappear — the industry’s passion alone is already fueling shows’ innovation — but it appears they will rapidly morph into new formats, with Covid-19 marking the moment of the metamorphosis.
Reinterpreting fashion through new shows
The pandemic is forcing some fashion brands in June and July to show collections digitally in London, Paris and Milan. Dries Van Noten said in a Zoom call on Tuesday that he doesn’t plan to have a men’s show in June or a woman’s show in September. His comment came as an industry group called for a shift to align collections with when consumers want to wear them, and an end to early discounting. With his next likely show next year, van Noten faces a choice: should he show clothes in season just before they hit stores, or continue showing autumn clothes in February? “It’s an open discussion,” he said. He also questioned the need for pre-collection shows that bring the number of annual fashion catwalks for some brands to six or eight.
The timing of shows and market events is being widely questioned throughout fashion, and some welcome the pressure to shift rapidly.
“I don’t want to shoot myself in the foot, but the traditional fashion week system is based on parameters that no longer apply,” says de Betak, whose lifetime’s work must transform. “The time to change what we do has finally arrived and that excites me. The fashion weeks were a very old machine. That is ending. Not dying — but reborn.”
Print magazine deadlines requiring collections to be prepared six months in advance are no longer as relevant, he notes, and the system of seasons is based on Western European and American seasonal calendars that have lost relevance as fashion has become a global industry.
Betak says that he’s basing his vision for the future in part on shows last year by Rodarte in Pasadena, CA and by Jacquemus in Provence. Those shows relied on relatively small guest lists, but created imagery that made a global splash. The Jacquemus show had roughly 500 guests, most of whom took the train, and was held after the scheduled fashion week last June. Only 20 per cent of the guests were fashion professionals, he says. The rest were friends and family of the label and its founder Simon Porte Jacquemus. “It was very sincere,” de Betak says. What’s more, few would forget those images of the models traipsing through rows of blooming lavender that threaded into the horizon.
The Jacquemus Spring/Summer 2020 show took place in a lavender field in Valensole, France.
© Arnold Jerocki/WireImage
Rodarte showed last year at the Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens, which are beloved throughout Southern California. “Our grandmother took us there,” says Laura Mulleavy, who designs Los Angeles-based Rodarte with her sister Kate. The show was scheduled off the regular fashion calendar in early February 2019, and drew many of its guests from Los Angeles’ art and celebrity world, including the actresses Tracee Ellis Ross and Diane Keaton, and Michael Govan, director of LACMA.
“Over the years we’ve seen our audience become more tired,” says Mulleavy, who makes the argument, like de Betak, that not everyone needs to see every fashion show in person. “The editors are tired. The buyers are on the road nine months a year.”
Rodarte has previously moved from New York Fashion Week to Paris haute couture week, and back to New York. Schedules aren’t all that important, Laura Mulleavy says, but periodic live events that make sense to the brand are essential. “There’s something very special about a fashion show and that’s never going away,” she says. Rodarte is not expecting to have a fashion show in September, she says, but they remain undecided about their plans.
In the same vein came Saint Laurent’s announcement that it won’t adhere to the remainder of the 2020 fashion calendar. “Saint Laurent will take ownership of its calendar and launch its collections following a plan conceived with an up-to-date perspective, driven by creativity,” the label said in a press release.
This isn’t a first. The late Azzedine Alaïa was famous but considered radical for showing when he felt like it. His brand benefitted from the surprise, the time it afforded him and the cash not spent on routine shows.
Gabriela Hearst, whose husband and children got mild versions of the coronavirus, is also throwing the calendar aside. She refers to her next designs as “the collection formerly known as resort”. She says she’ll show it on a film, which she’ll augment by sending fabric samples to retailers so they can grasp the tactile sensibility of her designs. “I need them to feel the materials,” she says.
Hearst says the impact of Covid-19 has her rethinking her approach to luxury in general, and she’s hoping the entire industry will produce smaller quantities. “The hedonistic luxury that was already looking old for me is over now,” she says.
Models walk the runway at Rodarte’s Autumn/Winter 2019 show, staged at The Huntington Library and Gardens in San Marino, California.
© Presley Ann/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images
Adopting new norms
Brands are employing new tactics to obtain imagery to market collections. Savage X Fenty, whose last show became a choreographed Amazon Prime special, is experimenting with photo shoots conducted by model-brand ambassadors in their own homes, self-styled and directed remotely, augmented with artwork by the mixed-media artist Rafael Perez, aka Rafatoon. ASOS recently launched an augmented reality version of its online product pages, where shoppers can see simulated views of six models shown in up to 500 products per week. The looks are digitally mapped onto a photo of a model taking into account the garment’s size, cut and fit.
Deprived of red carpets to show her glam celebrity-centric looks, designer Mary Alice Haney has turned to Zoom sessions and video with her clients. “I imagine I will be doing the same in September,” she said in an email.
The photographer Pari Dukovic has been conducting fashion and celebrity shoots such as one with the singer Kehlani from his New York apartment. He clicks the shutter on his laptop while the subjects style themselves. “If they have a laptop and an iPhone, I can do a shoot,” Dukovic says. “I don’t really see this solution as just for corona time. It’s going to be one of our solutions” going forward.
Working from his apartment overlooking the Seine River in Paris, de Betak will be responsible for whatever format many brands will select to reveal collections starting next month. “I think they’re going to go from 100 per cent digital (this summer) to a hybrid — maybe one-quarter live by the end of the year,” he predicts. “My gut feeling is that the full international events will not return until there is a vaccine.”
For this summer’s digital fashion weeks, de Betak is making as many as six scenarios for each production because it isn’t yet clear whether models and stylists can travel in order to gather even for filming. He is prepared to shoot in multiple cities if necessary, and edit the videos together.
De Betak notes there’s a silver lining to this pressure. Bureau Betak recently initialised a sustainability pledge, for which he commissioned a study of his shows’ carbon footprints. It turned out that 80 per cent of the footprint came from people traveling from all over the world to the shows.
“The air travel is really, really, really really big,” de Betak says. Or it was.
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