What’s next for fashion shows?
What’s next for fashion shows?
It’s 2003. John Galliano presents his collection for Spring/Summer at the prestigious helm of Christian Dior. The show is packed with theatrics. Models, dancers and martial artistes enact the essence of Asian influence that explored John’s 3-day-trip to Japan and China. The show is filled with unconventional silhouettes, poppy colours and outrageous Pat McGrath makeup. The spectacle is marked as John’s best by both the critics and fashion snobs alike.
Fast forward to 2020, Maria Grazia Chiuri now controls the leashes of the Dior ateliers and is constantly engaged in pushing modern feminism to the forefront. The tribute to Judy Chicago feels appropriate in the current times and the clothes are now considered a medium to propagate that narrative to everyone for the Spring/Summer 2020 Haute couture collection.
While the two may seem quite different in their individual perspectives, the heart of these shows is an elaborate structure to catch the client’s eyes. Be it through outrageous clothing or political debate, fashion shows have always served a canvas for designers to paint their ideas and allow a collection of garments to define their aesthetics and ideals.
While they have increasingly become more consumer-centric, fashion shows are now being put under the microscope of modern culture. From their footprint on the climate to the rise of social media, experts are now questioning whether fashion shows hold relevance in today’s times.
The exact origin of fashion shows is unclear; however, a similar concept was popular in Paris where couturiers displayed their collections to the buyers. This idea was moderately successful until World War II when the luxury houses opened their doors to showcase expensive garments to a wider audience. Christian Dior was among the first to popularise the idea of fashion shows along with Cristobal Balenciaga and Pierre Balmain.
The audience early on was a niche set with the designers handpicking a bunch of clients who would be interested in buying haute couture in Paris. These shows were very exclusive and as the people attending these shows were the elites, naturally the press started following fashion shows. Also, a majority of couture clients were mostly middle-aged or elderly women, so a detour from the conventional design was frowned upon. Yves Saint Laurent was famously dragged in the press in 1958 when he tried to cater to a younger client base by incorporating youthful designs into the garments at Dior. But by then, fashion shows had already cemented themselves as the only medium of validation of garments. Soon, department stores and boutiques had started putting up their own versions to attract shoppers that were mostly women.
Fashion shows really blossomed into the now popular format in the late 50s and 60s. Press started making their entry on the spectator chairs as their coverage reached a level where it could make or break a designer’s career. Editors and clients were given equal importance as the fashion houses realised their influence over potential customers was indisputable.
Since then, fashion shows haven’t seen a change in format. Theatrics and technology have surely elevated fashion shows but the focus has shifted from garments to an advertorial celebration of marketing for brands. Also, the fashion week schedule has been scattered all over the year, whereas the majority of the industry follows two seasons, thus making it paradoxical to comprehend and adjust to their timeline.
A lot has changed after the glitz and glamour of fashion shows started to fade away with the advent of social media. Most of the supermodels reached their runway expiration date and slowly gave way to a new wave of responsible yet entitled influencers that became the ‘it’ people of the industry. Social media carved new pathways in terms of expanding fashion into the consumer’s world by allowing people to discover new brands that offered more than shallow marketing gimmicks. Most of such brands don’t opt for fashion shows because of financial limitations as well as due to the fact that e-commerce had grown so much that the consumers don’t need live models to display their garments. Thus, the only brands that still do fashion shows are premium and luxury brands that continue to influence fashion by trickling down fashion trends and leveraging history as a marketing technique instead of displaying craftsmanship.
Thus, one may argue that fashion shows are not needed from a marketing perspective. However, fashion shows, and in turn, fashion weeks provide a combined platform for commercial buyers to buy clothes and without them, the system would be even more chaotic than it is today. According to Forbes, a 10-15 minute show can cost anywhere from USD $200,000 to over USD $1 million in 2020. Adding to it, various expenses like air travel, stays and inbound transportation of not only the attendees but also props, technicians and other knick-knacks that make up the presentation. This creates an enormous environmental footprint that is produced by the already polluting fashion industry.
Alternatives over fashion shows have popped up in recent years. Brands like Karl Lagerfeld and Zuhair Murad made lookbooks instead of staging fashion shows for last season’s ready-to-wear collections. While this solution may not give a full idea of cuts, details and fabrics to the buyers, it does save a lot of money and resources. While saving money is a definite contributing factor, the rise of transparency and questions on sustainability are also worth considering the lookbook approach. It also opens up new avenues for brands to experiment with lookbooks. With the decline in fashion magazines, brands can themselves invest in editorial-style shoots for lookbooks while using the same images for advertorial content and e-commerce platforms the way Dior has already been doing by pushing the Dior magazine at various retail outlets. The magazine cum lookbook features editorial shoots by famous photographers and brand stories written by creative writers.
Another alternative would be to incorporate Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality technologies that can be used to display collections in real-time. While people in fashion industry will have to invest in such technologies, these will prove necessary, as such technologies are making their way into consumer experiences as well. The viewers will be able to see details like embellishments, fabrics and materials that will allow buyers to make better decisions. But looking at the current state, this option seems to be a little far-fetched.
Speaking of the current state, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought a serious blow for the entire world including the fashion industry. Fashion shows are postponed and it seems that many of them won’t be able to see the light of the day unless the pandemic comes to a halt. Even after that, brands will suffer for long as the retail supply chain will remain affected by a post-COVID-19 recession period that will follow. However, fashion shows will need some innovation in terms of timelines and formats to adapt to the modern culture. They won’t disappear in a single moment. Unless there are other immediately viable options, fashion shows will remain the way they are. After all, they do present inspiration and are the poster child of glamour for the entire world. To convert this pandemic situation into an opportunity, fashion shows will need to adapt to continue their existence as well as their legacy.