Representing the creative future

Fashion Week shouldn’t exist in 2025

As systemic flaws are laid bare by Covid-19 and technology unlocks new worlds, Steve Salter argues that shows and schedules will soon be radically reimagined.

“Now more than ever, we have to reimagine, to change,” read the opening line of Burberry’s spring/summer 2021 show announcement. The global fashion factory is not only beginning to whir once more following its pandemic pause but as it recalibrates to the new normal, fashion’s future systems will be shaped. From bedroom-based design daydreamers to billions-in-the-bank conglomerates, the effects of Covid-19 have forced a root-and-branch rethink of how fashion operates. It was long overdue.

For now, the breadth of reimagination and change appears far more restrained than the revolutionary rhetoric used in press materials and subsequent op-eds. The frequently asked question around fashion week alternatives has been: can a digital equivalent, watched from your sofa, ever be the same? The answer – now and forever – is no. Why should it be the same? Why would we even want it to be the same?

 

FASHION WEEK, THEN AND NOW

In wider history – yet still little longer than the lifetime of fashion’s bobbed overlord Anna Wintour – fashion weeks have shape-shifted from languidly paced intimate sessions for the-less-than-1% of couture clients into high-budget, ever-accelerating spectacles pushing product to insatiable mass consumers.

Today, most fashion shows last less than 15 minutes, and while they have the power to transport an audience to another world in a blink-and-you-miss-it moment, the purpose of hosting high-budget spectacles is far less clear, with the lines between sales, art, branding, acclaim increasingly blurred.

“We were due, and were already in need of, another shift before COVID-19, but now it’s been forced,” experiential show producer Sara Blonstein says over Skype. While producing luxury experiences for more than 30 years, constantly tweaking show formats to reflect the socio‐political, economic, and cultural shifts of the moment, she has established

Blonstein as the main production company for the BFC.

COVID-19 should be a cultural, social, and economic watershed. “This isn’t just a tragic event or recession, this is a fundamental break in all sorts of aspects of culture and society,” Matthew Drinkwater, Head of the Fashion Innovation Agency (FIA) at the London College of Fashion, explains over Zoom. While the pandemic and the climate crisis are exacerbating pre-existing inefficiencies throughout fashion design, manufacturing, and supply chains, the flaws around fashion weeks have long been apparent.

While certain editors and stylists have long grumbled amongst themselves about busy show schedules, buyers profess the power of showrooms over the show, the odd designer has sporadically followed their own path, and critic voices have grown louder on the unconscionable environmental footprint of this travelling tradeshow, it’s taken a global pandemic for us all to stop and look at the flaws for what they are. Yet, it seems that once the coronavirus concedes, fashion’s approach will be far from radical.

“It’s time to free ourselves from the thinking that the old way is the only way” – Sara Blonstein

Blonstein only recently began to realise the potential of digital to elevate the experience of a show after seeing Marine Serre’s Radiation film. The producer quickly teamed up with the LA-based experimental multi-disciplinary studio Actual Objects, which collaborated with Serre to create the brand’s dystopian autumn/winter 19 habitat. “It’s time to free ourselves from the thinking that the old way is the only way,” Blonstein says.

Similarly, Alexandre de Betak, founder of Bureau Betak, the production agency behind shows and events across Paris, New York and beyond, declared in a recent interview that the time to reimagine the “very old machine” of fashion weeks was now. When the producers themselves are calling for change, recent announcements suggest that the big houses aren’t listening. According to a statement issued by Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode on June 23rd, Paris Fashion Week will return in September for the women’s spring/summer 2021 shows.

“Nothing carries emotion like a real, live fashion show,” Pietro Beccari, president and chief executive officer of Christian Dior Couture, said during a Zoom-powered press conference earlier this month. The LVMH-owned megabrand detailed plans for a one-off audience-less Cruise show in July but promised to return to the traditional fashion calendar in September.

“The next few fashion seasons will spark a period of forced adoption, forced experimentation, and forced technological acceleration, because this is a time when everyone either has to try everything online or just not do it” – Matthew Drinkwater

For the foreseeable future, at least, fashion week will continue to straddle time and opportunity with one Tabi-toed foot in the familiar world and the other in tomorrow’s possibility. Led by Burberry this September, we will see fashion weeks that take place in the physical world – with the IRL experience elevated by digital opportunities – while any experience will be streamed for mass and global consumption.

“The next few fashion seasons will spark a period of forced adoption, forced experimentation, and forced technological acceleration, because this is a time when everyone either has to try everything online or just not do it,” Drinkwater agrees. “Over the coming eighteen months we’ll see what will work and what won’t, but the real opportunity to push beyond what we already know will not be seized.”

 

FASHION WEEK 2020-2024

Since its inception in 2014, the FIA have been experts in working with emerging technologies, like wearable technology, AR and VR, to help designers and brands change the way they make, sell or show their collections. The team is also working on major developments within nanotechnology, IoT, and robotics. But wider adoption has been stifled by a lack of knowledge and understanding, says Drinkwater. “We only have to look to the beginning of the 2010s and top-tier fashion leaders didn’t want to be on the internet, there was this ‘the Internet’s just for porn’ mentality, which has finally shifted, but there remains a blindness to seeing the possibilities”.

This experience is mirrored by that of Actual Objects. The LA-based experimental multi-disciplinary studio, co-founded by multi-hyphenate creatives Rick Farin and Claire Cochran, alongside producer Nick Vernet last year, have turned real-world daydreams into digitally rendered realities for Xander Zhou, Nike, Travis Scott, The North Face, and Marine Serre. The duo says that the challenge of limited understanding often results in tired tech tropes and flat aesthetics.

After ten years of his eponymous label, and at the height of his success in winning the Woolmark Prize in 2018, Mathew Miller looked to cultivate a new approach. “I find the changing shift in the new fashion system liberating,” he explains over WhatsApp. “It’s allowed me the freedom to rebuild my production model and shift to a build on-demand system that reduces waste and tackles the devastating environmental impact of the fashion industry.”

As the show formats evolve, so must the platforms and calendar.

The London-based designer no longer believes in making a body of work that only exists every six months. As he unveiled Merchandise for the impending Apocalypse during London Fashion Week Digital, he not only created products digitally but also the world in which they inhabit. Approaching it as he would a film, Miller created a “multiverse”, fashion’s own black mirror in which stores would no longer stock the old notions of luxury, but rather the elements for the human species to survive.

Similarly, Priya Ahluwalia opened the doors to a 3D exhibition to support the release of her Laurence Ellis-shot photography book, Jalebi – “a love letter to diversity”. Together, viewers were invited to walk the streets of Southall and explore what it means to be mixed-heritage in modern Britain. When designers create collections, most craft a narrative around it. Previously, the mere mention of, let alone exploration of, these narratives tended to be restricted to show notes and backstage interviews.

Through any combination of technology and immersive experience, shows are no longer just about garments, designers can create their own universes. As the show formats evolve, so must the platforms and calendar.

 

MOVING BEYOND FASHION WEEK

Can you imagine augmenting your garments in real-time? Could people download content to their bodies and what would be the medium in which they’re able to experience that through? Drinkwater and his team have started to build examples of this and more. In 2018 they partnered with LucasFilm and Steven Tai for an autumn/winter 18 presentation that unveiled the global debut of LiveCGX, ILMxLAB’S performance-driven digital augmentation technology that not only digitally transformed the venue itself, but also pieces from the collection itself.

“It offered a glimpse of what the future could be, this mixed-reality world, this hyperreal vision where you could bring a venue to life,” Drinkwater says. It’s this shift from storytelling to story-living that is the most obvious advantage of a digital-powered fashion experience.

Through similar collaborations with other creative industries, like music, gaming, TV, and film, the wider fashion industry has to shape a future beyond fashion week. When we spoke in early May, Drinkwater was still enthusing over the Travis Scott x Fortnite Astronomical event. With 12.3 million watching live on 23 April, more than 27.7 million viewed the concert across the five events that ran until 27 April, the gig redefined what a live experience could be. Fashion industry decision-makers could learn from this. Given Virgil Abloh and Matthew Williams’ backgrounds, fanbase, and contacts, why couldn’t LVMH create a similar showcase for Louis Vuitton and Givenchy?

“The industry has to begin to understand the tools, how they can be applied and go beyond what exists today because that sense of fantasy and that emotional connection is ultimately what the industry is about,” Drinkwater continues. “None of us really need to buy products but we have to want it, there has to be a sense of desire. We have to create awe-inspiring moments, that’s where I want and have wanted to take the industry for a long time.”

Within the next five to ten years, significant technological breakthroughs like the AR cloud metaverse could allow brands to properly create a mixed reality. Imagine PokemonGo, but for everything else. Beyond fashion shows, the brands of tomorrow will be able to digitally paint over default reality, layering on data, insights, and entertainment in virtual and augmented layers. Before that happens, we will see body filters able to do anything face filters can and more.

“The potential is going to be huge,” says Drinkwater. “As soon as we have the technological capability to deliver amazing immersive experiences in a space, that will change how people interact.”

Fashion, tomorrow’s world, is almost here and it’s time to wake up.

This potential unlocks new experiences, new touchpoints, new consumers. After Moschino and The Sims 4 and Louis Vuitton’s with League of Legends, Gucci has recently collaborated with Tennis Clash for another virtual and physical world partnership as the fashion industry is beginning to look beyond preconceived notions of who identifies as a gamer. Industry analyst Newzoo estimates that there are more than 2.5 billion gamers globally. These capsule collections and monogrammed avatar skins are a small step, but a significant one.

In addition to collaborating with like-minded entertainment, arts, and culture industries, fashion has to learn from them. It has to adopt their learnings and customise their models. “I can see a shift towards a subscription service, that recurring revenue model that has become absolutely crucial to growth in other industries,” Drinkwater explains. Forget the format of fashion week, the future is omnichannel. Forget the calendar, the future will see product drop throughout the year, as and when they are ready. While there are question marks around the different models and myriad possibilities, there’s no doubt that the technology that will underpin it all is coming. Fashion, tomorrow’s world, is almost here and it’s time to wake up.

 

1 Granary

Magazine Issue 6

With unprecedented honesty and depth, 1 Granary Issue 6 dives into the work and lives of fashion designers today. As a response to the construction of desire and personality cults that govern our industry, the magazine steps away from the conventional profiles and editorials, focussing instead on raw work and anonymous, unfiltered testimonies. For the first time ever, readers are given a truthful insight into the process, dreams, fears, hardships, and struggles of today’s creatives.

Buy Now