The Future of the Fashion Show

My take on what runways will look like in the “new normal”.

When I attended my first fashion show, Carlos Campos‘s Spring / Summer 2019 collection, I felt as though I was entering into a whole different universe. The show was part of The CFDA‘s New York Fashion Week Men’s Calendar, produced by INCA Productions, the company I was interning for. When the music started pumping, the room fell silent and I could feel the anticipation, as everyone was looking forward to Campos’s latest line of menswear. Once the models began gliding down the runway, the focus was pulled toward the perfectly tailored garments, some of my favorites in peach and vibrant yellow tones; half a year’s work packed into every beautiful piece.

A fashion show is a collective experience, everyone partaking in soaking up an intense, yet brief, five to ten minutes, where months of work and planning lead to what the future of fashion will look like. Having been an intern for three seasons of New York Fashion Week, I have seen, first hand, the amount of time, money, and effort that is required on behalf of both the brand and the fashion production company to put on a runway show with such precision- a few minutes of fashion perfection.

When I attended Alexander Wang‘s Spring / Summer 2020 show in Rockefeller Center last summer, I knew that the fashion industry was on the precipice of extreme change, albeit I had no idea it would happen so quickly. Alexander Wang had invited all of New York City to his public fashion show via social media and I knew I had to experience this show for myself. I flocked to the railing to see all of the names in fashion- yes I saw Anna Wintour with my own two eyeballs- both walk the illuminated catwalk as well as fill the show seats. This was Alexander Wang’s first fashion show open to the public and, what felt like, a huge innovation in the fashion world. Wang let everyone be a part of the experience and share in the excitement of his fashion show, previously offered to very few who make the VIP list. In just one night, I knew I witnessed fashion moving forward by leaps and bounds.

Undeniably, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused many challenges for the fashion industry. Stores have turned off their lights due to mandatory government closures and social distancing requirements. Unemployment numbers have made it so that people are spending less and saving more, as the future looks uncertain for many. The question of whether in-person fashion shows were happening was rapidly circulating at the beginning of the year. 

Would fashion houses be able to afford the expense? Would people be able to attend the event in person? If not, what would the presentation of a new collection look like?

Screen Shot 2020-09-09 at 9.56.03 PMBrands have been forced to make independent decisions on how they plan to present their collections, fragmenting a once cohesive industry. Many companies have forged ahead in planning digital and drive-in fashion shows, while others have decided to postpone their presentations altogether. Unlike many brands, Jacquemus decided to take the leap and hold their own in-person fashion show in a French wheat field with social distancing in place. Some brands, such as Off-White, have even taken this time to experiment with a see-now-buy-now opportunity in the future, where consumers can purchase clothes off the runway a month after they are presented. Now, if that doesn’t represent the “see it, need it, have to have it” consumer culture that permeates retail today I don’t know what does. 

Despite the obstacles that the fashion industry has faced, we have seen some unparalleled creativity in the presentation of collections. LOEWE‘s Collection in a Box, shown below, is one of my favorites, which features a curated set of tangible components that represent the brand’s latest collection as well as what the fashion show would have looked like in a paper mock up, had it happened. Celine‘s fashion show, taken via drone on the Circuit Paul Ricard motor racing track in the South of France, was also an inventive approach, which was featured on various social media outlets and on the brand’s website. While, Lanvin decided to use the beautiful and intricate Le Palais Idéal, near Lyon, as the backdrop of a short film and lookbook to feature their latest. Brands have learned how to leverage livestreams, digital marketing, film making, and much more to keep their brands alive and relevant. 

Yet, with a slew of fashion improvisations now over and done, there are clear reasons why in-person fashion shows just cannot be replaced exclusively with virtual presentations. A lot of the attention a brand receives is from having show guests dress in their latest collection and be photographed attending their fashion show. With virtually little to no attendance at the shows, less attention and press are gathered from these moments. With less influencers in attendance, there is also less organic sharing, posting, and videoing happening in the fashion world. During Copanhagen’s Fashion Week, for instance, popular brands like Ganni have taken major hits, earning $630,623 in earned media value between August 10th to 12th compared to $3,847,748 for the previous year and Saks Potts’s earned media value was $176,386, compared to last year’s $469,047. Another thing to consider is the over saturation of content on the internet and social media sites with every brand trying to compensate with virtual. When social media streams are being overwhelmed with content, it can be hard for certain brands to stick out and make their collections seen above the noise. 

So what does this mean for the future of the fashion show when conditions return to a “new normal”? In the future, I see fashion houses reverting back to in-person fashion shows, yet retaining their current digital efforts, creating hybrid-type events. There is no denying that brands get more reach when incorporating digital elements to their events. However, given that customer engagement, press releases, and personalized influencer marketing are so critical in the fashion world, the impact of in-person is hard to recreate online.

Additionally, now more than ever, I think we are seeing individuals craving unique and special experiences, which are hard to replicate with today’s digital technologies. That being said, brands should be more motivated to look into innovative technologies that help push the envelope of the consumer experience itself. We might not have the technology now to foster those unique experiences from home, but we might in the future. Obsess is one company that is helping retailers utilize virtual reality to allow customers to visit stores from their phones. Who knows if fashion shows are next in line for a virtual reality transformation in the future.  

Not only should time be spent around utilizing creative ideas to mitigate health concerns, but fashion brands should also be refocusing their efforts towards sustainability, given the incredible wastefulness regarding fashion production, as well as model representation on runways. With an increase in consumer exposure to brands, there will be a greater focus on company practices in both these realms, which have become increasingly important to, specifically, the Gen Z consumer. We have seen younger consumers prioritize supporting companies with a strong stance on sustainability and ecological preservation. Designer Gabriela Hearst‘s carbon neutral show, which appeared last year and was first in the industry, was a wake up call for everyone in fashion, showing that runway without a negative impact on the environment can be both beautiful and possible. This wave of shoppers and fashion influencers also take a strong stance towards companies who display a lack of body and racial representation, pushing brands to rethink who is walking down their runways. All things considered, fashion has a lot to think about for the future and should take this time to reflect on major changes occurring in the industry. 

Overall, the future of the fashion show may look uncertain now, but I anticipate not for too long. The fashion industry is an incredibly creative and flexible industry, which is often rewarded for out-of-the-box thinking, innovation, and boldness. The COVID-19 pandemic has allowed some of the traditional “rules of fashion” to fall away to make room for immense creativity and unconventional thinking. From curated fashion “boxes” to buy now opportunities, runway has reached an inflection point of new possibilities and will never again be the same. The future of the fashion show looks in-person, digital, TikTok live-streamed, sustainable, inclusive, a virtual reality experience, and everything in between. If fashion is able to leverage the same mindset it has in terms of design as it is to operations and strategy, the fashion shows of the future are something to definitely be excited about.