Fashion Week 2020 during COVID-19: What's different this year

What is the future of New York Fashion Week? Will it ever come back?
2020 Fashion Week calendar
Will in-person fashion shows ever come back?Mark Metcalfe / Getty Images
/ Source: TMRW

Fashion Week is an exciting time in the cities of New York, Paris and Milan. Locals can expect to see celebrities and style stars traipsing the streets in daring looks, Instagram’s feeds flooded with gorgeous new work from fashion designers and Vogue’s glossy pages and digital platforms showing what’s in and out for the next season. But in light of COVID-19, designers are being forced to reimagine the grand spectacle that is fashion week, and instead are scrambling to find innovative ways to get their product to consumers.

While NYFW is still scheduled for Sept. 13-16, the schedule for PFW has yet to be announced, an unprecedented delay for the FHCM, and MFW has only strung together a tentative schedule. Designers this summer presented digital lookbooks for haute couture, many with the hopes of having an in-person showing for Spring/Summer 2021, but with recent spikes of COVID-19 cases in Paris and across the U.S., this may not be the case. Yves Saint Laurent, Pyer Moss, Gucci, Alexander Wang, Giorgio Armani and Marc Jabobs announced they won’t be showing in September.

A model in a face mask prepares backstage during China Fashion Week 2020/2021 A/W Collection on May 6in Beijing. Yanshan Zhang / Getty Images

In our new socially distant world, fashion brands need to reimagine how to present SS21 collections (and even beyond) without a live audience for the foreseeable future. However, COVID-19 isn’t the only reason brands have been considering cutting back with runway shows in recent years; budget has been a large concern among many fashion houses.

“Brands like Chanel have no problem spending €4-5 million on renting out the Grand Palais for fashion week, but for smaller brands, these large presentations aren’t as doable,” said Madeleine Czigler, journalist and professor at the American University of Paris. Some brands have even seen more success by streaming their shows. Earlier this year, Giorgio Armani streamed their Autumn/Winter 2020 presentation in an empty theater, amassing a record viewership of 90,000. Streaming has brought up a new question for many brands: “If we can reach a larger audience for less, why are we spending hundreds of thousands to even millions for these spectacles?”

Brand voice is also a large part of what has been changing in the fashion industry in recent years. With a new generation of consumers who are more ethically savvy and pride themselves on cultural and environmental activism, brands need to be more strategic and thoughtful than ever in planning campaigns and shows. Some of the gatekeeping aspects of fashion were abolished with the introduction of social media when influencers began gracing the front row of fashion week. But in our present day of social media, brands need to learn how to strike the right balance with influencers and the brand’s own messaging to resonate with clients. In a COVID-19 world, brands are looking for innovative ways to bring the product to consumers, and one way they can achieve that is by streaming their shows.

On the B2B side of fashion, companies like NuORDER, an e-commerce, wholesale platform for brands to sell to buyers, have seen exponential growth. With a new reliance on online platforms, NuORDER found a much desired niche with its 3D and video features to supplement the hands-on experience. “This digital shift should have been happening 10 years ago, considering the massive carbon footprint of flying people around the world six times a year and renting huge venues, but COVID-19 has forced brands to rethink how they package their product by using the technologies available,” said Heath Wells, co-founder and co-CEO of NuORDER. “I think we’ll see that the old way of presenting clothes won’t disappear, but brands will certainly continue to utilize the technologies that are readily available.”

Guests were socially distanced at the Jacquemus Spring/Summer 2021 show on July 16 in Paris.Pascal Le Segretain / Getty Images

In hopes of observing social distancing measures, some brands may revert back to focusing on their own presentations instead of adhering to a predetermined calendar. “In some ways we’re going back to the historical perspective. Spectacles only became a big deal at the end of the 1980s with Versace, Jean Paul Gaultier and Mugler," Czigler said. "Originally, the seasonal presentations were determined by fashion houses rather than the governing fashion bodies we have today.”

In the past decade, many brands have seen success by using the “clothing drop” method of releases and creating a limited supply of a product, which gives it a "rarity" factor. Dior recently experimented with this concept with the release of their Air Jordan 1 X Dior capsule collection. The marketing for this product was predominantly online due to COVID-19, but it still saw great success.

Although brands are significantly reducing carbon footprints and ultimately saving a lot of money by shifting to digital presentations, there is also the issue of bridging the gap of seeing the clothes in person. Fashion week has often been romanticized by the aspect of human connection and visualization. Fashion shows were designed to present how the clothes look and fit to journalists and potential buyers, which can be lost on a digital platform: especially for clothing with a high price point.

“Fashion shows were designed for people to see the clothes moving, see the fairy tale that brings on the story designed by the brand," Czigler added. "Digital is still searching for a way to make up for that 3D dimensionality.”