Fashion Culture

Fashion Shows of the Future: Did 2020 bring about a new age of the fashion runway?

The fashion industry is changing at every level. These seismic shifts in most areas of the industry have needed to happen for a while but were accelerated considerably by events that took place in 2020.

 |  Fashion In Focus

The fashion industry is changing at every level. These seismic shifts in most areas of the industry have needed to happen for a while but were accelerated considerably by events that took place in 2020.

One such change, which is especially visible, is the reformation of the fashion show. Global lockdown allowed many in the industry to reflect on the way in which collections were presented, but also, and to a higher degree, fashion houses were forced to reconsider how to produce shows when the majority couldn't take place physically, as had been the tradition since the early couture shows of the 1940's.

For decades fashion designer shows have been synonymous with big scale productions, beautiful theatrics, glamorous settings and in more recent times, a-list packed front rows. Starting from the 20's many high-end fashion houses or designers used models to display their collections to the chosen elite. This eventually evolved into fixed date shows, as demand increased across Europe, especially in Italy and France, from foreign buyers, wanting a taste of European sophistication. Across the ocean, this started a movement for department stores in the United States to host their own fashion runway shows.

Following the Second World war, the Italian fashion industry, alongside the rise of ready to wear clothing production, was also boosted by post-war government policy and reforms to support the export economy. In 1949 fashion shows were held for the benefit of the international press, to showcase Italian art and culture. A pivotal fashion show in the summer of 1951 in Florence, drew in nearly 200 buyers and journalists from the U.S. making internationally publicized shows, now a seasonal affair.

The traditional fashion show format that we know today was firmly set by the 1960's, often embracing youth culture and appealing more to the masses, via marketing techniques involving mixing fashion with popular music, location staging, and with models who were then becoming globally recognisable.

Now in 2021, it appears that we have reached a turning point; a before and after. Fashion houses are now faced with having to produce shows that will translate for digital audiences.'Digital couture' was offered as a short term way to navigate the restrictions surrounding the global pandemic, but it could be argued that the 2020 pandemic simply accelerated this process, which would have had to happen inevitably anyway. Not only does it offer a more sustainable solution, but it makes high-end fashion brands and their once exclusive shows, more accessible to the masses.

Starting first with London Fashion Week in June 2020, the British Fashion Council, were the first to innovate and offer a fully online gender fluid event, which included not only virtual shows, but digital parties and video led discussion panels. The notion that fashion editors, buyers and influencers, were flying across the globe for short physical shows, and clocking up huge carbon footprints as a consequence, now seems rather outdated and excessive.

Brands are obviously still figuring out how to deliver on this successfully, and but nevertheless, with two seasons of digital fashion weeks that have taken place in 2020, we can now ask the question... Do they work?

Fashion was already on the cusp of transformative change, given that some brands were moving away from traditional seasonal calendars. Consumers were changing how they consume, so the need for change in the fashion week format, was also inevitable to some degree. There has also been a need in recent years for brands to invest more in virtual and more immersive experiences, in order to remain competitive in the market. 3-D fashion shows, and interactive digital live streams were becoming more commonplace, and the need to make shows more inclusive and relatable for consumers was becoming increasingly important.

Creating connections with the audience is key to the success of this new format, but going digital does offer opportunities to build stories around collections, generate deeper connections with the brand values, and potentially make the shows more impactful. The storytelling opportunities are vast, nevertheless it does present challenges for brands to build the same excitement around virtual shows. While it can be argued that the social aspect cannot be replicated online, digital shows offer opportunities which elevate brands beyond the boundaries of physical venues, seating and set construction.

New technologies present new narratives, with 3-D rendered clothing, CGI, video content and digitally crafted locations. With no clear path for where this experimentation might take us, it allows brands to fully explore the possibilities, and perhaps the future of fashion weeks around the world, might result in a perfect blend of digital and physical shows, created with the brand values and their particular audiences in mind. Perhaps physical shows will get smaller, with more focus on the audience watching at home. Or it will lead to fully green screen virtual multimedia shows, where the full experience is delivered via our devices.

Whatever the answer, the deciding factor will undoubtedly be the impact on the brands reach and their sales. In any format, the products and clothes themselves will need to remain at the centre. Will buyers stock their shelves and consumers spend their hard earned cash with items that they haven't been able to see or touch in person? Time will tell. That being said, the traditional means of presenting physical collections once season ahead, was already dying, and had zero relevance to many modern consumers. It was time for a rethink, and experimentation will be essential for allowing new fashion events to emerge.

Whatever the future will look like, 2020 has brought us closer to this new reality, and only time will tell if the new experiences of this year, will become the new norm, or if fashion once again reverts back to its heritage, and tries to maintain the exclusivity and physical extravagance of its catwalk shows, for just a little longer.

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