The Virus Forces the Fashion Industry to Rethink and Evolve

The current pandemic has torn a multibillion-dollar bite out of Europe’s fashion industry. Runway shows have stopped, and brands are forced to show their designs digitally instead.

Amid hopes to return to near-normality by the year’s end, this industry is asking what fashion will look like as it dusts itself off and struggles to its well-heeled feet again.

Some experts think the Fashion Week format (a trend since the 1940s) will be radically rethought. Others predict that Asia will consolidate its huge gains in influence and some predict brands will be seeking greater sustainability to court a younger clientele.

The luxury fashion segment in Europe has already rebounded but it’s only because it’s globalised, and only because of Asian buyers who are spending on European brands.

Asian buyers are still a largely untapped market, yet their wealth has recently tipped over that of Westerners. Prior to the pandemic, China, was already considered the worldwide engine of growth in the luxury industry. China was able to contain the virus quicker than other countries which left it in an even stronger position.

Some fashion critics expect money to come from the East in the next 50 years as it has been rather than from the West as seen in the last 50 years. This means that the overall fashion aesthetic could see trends leaning more towards Asian tastes.

In the last year there haven’t been any live runway shows as the virus tore across the globe from East to West. Runway shows that happened in the past year have morphed overnight from a live, in-person, sensory experience to a pre-taped digital display released online. Many predicted devastation for the industry, but most fashion houses have proved surprisingly resilient. This may be because the industry has been due for a shift.

Since social media has become increasingly popular over the years, brands have become much less reliant on traditional advertising outlets such as fashion magazines. Now, designers have built their own online channels, circumventing magazines, to get their designs out. Each brand is now a media entity unto itself.

Moreover, buyers are also moving online. Fashion houses have become much less dependent on traditional sales outlets such as department stores. Some houses have done even better than expected with the new digital format. Smaller and newer brands, in particular, have welcomed the break from staging runway shows which can be astronomically expensive (and normally don’t provide much return).

In this past year, many brands, including Balenciaga, Alexander McQueen and Bottega Veneta of the French luxury giant Kering tore up traditional calendars to show their new collections when it suited them — both creatively and financially. The advantage for these brands is to set dates on their own terms, with collections that don’t compete with others for attention at the same time and perhaps even do away with ‘seasons’. There are many nostalgic critics, buyers and consumers that of course argue that nothing can replace the physical runway experience.

Brands want to control their business more and have been deciding more and more when their optimal time to show is. Having said that, it is likely not the end of the glamorous Fashion Week which many are still awaiting.

The industry now feels a sense that brands must embrace sustainability in order to survive and especially to attract the young, more environmentally conscious consumer. One example of such eco-thinking is in reducing waste in collections as several luxury giants have been criticised in the past for burning unused or unsold luxury goods.

The runway show will most likely not be phased out anytime soon as many miss seeing clothes in real life and the moving, expressions of the models, the sound. That is the art.

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