Coronavirus and the Fashion Calendar: What Comes Next?

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When the coronavirus pandemic hit, the fashion industry was shut down and its calendar of production and runway shows disrupted. Over the past few years, some designers have bucked against standardized fashion week schedules. But, for the most part, the standard runway show format has remained static for decades. Brands use their runway shows to present spring/summer and fall/winter collections at fashion weeks, and sometimes independently show pre-collection cruise or resort lines. Now, the coronavirus has disrupted all industry norms and designers and business leaders face difficult choices about the fashion calendar of the future. Will big fashion houses return to fashion week and continue presenting at the same time months before collections drop? Or will they all go on their own schedules? And what could a change in runway scheduling actually mean in terms of sustainability, pricing, and consumer experience?

Quarantine has already changed upcoming fashion weeks and birthed three initiatives that demand permanent changes to the industry in the name of decreasing waste and bolstering creative expression.

These began with Dries Van Noten spearheading an open letter to the fashion industry, in which he demands that “the Autumn/Winter season [be put] back in winter” and “the Spring/Summer season back in the summer.” By shortening the gap between collection presentation and release, Van Noten hopes to combat the fast fashion brands producing dupes of collections that have yet to hit the stores. The Belgian designer’s letter also called for industry-wide increased supply chain accountability and focus on sustainability. The letter was signed by successful designers like Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte, Margherita Maccapani Missoni of M Missoni, and Joseph Altuzarra of Altuzarra. Many designers who signed the Van Noten letter also signed the more comprehensive Rewiring Fashion petition.

Aided by the Business of Fashion, 64 industry heavyweights released the Rewiring Fashion proposal on May 14. The petition calls for the same fashion calendar shifts as Van Noten and demands fewer mid-season sales. But it also called for a complete elimination of traditional fashion weeks in favor of “no rules” events focused on direct customer engagement. Runway shows are fun, but with influencers and celebrities posting every look from the front row, what’s the point? They’re no longer truly exclusive, but also not inclusive either. The petition also demanded that designers stop showing Cruise shows in far-off locales in order to lessen greenhouse gas emissions.

The Council of Fashion Designers of America and the British Fashion Council, on the other hand, released their own statement. The CFDA and BFC asked that designers no longer formally present Cruise lines at all. Rather, designers should focus on two main collections each year and pre-collections “not necessarily sufficiently fashion forward to warrant a show” should be presented only in showrooms. Like the other two initiatives, the statement recognized the need for closing the gap between runway presentations and delivery times, but did not yet offer a full prescriptive plan.

Further, the pandemic has presented such a disruption to the fashion calendar that it is forcing all industry players to reconsider tradition, whether they signed a joint initiative or not. Paris’ Haute Couture week, originally scheduled for May, will premiere online along with Paris’ and Milan’s men’s shows. Already, up-and-coming designer Anifa Mvuemba of Hanifa released a new collection virtually, with 3-D digital modeling.

Designers can either participate in these nontraditional shows or invent their own calendars, together or alone. Even though the National Chamber for Italian Fashion and the French Fashion Federation have yet to release any similar statements, both Saint Laurent and Gucci have decided to depart the fashion week calendar, with the latter abandoning the concept of seasons altogether. The Italian fashion house will instead name its upcoming collections after classical music, Creative Director Alessandro Michele said.

The pandemic may be positioning larger fashion houses to look towards smaller, often independent brands, as role models. For the past two years Kerby Jean-Raymond’s Pyer Moss has only shown once a year. Similarly, before the pandemic hit Tomo Koizumi and Batsheva Hay decided to only show once for 2020, and Ralph Lauren had already opted out of showing his Fall/Winter 2020 collection at New York Fashion Week. Other brands like Acronym and Marine Serre may still show two collections, but unprompted by the CFDA and BFC, never created Cruise collections in the first place. This coming September, Jean-Raymond will present a socially-distanced film premiere instead of a traditional collection, likely delaying his signature show-stopping runway presentation for later in the year.

Ralph Lauren has been on the see now/buy now model since September, 2016. Tom Ford and Thakoon also both attempted to introduce the delivery scheme in 2016, but the next year both had given up. A spokesperson for Thakoon said the format was “ahead of the current retail environment.” Still, Michael Kors, Burberry, Tommy Hilfiger, and Rebecca Minkoff have all attempted to impliment the purchasing model.

Plus, more and more brands are bucking against Fashion Week’s gender dichotomies. Though designers have often used fashion to play with notions of masculinity and femininity, a new-age conception of gender questions the distinction between mens and womenswear altogether. Cult-favorites Telfar and Eckhaus Latta have always presented in gender neutral formats, and for Fall/Winter 2020 Hedi Slimane put on Celine’s first “unisex” show.

Further, Virgil Abloh’s Off-White, the most searched runway brand of the last two years, just announced a manufacturing calendar. Starting in 2021, Off-White will skip September’s Paris Fashion Week, and instead show a collection in January. Bi-annual collections will still be available each February and September, but they be shown closer to delivery date. They will then be distributed in monthly parcels instead of all at once. Andrea Grilli, the CEO of New Guards Group, which owns Off-White, said that this switch was actually in place before the pandemic. “The goal is to continue to trigger the emotions associated with the presentation of the collections—whatever the format—but also to immediately satisfy the desire to shop with deliveries and drops every month,” Grilli said in an interview. “In this fast-paced modern world, the lapse of four to five months between the show and the arrival of merchandise in stores was disconnected from the real needs of the consumer.”

Outside the high fashion world, the direct to consumer supply chain model is rising. Sustainable, affordable brands like Everlane and Reformation are dominating the mid-tier market. People also line up for blocks to try and cop a hot item from a surprise or limited streetwear brand’s drop. Currently, though, there is nothing like fashion week, where people from all walks of life clamor for a glimpse of models and photograph street style at its best.

But, the coronavirus has exacerbated potential problems with this standardized model. The pandemic has hit each city and country differently, and it seems less and less likely that each brand will be able to function on the same schedule by this fall. Quarantine has forced individual designers and the industry as a whole to reconsider both the fashion calendar’s schedule and the actual role of the calendar itself.

Amidst all the cries to slow down and lessen consumption, a specific Marc Jacobs quote comes to mind: “I’ll wait months for something if I want, and pay a lot for it; but if I don’t want it, you couldn’t have given it to me yesterday.”

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