September is a vital month in the fashion industry’s annual calendar. Marking the unveiling of the latest collections from esteemed designers for the Spring/Summer season ahead, it usually consists of an intensive four weeks of star-studded events, showcases and runways for an exclusive audience. Taking place across the global fashion capitals of the world, namely New York, London, Paris and Milan, the event is repeated the following February when the industry showcases its Autumn/Winter collection.
Fashion Industry Under Fire
“I feel very strongly that when we come out at the other end,
people’s values are really going to have shifted.”
Dame Anna Wintour
Over recent years, the fashion industry cycle has come under increasing criticism from leading industry figures. Dianne von Furstenberg, one of the industry’s more outspoken figures, has long claimed that “the system is broken”. The problem is that increased internet usage, online shopping, and social media have all disrupted consumer consumption patterns, meaning the traditional industry calendar is now increasingly out of sync with their demands.
Out of Sync With Consumer Demand
The product cycle now has a much faster turnaround, with consumers wanting to click and purchase the products they see online immediately. With the collections showcased on runways not immediately available in-store (the shows are primarily intended for industry buyers to generate retail orders), consumers can only purchase the collections when they become widely available several months later. By this time, the buzz generated by the fashion show has died down, which also makes it problematic for brand marketing.
Simultaneously, one needs to consider the practicality of showcasing spring and summer collections when consumers are shopping for winter clothes. Furthermore, showcasing the collections so far in advance of their availability allows other brands to capitalise on the trends, having the ability to bring products to market faster, including counterfeit brands.
Fashion Industry Recommendations
In light of the challenges of the cycle, together with the Boston Consulting Group, Chairman of the CFDA, Diane Von Furstenberg, conducted research back in 2016 into transforming the traditional fashion industry calendar of events. Key findings included the obvious decision to bring the fashion shows in line with the shopping season, hosting spring/summer collections at the start of the year, and the autumn/winter collections toward the end of summer. This gave the additional option of launching capsule ranges in line with the runway shows, enabling brands to leverage the buzz around their collections, while giving consumers immediate access to buy.
Current State Of Play
Fast forward to 2020, and many of these recommendations have yet to fully materialise, with the annual fashion calendar remaining largely unchanged. Some larger fashion houses, however, are starting to move away from upholding the rigid schedule. The coronavirus pandemic has, in many respects, facilitated this trend. As the cancellation of events become the norm with the spread of the virus, fashion houses have been required to rethink their approach to unveiling their spring/summer collections. In many respects, this may provide industry players with the critical opportunity they need to make the long-overdue changes, for which many have been calling.
A Different Approach
While some fashion houses have chosen to go ahead with their new launches, claiming their support for industry-workers who have struggled to find employment in light of the pandemic, many others are choosing to break from the traditional model. Embracing the shift away from having to host a physical show, an increasing number of brands are going digital. In doing so, the fashion show becomes a brand-marketing exercise and as such, more of a consumer, rather than an industry-facing event. In a sense, it serves to democratise fashion, providing greater accessibility, in real-time, to all.
What To Expect From Future Fashion Shows?
With all that being said, how will changing industry attitudes toward seasonal runways impact consumers? Greater accessibility aside, the following are the most likely trends we will see in the very near, if not immediate future.
Multi-Channel Digital Portals
Enabling brands, designers and industry professionals to connect with buyers, media, influencers and consumers, Microsoft and Accenture together with fashion brand Camera Nazionale Della Moda Italiana’s (CNMI) launched a digital platform as part of Milan Digital Fashion Week. Offering a multi-channel experience, the platform enables chats, video conferences, bots, holograms and completely virtual spaces. The platform consists of three layers: Primarily, it is a content hub to live stream fashion shows, runways, roundtables and other industry events. Secondly, it offers a virtual showroom and digital catalogue, alongside dedicated support for making orders. Finally, it offers the ability to access data-drive insights from across the platform that brands can utilise.
Helsinki Fashion Week, meanwhile, hosted its ‘Digital Village’, featuring digital-only collections. In a similar move, the online space allowed viewers to pre-order garments, and claim a limited-edition digital garment, which can be used by individuals to ‘dress’ their pictures. These initiatives bring the reality of all-virtual fashion weeks one step closer, and moreover, allow the consumer to enter part of the brand journey previously inaccessible to them, creating more touchpoints between the two.
Immersive Fashion Shows
Imagine 3D avatars wearing holographs on a virtual runway, accessible by live-stream and offering viewers a wholly interactive fashion experience. While it might sound overly futuristic, the technology is already here and has already been trialed by designers. Congolese designer Anifa Mvuemba, whose fanbase includes Cardi B, did just this, showcasing her latest collection digitally in 3D, using virtual models. Virtual headsets are adding a further element to the immersive experience. Recently released headset models allow users to now use their hands in place of controllers, further blurring the line between reality and virtual reality. Many of these technologies are being extended to the user shopping experience, but in the meantime are enabling a new kind of fashion show – one that can allow consumers to engage, in real-time, with fashion brands and their products.
A Shift Away From Short-Lived, Seasonal Trends
Technology aside, the impracticality of new season launch timings, combined with a growing interest from sustainability-focused consumers who are moving away from short-lived fashion cycles, are impacting upon how brands design their collections. With an increasing number of seasonless collections, labels are shifting away from trends and instead embracing their brand essence, moving toward considerations of longevity. As the market becomes increasingly saturated and consumers contemplate their purchases to a greater degree, brands are creating pieces that appeal season after season.
With fashion shows kicking off while the coronavirus pandemic continues, this month will see a mixed landscape of virtual and digital fashion shows taking place globally. What will be interesting to see is how brands respond to the change, and if we will see the entire industry move in one direction, or individual brands forging their path, creating a mix-match of industry trends come next February. In the meantime, get ready to enjoy the upcoming digital showcases from brands in the four big fashion capitals.
Happy watching! Fashion Week Spring/Summer2020 is just around the corner.