PARIS (AP) – The pandemic has ripped a billion dollar bite out of the fabric of the European fashion industry, halting runway shows and forcing brands to show their designs digitally instead.
Hoping to get back to normal by the end of the year, the industry is now wondering what fashion will look like when it dusts itself off and gets back on its feet.
The answers vary. Some think the Fashion Week format, in use since the 1940s, is being radically reworked. Others believe Asia will consolidate its huge gains in influence. Many see brands striving for more sustainability in order to appeal to younger customers.
“The impact of the pandemic will undoubtedly increase the importance and influence of Asia on fashion,” said Gildas Minvielle, an economist at the Institut Francais de la Mode in Paris.
“Luxury in Europe has already recovered, but only because it’s globalized, just because of Asian buyers,” said Minvielle. “You spent on European brands.”
Asian buyers are still considered a largely untapped market, but their fortunes have recently fallen below that of Westerners. China in particular was seen as a global growth engine in the luxury industry even before the pandemic. By containing the virus faster, it remains in an even stronger position.
“Money will come from the east for the next 50 years as it has been from the west for the last 50 years,” said Long Nguyen, chief fashion critic for The Impression.
This could reveal a designer aesthetic that is more in line with Chinese tastes.
Another trend that has intensified during the pandemic is the decision to forego the breakneck pace of runway calendar shows.
As the virus raced across the globe from east to west, they transformed overnight from a personal live sensory experience to a digital display recorded online. Many predicted devastation for industry, but homes have proven surprisingly resilient. This is because the system was already one shift overdue.
With the advent of social media, brands are much less reliant on traditional advertising media such as fashion magazines. Now they are creating their own online channels and bypassing the scrap pictures to get their designs out.
“Each brand is a media entity in itself,” said Nguyen, describing the way the industry works as “obsolete.”
As shoppers go online themselves, homes are necessarily much less dependent on traditional outlets such as department stores.
Some houses have done better than expected with the new digital format. Smaller brands in particular have welcomed the interruption of staging runway shows, which can be astronomically expensive – for relatively little returns.
Parisian couture designer Julien Fournie said the virus made him wonder if fashion shows were really necessary.
Many viruses, including Balenciaga, Alexander McQueen and Bottega Veneta from French luxury giant Kering, have ripped open the traditional calendar to show their new collections when it suits them – both creatively and financially. Saint Laurent started the trend last year and made headlines when it exited Paris Fashion Week to “take control of his pace”.
The advantage of these brands is that the dates are set on their own terms and the collections do not compete with others for attention at the same time. Still, many nostalgic critics, buyers, and consumers argue that nothing can replace the physical runway experience.
“Brands have increasingly decided when their best time to showcase is … They want more control of their business and that’s their right,” said Pascal Morand, Executive President of the Paris Fashion Federation.
“But this is not the end of Fashion Week. No matter what people say, they are all waiting to get back on the runway and get back to the physical experience. “
Stella McCartney, who unveiled her fall collection off-schedule last month, said the industry was seriously questioning the relevance of seasons “even before COVID” as unfortunately climate change has made it clear how absurd it is.
“There was a moment when the lockdown began – there were no planes in the sky, you could hear birds,” McCartney said. “Everyone was talking about nature taking back its rightful place,” she added, expressing frustration with the industry’s lifestyle, which requires thousands of miles of travel each year.
McCartney said there is an industry feeling that brands have sustainability “to survive,” especially to attract the young, greener consumer.
An example of such ecological thinking is reducing waste in collections. Luxury giants have been criticized in the past for burning unused or unsold luxury goods.
And McCartney doesn’t seem to believe that this will be the end of the runway show either.
“I don’t think we’re going to throw where we are today and I don’t think we’re going to be fired from where we were yesterday,” she said. “It took a while, but I miss the energy at the end of the show, the engagement with my community, I miss seeing clothes in real life and moving, the expression of the models, the sound. That is the art. “
Adamson reported from Leeds, England.