How has the Pandemic Affected the Fashion Industry?
The post-pandemic evolution of London Fashion Week
From low-tech shoots on iPhones to avatar catwalks, the pandemic has forced a digital revolution in how designers are showcasing new collections. But in more detail, How has the Pandemic affected the Fashion Industry?
In June last year, the British Fashion Council made history when it became the first of the global Fashion Weeks to go digital. While the seasons have changed, our battle with Covid-19 continues, and as London gears up for a fresh round of shows in February, under the cloud of a second national lockdown, the phrase “digital first” remains at the forefront of all 2021 show communications.
In light of dwindling international travel, factory closures, shifting consumer buying habits and social distancing, the fashion industry has had – to use a 2020 buzz word and an essential supermodel skill – pivot. Though the pandemic has caused chaos in the fashion world, there have been some fascinating innovations to emerge in the past year.
Some locked-down fashion houses opted for low-fi solutions to showcasing new collections. Paloma Wool asked friends and customers to submit clips of themselves wearing its new lines, with no direction specified, and mashed them into a three-minute video it called a “virtual runway”. Moschino managed to conjure the whimsy and magical escapism of its traditional runway shows by using 30-inch-tall puppets in place of models, dressed in miniature replicas of Moschino’s new collection. The wooden figures sashayed down the runway in a beautiful set, complete with a front row filled with 14 gesturing and scribbling marionette guests based on real fashion editors.
Others went high tech. Helsinki Fashion Week created an entire digital world in August, within which brands, including London-based fashion designer Patrick McDowell, debuted collections on avatars that struted through fantastical virtual scenes. The effect was more computer game than fashion show, but the essence of the collections shone through. The digital revolution went further at Helsinki, with viewers invited to try on the clothes virtually using their own avatars within a specially created Digital Village, and then pre-order collections (all fully traceable via blockchain) using a special digital currency exclusive to the Village.
In London, the major change – other than the lack of physical events – was that gender got dropped. What would have been Men’s Fashion Week in June became gender fluid, and the freshly titled follow up London Fashion Week Digital in September followed suit. The time lag between runway shows and clothes hitting the shops also tightened, with a move to ‘see now, buy now’ collections, and of course the usual explosion of parties, talks, shows and exhibitions were replaced by Zooms, Instagram Lives, socially distanced performance art, short films (some shot on phones) and good-old-fashioned lookbooks.
Once again a genderless affair, the next London Fashion Week will take place from February 19th to 23rd, 2021. The confirmed line up includes some exciting names, such as Erdem, Emilia Wickstead, Temperley London and Molly Goddard. Full details of showcases are always a tightly guarded secret, but expect to see some digital innovation as well as perhaps some more thoughtful collections that reflect the post-pandemic mood.
The main vector of that mood is that fashion – though rocked by the death of the traditional Fashion Week – is also radiating a sense of relief. With show schedules getting out of hand – Gucci has used the pandemic as an excuse to drop its previous five shows a year down to a more sensible two – and a backlash against overt consumerism fuelled by constant newness, the over-cranked fashion industry is slowing down. Digital innovations have also allowed the Weeks to become more inclusive. These have both levelled the playing field somewhat for smaller designers or those from ethnically diverse backgrounds, as well as opening up the spectacle to a wider digital audience, not just a fiercely fought-over front row.
As with most trends to emerge in the past year, this shift towards a more sustainable and inclusive future in fashion was always on the cards, but Covid has accelerated its arrival, which is no bad thing.