Air kissing hasn’t been more appropriate at this season’s shows. The impact of the COVID2019 has been very well documented in the past weeks. During Paris Fashion Week, the global stocks tumbled as it did in 2008, creating a level of uncertainty that was not on records since 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York.
The broader fashion industry has not been spared. Supply chains are under duress due to factories temporary closures, retail is consequently suffering also due to travel restrictions. Only the Italian fashion system accounts for 40% of Europe’s textile industry, according to a study commissioned by Intesa Sanpaolo, one of Italy’s largest banks. With that in mind, one can fathom the consequences of the state of affairs.
The W.H.O. (World Health Organisation) is close to declaring a world pandemic as countries around the globe are racing to put in place measures to contain the spreading of the virus. Editors and buyers alike have deserted fashion week.
New York and London have witnessed a lower attendance of press and buyers. Caroline Rush, chief executive of the British Fashion Council, acknowledged the issue. “As expected, there was a lower than usual attendance at London Fashion Week of Chinese visitors this season.”
Milan, took a more direct hit, with fashion shows held behind closed doors while large area right outside the city was quarantined and an uncertain number of absentees.
Some of Paris’ major attractions like the Louvre were closed during Paris Fashion Week, while the French government banned public gatherings larger than 5000 people. According to estimates by FHCM,( Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode) Paris saw a decrease in presences at around 30%, instead of the usual 5000 participants, as only 3500 made it to the shows.
Organisers across the fashion capitals also raced to consolidate partnerships with leading online platforms to create practical solutions to keep the absentees in the loop, making shows, press material and imagery instantly available via Weibo, Wechat. CNMI (Camera Nazionale Della Moda) launched on the 18th of February ‘China We Are With You”, an initiative that broadcasted 29 shows to over 16 millions of insiders in China.
The consequences of COVID-19 are also affecting events worldwide. Shanghai Fashion Week has been postponed, along with several other significant events like Chanel’s Métiers d’Art show in Beijing scheduled for May. Many other events have been cancelled or postponed.
The fashion industry, always heralding positivity, had to bow to the unpredictability of a global crisis. In recent years, social media has worked as a single echo chamber for fashion week, altering its D.N.A. forever, amplifying its reach beyond insiders. What used to be a prominent trade fair, only open to editors and buyers, is now a major global event that includes a colourful plethora of leading figures who run blogs, vlogs, Instagram’s feeds and so on, all of them actively contributing to generate a global noise.
Before social media, fashion week has been a delicate ecosystem, ruled by a strict protocol that would rival Buckingham Palace’s. The noise generated by the new-social-comers, who at times seemed oblivious of established rules, the fact that fashion shows are now available live on many platforms including ours, enlarged audiences that do not necessarily follow fashion but are more interested in celebrities culture, has upset the de facto order. As a result, we have witnessed a vivid debate on the validity of fashion week in its current format. Not much came of it.
The sudden impact of the coronavirus has muffled that social media noise, so typical of the previous editions of fashion week. Giorgio Armani held his show behind closed doors, possibly the ultimate dichotomy for a fashion house, showing without an audience. An extreme measure that might be crucial in the rethinking of fashion week. What now matters for brands to measure the effectiveness of their investments is the level of media engagement generated by events. The impact on media across channels is the guiding light that governs the communication departments of leading brands.
The concept of an elaborated fashion show starts to feel obsolete because of its relative impact in the broader public, and especially in this instance, further diminished by external and uncontrollable factors. The intricated production of a runway is good till the next one comes up, and its costs are averaging several million. The rapid increase of shows for pre-collection and cruise collections, along with couture, has only exacerbated the issue. This notion seems nowadays strident with the message if uniqueness that each brand is so eager to portray.
One could argue that l’union fait la force though. The solution could be found in opening a frank conversation on the validity of the community against the commercial goals of each brand, the necessity to shine for more than the timespan of a show without forgoing the creativity that is still central to deliver profitability.
Baselworld, the leading watch and jewellery trade show has now been postponed till early next year. This is another cue for a trade fair system that is suffering due to digitalisation, among many other factors. According to data issued by the fair, approximately 850 exhibitors have left Baselworld, these past two years. It is clear that a more robust pattern to make fashion week and other trade events more virtual, is forming and it should be more evident than reforming now would be more suitable than when the system might grind to a halt.
Although Corona virus affected this seasons’ shows, maybe it was about the time to create a promising opening point for a discussion on the regeneration of the whole concept. The system has been shaken and disrupted, and brands should take the chance for a more fluid approach to shows, not necessarily relegated to a specific period of the year, that will enhance visibility and brand’s message without clashing in the cacophony of an old format.