We’re not even halfway through 2020, yet already, a slew of fashion weeks around the world have been canceled or presented in a totally new way, ranging from Moscow to Tokyo and even London.
Fashion weeks around the globe are one of the biggest reasons the fashion industry travels—with photographers, writers, models, buyers, makeup artists, and more flocking to specific cities multiple times a year. In fact, during the main ready-to-wear calendar, many fashion insiders spend a month traveling to New York, London, Milan, and Paris to see the shows. But now, because of the global pandemic, it’s all changing.
Interestingly, both Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Moscow (April 2020) and Rakuten Fashion Week Tokyo (March 2020) decided to present everything virtually, staging presentations and runway shows using their usual teams without the audience and either livestreaming each show or creating some sort of social media content out of it. Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Moscow, for example, posted shows and lectures to TikTok and reported over half a million views, which is arguably more visibility than if they would have gotten at a traditional fashion week.
But what does it all mean? The global pandemic is clearly changing fashion week as we know it, and maybe for the better. Many industry insiders have been calling for a seismic change for years—fashion week as we know it is costly, time-consuming, and not sustainable—and this could finally be it.
In addition to the local fashion weeks that have already been postponed or transformed into digital events, larger fashion weeks that are set to happen in the summer of 2020 and beyond have been affected. The British Fashion Council recently announced a new version of London Fashion Week scheduled for June 12 to June 14, 2020 (previously the dates of London Fashion Week Men’s). The brand new initiative will see women’s and men’s London fashion labels creating digital content on londonfashionweek.co.uk instead of showing at physical shows.
“Designers will be able to share their stories, and for those that have them, their collections, with a wider global community; we hope that as well as personal perspectives on this difficult time, there will be inspiration in bucket-loads. It is what British fashion is known for,” said Caroline Rush, the chief executive of the British Fashion Council in a release.
Perhaps one of the biggest fashion events of summer 2020, though, is Paris Fashion Week men’s and Couture Week. Traditionally occurring in June and July, both fashion weeks bring forward some of the most established fashion houses such as Chanel, Dior, Valentino, et al. The Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode (the governing body which presides over French fashion) also announced that the two fashion weeks will go digital with videos, editorial content, and more on a dedicated platform.
“Given the recent cancellation of Haute Couture Fashion Week, which was absolutely the right thing to do, we have had to shift our thinking and pivot our approach,” Tamara Ralph, of the British label Ralph and Russo, which typically shows on the official Haute Couture calendar in Paris, tells Departures. “We will be planning a digital activation to unveil our Autumn-Winter 2020/2021 couture collection, which is a very new direction not only for us as a brand but also for couture as a category.”
Likewise, Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana announced that Milan Fashion Week Men's would be shifting to a digital-only format. While it may sound like the fashion show as we know it is entirely over, that isn’t exactly the case.
Fashion shows are simply transforming to become more democratic, putting industry insiders on the same level as consumers. Some industry insiders are even arguing that a shift like this could be beneficial to designers, retail, and everyone in the industry. “The transition from physical to digital has challenged most businesses,” explains Alan McKeon, CEO of Alexander Babbage research and data company. “In retail, Nordstrom’s investment in omni-channel was defined by consumer demand–what she wants, where she wants to buy it, how she wants to purchase–and has propelled them to be the category winner, while stalwarts including Neiman Marcus have gone bankrupt. Fashion week’s transition to a digital environment will be a similar catalyst. Expanding access for an exclusive event to a wide audience is transformative for the innovator.”
Still, other fashion weeks around the world are taking the opportunity of cancelled fashion weeks to get creative and showcase their local talent in innovative ways. Take, for example, Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Tbilisi. Known as one of the top emerging destinations for rising fashion talent, the fall iteration of their fashion week usually takes place in May. Rather than host the event as usual or turn it into a digital event, Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Tbilisi has instead put forward a plan for a new cultural fashion hub, where fashion week will take place, once it’s safe to do so. The new multidisciplinary hub for designers, artists, photographers, and professionals of various creative crafts emcompasses nearly 100,000 square feet and stands as the former Coca-Cola factory in Tbilisi.
“For us, Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Tbilisi, physical presence is very important,” says Sofia Tchkonia, founder and creative director of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Tbilisi.
“Not many people know about Tbilisi and fashion in Georgia and of course, when international guests come, they meet designers personally, get to know the city, Georgian culture, and understand our fashion. It is the form of cultural exchange. It’s always been interesting for international guests to come to Georgia because they would have never normally come and fashion is the best way to introduce the country.”
Other fashion weeks around the world, which have become hubs for finding talent, like Ukrainian Fashion Week, are also making plans that don’t rely strictly on digital content. “Ukrainian Fashion Week dubbed the upcoming season, ‘NO SEASON season,’ which will take place August 31 to September 4, 2020 and will serve as a platform for designers to present collections in a variety of formats, using both traditional and digital means. Designers will show both new season collections as well as collections that were not shown last season but remain relevant and can be sold now.
“The world is changing. But change does not mean destruction and chaos. We believe that Ukrainian Fashion Week should definitely exist. Fashion industry experts have been saying for several seasons already that the format of Fashion Weeks is outdated, and the global crisis has further emphasized the need for transformations in all aspects of the fashion industry,” explains Iryna Danylevska, founder and chair of the organizing committee of Ukrainian Fashion Week. Among our most important missions in recent seasons have been sustainability and promotion of young designers. The current crisis has only increased the importance of these focus areas. While young talented designers need support more than ever, UFW can offer it by providing them with special conditions for participation in Fashion Week. They need to understand that their country needs them, not to immigrate to other nations.”
Back in New York, very few designers have announced their plans for the upcoming season that usually happens in September. Emerging label Pyer Moss recently said that the brand would create a drive-in to showcase a feature-length film called American, Also which documents the inner workings of his brand.
One thing is for certain: brands around the world are getting more creative with fashion show formats, while still putting an emphasis on their unique cultural perspective. “People who travel around to major fashion events around the world, want to see something diﬀerent from us. Tbilisi is not a typical fashion week, it’s more about cultural exchange and presenting young designers, talented artists, and photographers,” adds Tchkonia. “We’ve got a lot to show, not just fashion.”