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A green light for September fashion week, will the phoenix rise from the ashes?

By Don-Alvin Adegeest

Jun 24, 2020

A sigh of relief reverberated across the industry on Wednesday when Paris announced its fashion week has the green light to go ahead in September. The month of international runway presentations and showrooms is finally rising from the ashes after a season ravaged by Covid-19.

As little as two months ago retailers and brands dealt with huge stock retention problems, canceled orders, closed stores and furloughed staff. We witnessed e-commerce sales growing exponentially while non-essential goods, fashion included, dealt with the largest losses since the financial crisis in 2008.

A plethora of pandemic-proof brands and retailers sailed through the crisis whilst others shuttered doors and lost their livelihoods. Smaller brands and emerging designers had much to suffer, many without resources or sufficient backing to continue trading. If an established behemoth like Barneys couldn’t secure funding to stay open, how could a small, self-financed designer survive these unprecedented times? The truth is many haven’t.

But as a sense of “the show must go on,” sweeps the industry, to rise like a phoenix from the ashes means companies must emerge stronger and smarter after a catastrophe. Relief will be short-lived if brands do not adapt to a post-crisis mode of operations. This includes having strong digital-first strategies in place and making product, assets and sales tools available across multiple platforms. Much of retail’s buying budget is expected to be spent online.

Not many brand can afford venture off-piste

London’s first digital only fashion week will soon by followed by a digital Paris (9-13 July) and Milan (14-17 July). The lessons learned of what works versus what doesn’t, will provide useful insight into brands planning to show in September. While some luxury players like Saint Laurent, Burberry, Dior and Fendi will go ahead with physical shows outside of traditional fashion week parameters, smaller brands and designers may not have the luxury to go off-piste, remaining largely dependent on the footfall of buyers and press attending.

While fashion weeks from New York to Paris will no doubt be scaled back, it also means the companies and freelancers working behind the scenes, including models, agencies, stylists, makeup artists, production companies, hotels, catering, and travel businesses will have their services required. There is yet to be an online show that has managed to create the same impact and buzz as a live presentation.

A smaller fashion week audience

Audience numbers are likely to be less, as will press and buying attendance: corporate retailers won’t be sending entire buying teams to attend, as they did in the past. Yet it is precisely the less crowded, over-the-top productions that allow for more intimate settings. The success of fashion week is often measured by the wattage of its reverberated content, securing as much social media coverage as possible. September may mirror the slowing of pace many have openly called for, giving focus not just on a transactional month, but the artistry of new collections and designer’s vision. It may receive less clicks and coverage but it will echo purpose, integrity and hopefully something special. Celebrity front row chaos seems out of touch with current sentiment, attracting the wrong kind of buzz, precisely amplifying the white noise the industry aims to reset.

A more localised fashion week will give equanimity across the brands and houses showing and allow for a new breed of designers and innovators to experiment, as well as have an opportunity to be heard.

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Photo credit: Celine AW19, Catwalkpictures