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Are traditional fashion shows something of the past?

Sadiyah Ismailjee
01 January 1970

The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in the fashion industry having a great identity crisis. The pandemic has created and enhanced the needs for transformational changes in the way fashion functions. From adopting digital and VR solutions to present fashion week, to limiting the negative environmental impacts of fast fashion, to accepting the need for more inclusivity within the industry.

With many fashion brands trialling and testing out different digital formats throughout summer, London, Paris and Milan Fashion had confirmed the return to physical shows as well as some digital shows for September. The Coronavirus pandemic triggered digital experimentation; however, the quick timeframe has made it challenging for the fashion industry to adopt impressive and effective digital shows.

Buying Director at MATCHESFASHION, Natalie Kingham said: “Fashion is built around the creativity of the designers and having designers showcase their viewpoint is important, how designers show their collections during this time will be very exciting.”

“The last six-months has been an industry wide learning curve for everyone, whether fashion brands, buyers or editors. Going forward designers will embrace a blend of digital and physical to present their collections to media and retailers; it is a great moment to explore fresh ideas and creativity.”

This has led to critics questioning whether digital fashion shows are just as effective and engaging as traditional and physical fashion shows. As a result, this has split the industry in half with some embracing new digital and tech solutions and others sticking to traditional fashion events.

The challenge of presenting an immersive and emotional digital show which is just as engaging as the traditional fashion show format stems from the way the fashion industry is presented. One which is often considered problematic due to the rapid pace of the industry showcasing collections and the production process, which has led to critics claiming that traditional fashion shows were declining before the start of the pandemic.

Burberry opened the spring/summer 2021 London shows via a livestream hosted on Twitch on Thursday 17 September.

Digitally-formatted fashion shows are often seen as lacking an emotive experience which is deeply rooted in a live and physical gathering of carefully curated people (being editors, buyers, celebrities, influencers and leading figures from the fashion industry) to help invoke and create the cultural and emotional value that turns mere clothes/garments into powerful symbols of desire.

Another significant challenge posed by digital fashion for the fashion industry is how media and magazine companies are having to search for new ways to profit from advertising deals with major brands, attending their fashion shows, and also covering them in print.

Fashion week has been a platform for editors and media professionals to communicate their allegiance and commitment to a fashion brand, however with many brands adopting a digital model for fashion week this year, this has changed the dynamics between such partnerships. Buyers have also had to seek new ways of buying as they are unable to see and experience clothes in person – which they would be purchasing for the following seasons.

Buying Director at MATCHESFASHION, Natalie Kingham commented: “We’ve been in constant touch with our designer partners, mainly through appointments conducted via Zoom.

"Whilst I don’t think everything will revert back to how they were before, I do think we will now see a new mix of digital presentations, physical packages that represent a season (such as Loewe did with their ‘Box’).

"The process is still very much evolving as designers and retailers work out what works best for them, we are continually learning together a new way to communicate and buy.”

Bora Aksu

Bora Aksu SS21, social distanced catwalk show

Although fashion week shows no sign of exiting, the purpose has seemed to have shifted. Major brands who once assembled large audiences and crowds no longer depend on media and retailers, as they had done in the past.

A great amount of marketing budgets now focussed on social media platforms and driving online sales, as well as spending on influencers whose followers will purchase their latest outfits. Now the retail industry has a new spotlight as big fashion names are prioritising their own sale platforms, working with a few multi-brand stores – at the minimum. Fashion labels no longer rely on the presence of editors or lots of buyers at their shows.

The consumer’s need for fashion critics, who once had the control to sell or destroy a collection, has reduced. Consumers are in a much more powerful position, as it is now a quick and simple process to view fashion online and form their own opinion whether they like the products or not.

Fashion shows have always focussed on branding, marketing and selling items. In a post-pandemic (or virus? Not sure why you’d say ‘vaccine’ here) world, these focusses will remain in the industry but with marketing and selling a product directly to a customer. Fashion shows will most likely be smaller, with front rows made up mainly of influencers who can easily magnify a marketing concept to millions of consumers globally.

Buying Director at MATCHESFASHION, Natalie Kingham commented: “It is important for brands to have a holistic approach when marketing a launch or product and Social Media and influencers can play a part in this.”

We found that working with people of influence resonates really well with our customer so in turn we created a series across womenswear and menswear called Curated By. We work with guest editors, throughout the year where they create unique edits for our customers inspired by their personal style and influences.

Erdem SS21

This transition has been in the pipeline for a while; however, the pandemic has given brands the green light to move rapidly, with savvy and pragmatic business strategies overriding traditional norms and the fashion industry’s status quo.

With retailers adopting a customer-centric approach, the customer will most likely be placed at the centre of any grand fashion shows. The decline of traditional trade will also take place as massive budgets spent on flights, hotels and entertainment in return for investment, is an strategy which has been shrinking over the years as retailers and publishers can no longer afford to validate such expenditure.

Commenting on how the industry is transitioning into a radical reset, Natalie Kingham said: “All of the designers that I have spoken to have taken this time to pause and are really thinking about how we are living our lives, what we are going to want to wear and how it will make us feel - the customer is their focus. Some designers are looking towards a more reactive approach with See Now Buy Now options as well, which for us is a really positive move as it resonates well with our customer.”

“At MATCHESFASHION, I think firstly we had to take a step back from our operations and quickly adapt, to what was happening in the world. We had to ensure our content was relevant to our community – normally a beautiful shoot on a beach with models interacting with each other can bring a new collection to life but we knew this would not mirror the world we were living in."

"I would say MATCHESFASHION has approached this sensitively and I’m delighted to say our customer has engaged with our approach. It’s a two way conversation, always.”

Louis Vuitton SS21 menswear collection, showcased in Shanghai

Some brands have adapted to the current climate and have challenged the status quo  through showcasing months before Europe and USA’s fashion week. Creative director of Louis Vuitton, Virgil Abloh, showcased a fashion show for an audience of 1,500 guests in Shanghai.

The collection’s creative message promoted the virtue of upcycling and challenged the traditional fashion show rota of delivering new collections season on season. But, most importantly, the framework offered a savvy business plan for how brands can stage a successful fashion show in a world  which requires a radical reset due to the Coronavirus pandemic, globalisation, and growth of digital media.

The Coronavirus pandemic has also caused the fashion sector to shift from an industry-centric approach to a consumer-centric.  Virgil’s move in showcasing off-schedule, after June’s traditional men’s fashion week was cancelled in Paris, signalled a major transition towards concentrating on the consumer as opposed to the industry. However, the most significant move Virgil made was showcasing in Shanghai, distant from the brand’s permanent location in Europe which marked a major step.

To be sure, Louis Vuitton is not the first luxury fashion brand to showcase an off-schedule show in China. However out of the 1,500 guests at the Shanghai event, half were clients.  The show was the Abloh’s first since the brand transitioned to adopt a season-less format.

The pandemic could also potentially steer traditional fashion shows into becoming more localised as opposed to centralised. Hosting local fashion shows in target markets is an idea which has been floating before the pandemic. As many leading clients were unable to travel to Europe due to COVID-19, Louis Vuitton brought the show to these clients. However, a localised approach has a number of benefits which overcome the effects of the Coronavirus.

The idea of localising fashion shows also raises questions about the efficacy and necessity of Eurocentric fashion exhibitions. Traditionally, major fashion shows rely on a strategy of holding one-size-fits-all events in European industry hubs like Paris and London, the prestige and glamour of which is supposed to influence and activate markets with unique cultural dynamics on the other side of the world. But, when shoppers from Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America collectively account for the majority of luxury sales, do Eurocentric fashion shows still make sense?

Louis Vuitton’s fashion show in China clearly showed how the brand is open to moving away from the conventional fashion format through staging multiple events for local markets and embracing more of global outlook as oppose to a Eurocentric approach of fashion shows.


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