Big four organizers discuss the future of fashion weeks
Only a matter of months ago, few could have imagined that a hybrid format would be able to multiply the media impact of fashion week runway shows by six. And yet, according to data presented in the latest study from Launchmetrics, positive results are still possible in the context of the "new normal" ushered in by the Covid-19 pandemic. It's a question of quickly adapting and reacting in order to make the most of the situation.
Four people who know all about this are the leaders behind the "big four" fashion weeks: Pascal Morand, executive president of France's Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode (FHCM); Steven Kolb, CEO of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA); Carlo Capasa, president of the Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana (CNMI), and Caroline Rush, CEO of the British Fashion Council (BFC). Launchmetrics invited all four to take part in a special session at its first ever digital Performance Summit.
"Fashion week is a fantastic field for innovation. In the last year, we've experienced an incredible acceleration in aspects that would normally have taken ten years," said Morand in reference to the recent boost in Paris Fashion Week's digitalization efforts in response to the situation caused by the pandemic.
His Italian counterpart, Capasa, shares this sentiment. "It's been a marvelous experiment on which we have to continue working in the future. It's given ordinary people the opportunity to have access to fashion shows. We're opening up and democratizing," explained the president of the Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana, while also noting, with a somewhat bitter-sweet tone, that "fashion is made to be touched and felt. It's still difficult to mix the physical with the digital."
Similar opinions about new formats were voiced by Rush, who is optimistic about the future. "This period is allowing for greater freedom and creativity," said the CEO of the British Fashion Council in response to fashion journalist Jessica Michault, who moderated the conversation. Comparing these innovations to physical formats, she added, "digital fashion weeks have given brands greater creative freedom. Smaller businesses are concentrating on how to position themselves in order to construct a direct-to-consumer (D2C) business, as well as on the idea of greater inclusivity and sustainability in the fashion industry. I hope that these influences stay."
As for Kolb, he also expressed satisfaction with the first steps taken by New York Fashion Week in the era of hybrid shows. "We knew that the whole season would be a challenge and that we'd need to make decisions in real time," commented the CFDA CEO, citing the positive reactions from both the public and industry professionals. Ultimately though, he thinks that brands "have to do what's best for them," and still argues in favor of the important role of fashion weeks.
Flexibility, creativity and innovation are key for the future
"They are narratives in themselves, with their own cultural message. They are the place where professionals meet and they boost business in the sector, as well as the economy of the cities where they happen," affirmed Kolb, defending that fashion weeks will still happen in New York, even if, in parallel, the door could be opened for brands to present their collections at other times. "Obviously, the cost is a challenge. It's not the same for a brand owned by LVMH as for an independent American designer," acknowledged the CEO, concluding that "the question is how to maintain the framework of the fashion week, while also offering flexibility to different industry players."
For the event organizers, this process of adaptation could involve coed shows, like those hosted by Ralph Lauren and Michael Kors in New York. In Kolb's opinion, this format can allow designers to "tell the overarching story of the brand."
Capasa, on the other hand, argued that "Italy has a strong menswear industry which requires its runway shows to happen at a different time," while also pointing out that for some brands which present both men's and womenswear collections, "it is not possible to produce both at the same time." In light of this complex landscape of varied and specific needs, the president of the CNMI wants "to be flexible, maintaining separate seasons, but giving brands the possibility to organize themselves," presenting womenswear collections during men's fashion week, for example, or exploring "genderless" offerings.
All being well, Milan Fashion Week will therefore uphold its separate events in January and February. Morand also made the same commitment for Paris' dedicated menswear, womenswear and Haute Couture weeks, which will return with a hybrid format. "Digital presentations will never replace physical shows, but we're at the start of a process through which digitalization has enhanced creativity and the visual arts," commented the French executive president, emphasizing the importance of establishing collaborations and implementing a video platform with its own magazine, which functions as something which is "fun, useful for professionals and connected to the brands." As for the transition necessary for these initiatives, in Morand's opinion, the change is already happening. "We will continue to innovate and we won't return to the past," he concluded.
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