Category: Runway

Marc Jacobs fall 2020 Photo: Corey Tenold

“This is an unprecedented Fashion Week. In the history of New York Fashion Week there has never been one like it,” declared Steven Kolb, the CFDA’s CEO, on a Zoom call. Indeed, in February there were 177 labels on Vogue Runway’s NYFW review calendar. The schedule the CFDA released today, which begins with Jason Wu at 5 p.m. on Sunday, September 13, and ends with Tom Ford at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, September 16, includes just 60. With only a handful of IRL exceptions, all of the presentations on the CFDA’s official lineup will be digital.

Michael Kors Collection fall 2020
Michael Kors Collection, fall 2020 Photo: Filippo Fior / 

Proenza Schouler fall 2020
Proenza Schouler, fall 2020 Photo: Filippo Fior / 

Brandon Maxwell fall 2020
Brandon Maxwell, fall 2020 Photo: Filippo Fior / 

Among those not on the calendar: Michael Kors, who has announced an October date, Tory BurchProenza SchoulerBrandon Maxwell, and Prabal Gurung. In an email Gurung explained his thinking: “Since the pandemic forced us into lockdown, I’ve been talking to designers, retailers, suppliers, and factories all over the world. Everyone in the industry was running around playing catch up, with no actual goal in sight…. Whatever we put out there has to have a reason for its existence; pretty clothes are no longer enough. We need to really think about purpose and a mission.” He’s one of the designers looking at a later date in order to bring his presentation “closer to the time that shoppers will want to wear the pieces” he’s showing.

Familiar names that are returning to the CFDA calendar include MarchesaCarolina HerreraZero + Maria Cornejo, and Anna SuiEckhaus Latta slipped into the time slot left open by Marc Jacobs’s absence. In addition, there’s a menswear showcase and a time slot for Harlem’s Fashion Row and the BIPOC designers its founder Brandice Daniel is supporting. The biggest surprise: Imitation of Christ, whose last NYFW appearance came in spring 2013. Rather ironically, given where we are now, IOC’s designer Tara Subkoff dubbed that collection “This Is Not a Fashion Show.”

Imitation of Christ fall 2020 couture
Imitation of Christ, fall 2020 couture Photo: Courtesy of Imitation of Christ

At this point, Kolb and his colleagues know little about the type of digital content that will be living on the CFDA’s site, Runway360. “We connected people to content creators when they asked for intros,” he explained. “But at the end of the day the success of this for us isn’t who made an Academy Award winning film or who did the most innovative photo shoot. The barometer of success for us is: Were you able to see the clothes, able to write about them intelligently, and able to understand what is marketable to sell to your customers?”

A key difference between the CFDA and its Runway360 site and IMG and its site: The former is B2B and the latter is more B2C, with a schedule of livestreamed talks and IRL experiences that could include, say, an in-season shopping activation for a fall 2020 collection. That’s another difference: While Runway360 is a strictly digital platform, IMG has come up with a hybrid model, mixing in-person events with virtual ones made on the premises in its content hub. Jason Wu’s week-opening show at Spring Studios will take place on a runway with real models and a live audience. Earlier this week Governor Andrew Cuomo gave fashion shows his blessing; in a statement he said: “When COVID-19 hit New York, so many of our cherished events were forced to cancel or be postponed. The pandemic is far from over, but we’re proud to support IMG in moving forward with NYFW, in adherence with strict state public health guidance.”

Those precautions notwithstanding, the vast majority of the Fashion Week goings-on will be digital. On the CFDA’s calendar, designers and brands are scheduled on the half hour. In the end that may be the greatest virtue of a virtual Fashion Week. No traffic jams, no model delays, no waiting around endlessly for the front row to fill up. All efficiency. Just log on and click play. Of course, there are sure to be more off-calendar events and even more social media goings-on. Big picture, the pandemic has done to Fashion Week what it’s done to everything from office work to our social lives; it’s untethered it from place. The official calendars aside, the internet is a wide open space. Who knows who will chime in on the Fashion Week conversation? Or what they’ll have to say? That’s exciting.



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The verdict is in: digital fashion shows are a flop, at least on social media. Of more than a dozen major #luxury brands that released content tied to men’s fashion week in Milan and Paris, or to their resort collections, none came close to making the same splash on Instagram as the corresponding shows did last year, according to tracking firm Tribe Dynamics. On average, digital shows, videos and presentations generated less than one-third as much online engagement. Few expected the industry to immediately hit on the right formula for online shows, a marketing experiment forced on the industry when the pandemic put an end to public gatherings. Whether a brand opted for an adapted-for-digital runway format, a collection film, or some other unconventional format, the online engagement was relatively muted compared to the same period the year prior. The lacklustre response is likely to strengthen the push to resume live shows before an audience in September and beyond. It also raises questions about the purpose of these shows. ⁠ ⁠ It seems that brands wrestled with whether to create digital presentations that catered to the industry — namely press and buyers who might want an up-close, detailed look at a collection that they might get on a re-see appointment — or those that catered to consumers and prioritised going viral online. In both cases, online #fashion obsessives failed to drive engagement higher, whether due to the lack of industry-wide cohesion, fewer #influencer partnerships, or relatively diminished interest in something like fashion amid a global pandemic and recession. Casting Director James Scully believes the majority of the #digital shows failed to innovate despite the #creative and logistical constraints. “We cannot go back to the business as it existed before including fashion shows, because they were already bloated and boring,” he said. “People trying to go back to that feels tone-deaf and not modern, and what impressed me the most were the people that actually took the time during [Covid-19] to sit and think about where we are now, what we can do.” [Link in bio]

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Proenza Schouler fall 2020 with show design by Dizon
Proenza Schouler fall 2020, with show design by DizonPhoto: 

The fashion industry is reckoning with itself at every level, from its exclusive practices to the systemic racism built into its model. Seismic changes need to happen behind the scenes to modernize the industry. The business’s most visible touchpoint, the fashion show, is also about to undergo a radical reformation of its own. “There will undeniably be a before and an after,” says Etienne Russo, the founder of Villa Eugenie, which produces shows for the likes of Chanel and Burberry. “The lockdown of the fashion world allowed many to take a step back and deeply reflect on how to address the situation.”

Faced with the necessity of translating fashion to a digital format, the British Fashion Council, Italy’s Camera Nazionale Della Moda, and France’s Fédération de la Haute Couture and de la Mode spent the early weeks of COVID-19 lockdowns mapping out how to marry the pomp and circumstance of a fashion show with the high-speed chill of the internet. The answer? Well, there isn’t one, really. As London Fashion Week Digital, a men’s and women’s combined week of online content, rolls out from today through June 14, followers will be offered everything from lookbooks of new spring 2021 collections to playlists curated by designers.

Burberry fall 2020 with show design by Villa Eugenie
Burberry fall 2020, with show design by Villa EugeniePhoto: 

On May 22, designer Anifa Mvuemba debuted the first virtual fashion show for her brand Hanifa, featuring 3D renderings of pleated minis and sinuous bias-cut dresses. The show was unlike anything fashion had seen before: No audience, no visible models, just fashion fully rendered in a rich virtual space.

Gayle Dizon, whose company Dizon produces shows for Proenza Schouler and Mansur Gavriel, is certain that new technologies like CGI, 3D design, image capture, and body mapping have potential to revolutionize what a fashion show looks like. “We’ve been exploring a lot of these new technologies that are all kind of rooted in gaming,” she says. “I’m excited about it because we can alleviate a lot of the issues that we face with live physical space,” she continues, citing venues and build-outs alongside the bustle of fashion week that makes scheduling, timing, and seating a major concern. “We’ve been trying to break the standard pattern of straight runway up and down for a while … Now, what I’ve been tasking my team with is: Let’s start ideating on our dream scenario. Where would you do a show if you had no constraints of time, space, or location?” Russo, for his part, says, “what is exciting for us isn’t specifically one alternative or another, but the exercise of mixing options in order to produce the right format for each project, for each client, according to their DNA and their needs … there will be no ready-made but only tailor-made options.”

Saint Laurent fall 2020 with show design by Bureau de Betak
Saint Laurent fall 2020, with show design by Bureau de BetakPhotographed by Corey Tenold 

The distinction de Betak makes is that while digital and physical must live in tandem, one cannot be a shorthand for the other—which is to say that “phygital” is probably not going to be the buzzword of the summer. Instead, de Betak suggests that physical fashion shows, which he anticipates could be produced with small in-person teams this year, can be amplified online through better live-streaming and social media capabilities. “I think the technology has increased in quality and in capacity so that you can have a better stream of a live experience,” he says, alluding to a more multimedia experience in lieu of a traditional multi-camera streaming set-up. “We have worked a lot on this, and we can do different access and [create different] content of a live experience. But it’s still a live creation that is being transmitted digitally.”

“Normally you make a show for the real experience of people, plus virtual,” echoes Thierry Dreyfus, whose company Eyesight with Comme des Garçons and Off-White on shows. “This tool of virtual is something that has been used by every brand and in every show the more and more we can.” Dreyfus cites the Off-White fall 2019 menswear show where models walked on green-screen flooring in some spaces, allowing for digital imagery to be mapped out on livestreams and later content, and a forest set in others. “The people in the room see one thing and the people on the web, at the same moment, see something else,” Dreyfus expounds. “So in this way virtual is a tool.” He continues: “Today, people are saying only virtual” shows, “but fashion is about experience. … We’ve seen life through screens: flat. No taste, no smell, no emotions. Screens, I insist [have] no emotion.”

OffWhite Men's fall 2019 with show design by Eyesight
Off-White Men’s fall 2019, with show design by EyesightPhoto: Getty Images 

“I think we’re all up to the challenge,” she continues. “It’s been a bit of a learning curve in trying to explain it to clients because I don’t have examples to show them of this that are done well, but we’ve identified some really strong vendors and talents that we can work with that come out of a very different industry. We are working together and seeing how we can get a little closer to real life and to the warmth and the emotion that we’re always trying to capture in one of our events.”

It might not happen for June or July shows, which seem to promise many small scale live events refracted into a digital space, or even September, but the idea of a poetic, virtual fashion space online does provide a thrilling challenge for the fashion industry. Science fiction and video games have long been a vehicle to build a utopia, hinging on the idea that beyond our physical realities we can build something better. Can virtual fashion do the same?


How fashion’s post-pandemic future could be digital

Per Götesson SS20 Prototype via Instagram (@kaffymcgee)

With the world on lockdown, a time when clothes are created, displayed and even ‘worn’ virtually may not be as far away as you think.

In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve all been forced to turn to the virtual world. Fed up of Instagram Live feeds, home workout videos and Houseparty? Tough! Temporary as our quarantine may be, its impact on our lives will last far beyond these next few weeks. For better or worse, self-isolation seems to have been the final push the nation needed to fully embrace life dependent on digital infrastructures. But what does that mean for fashion?

In a week where high street mainstay M&S revealed they cancelled £100m in clothing orders due to coronavirus, and Burberry are said to expect sales in the final weeks of the financial year to fall by 80%, prospects for IRL fashion retail look pretty bleak. It doesn’t take a genius to realise that few people are going to spend their quarantine copping new season Louis Vuitton. (If that’s your flex, though, go off I guess!) But the more distanced we become from our old social and consumer habits, the more likely it seems that our newfound digital dependency could switch up, perhaps even reset how we consume clothing.

Granted, there’s already a notable level of digital integration in our sartorial lives. Instagram statistics show that 95 million images are uploaded everyday, and that fashion dominates the proportion of accounts on the platform used to promote brands. And, as the current pandemic has shown, consumer habits are quickly and easily adaptable during periods of flux, with brands sold on Amazon reporting a 47% increase in sales in the latter half of March.

Per Götteson AW20. Photography Mitchell Sams


The shifts triggered by the crisis could also reinforce the viability for digital fashion — clothing rendered in computer-assisted design programmes either for prototyping purposes or to be ‘worn’ virtually (by avatars, or via augmented reality, for example) — in place of tangible garments. “I have seen a need for people to express a deeper sense of identity online since we’ve entered this new phase,” London-based designer Per Götesson says. “I think that after this, they will be more open to the idea of a digital wardrobe because of that.”

Such a shift would, of course, encourage a radical rethink in how designers approach their practice. There would be heavy emphasis on rendering images, as opposed to traditional pattern cutting, which could advance design beyond the capabilities of physical manufacturing. “I find the consumption of images very intriguing, as at this moment, designers can’t be tactile with prototypes. I’m thinking of all possibilities, including and outside of, virtual clothing design,” Per continues, suggesting that not only will this period shift our ways of consuming fashion, but that it will alter how we view clothing on the whole. It will bring about “opportunities to think outside of garment design,” which makes you wonder if, as we move into a society dependent on communicating through a screen, clothing might be made with digital occasions in mind. Could there be a space for both functional real-life clothing, and looks that are specifically designed for consumption through social media and webcam meetups?


In a revised digital space, our focus may shift past conventional dress. Per’s collaborator Kathy McGee, founder of 3D and digital-led design project Digitoile, talks of the digital space as an adjunct to physical craft, emphasising how it can facilitate complex design ideas and collaboration in different ways. “During this time of ‘social distancing’, present and post, we have an opportunity to review and reflect on design tools and their possibilities of use,” she proposes. “The impact should be challenging and lead us to ask why we’re making things and who they’re for?” It is key that designers like McGee are asking such questions, actively creating with a purpose in mind, rather than producing sellable products for the sake of it. Digital design makes for more considered choices, forming resolutions before physical manufacture. As Kathy explains, “perhaps in some cases, the product or idea needs only to be virtual, and should it exist physically, that perhaps it is bespoke in a way that’s distinctly different to the digital version.”

Perhaps the most convincing argument in favour of digital fashion is its sustainability credentials: in an age of rampant overconsumption, it allows us to consume fashion without contributing to the absurd number of garments, some 100 billion, produced annually. It’s reasoning like this that drove young designer Aaron Esh to incorporate digital design into his work. By first rendering his pieces digitally, he’s able to “reduce the fabric waste typical of multiple toiles, and finalise pieces in half the time.” It’s a sentiment Kathy echoes, noting that digital “offers another way of communicating ideas and vision,” even if its inability to replicate the tactility of IRL means that it’s unlikely to replace real garments.


Between the three designers, there’s a consensus that digital fashion serves as a welcome extension to the real, rather than its replacement. But what of other creatives likely to be affected by a fundamental crossover to pixel-based looks? A model might be worried that they could be replaced by virtual counterparts, like self-styled “digital supermodel” Shudu Gram, a black woman who is both not real and — to complicate things further — the creation of a white, male graphic designer named Cameron-James Wilson. Established designers, too, might be wary of a full digital shift, as it would require a retraining of their methods of design.


For digital fashion to take the lion’s share of the market, it could require a wave of young designers working exclusively with digital clothing to drive a shift in consumer habits. Karinna Nobbs, retail and marketing strategist, says that “although adoption of a digital attire is mainly viable in concept as opposed to practice, due to it being a niche and challenging sector, you are likely to see more brands experiment with new forms of dissemination, with many seeing digital fashion as a legitimate revenue stream.” She believes that “there will absolutely be individuals who choose to live entirely immersed in VR, and for them, digital fashion would be at least 80% of their fashion purchasing”. To some, this may seem quite a reach, but it actually isn’t as far fetched as you might think. Some 69% of the 250 million Fortnite players spend an average of $85 each on virtual matter. In 2019, a digitally-rendered bespoke dress by design house The Fabricant sold for $9500. There is an appetite for such products.

The current restrictions on everyday life are unprecedented, but much is likely to revert back to normal post-pandemic. That being said, with no solid end date to look forward to, there’s every chance that our lives might make a semi-permanent pivot to digital in the meantime. Give it a few weeks: the garments we once perused on The Sims and Fortnite might be making a shift into our own wardrobes in the “real world” too.





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