Has the World Progressed Past the Need for Fashion Week as We Know It?
Updated: Dec 21, 2020
I think we're all a touch collectively shocked that fashion month even happened this fall. Like don't we have some other concerns to deal with than see the street style of the bourgeoisie? Anyways, while some brands weirdly, and a little unsafely, opted for the more traditional approach to fashion month, COVID did (expectedly) bring out some very creative solutions to presenting new collections at a time of social distancing. And not only that, a lot of these solutions also happened to be some environmentally responsible adaptations to runway shows. We all assumed COVID would bring some big changes to fashion (I am like WAY more surprised by the unwillingness of some brands to change tbh), and many brands did, in fact deliver. So with these changes in mind, and the adaptive creativity of designers, is it becoming clear that maybe traditional fashion month isn't so necessary anymore?
After all, fashion month is like insanely wasteful. The emissions factor of fashion month is not often something that crosses our mind when we think fashion sustainability. Usually sustainability boils down to garment production, however, fashion month offers an entirely new realm of waste within the fashion industry. I mean, when you give it a thought it's not that surprising. Collections upon collections being moved all over the globe, attendees hopping from city to city, often via first class flights, then jumping into private SUVs, only to receive wasteful gifts full of plastic packaging. And all of this for what? Some instagrammable moments?
Evidently a lot of that waste was stopped dead in its tracks this fashion month, as a glaring majority of shows went digital during a time where travel and crowding hundreds of influencers into packed shows is less than safe. While many digital shows did send out goody bags, which were still wasteful in their own way, the lack of air travel to these events was evidently impactful when it comes to fashion's emissions. Balmain and Miu Miu did try, albeit in a somewhat cringey way, to attempt to create a semi-traditional runway presentations, zooming in influencers on digital screens in the front row. While this kept down emissions in terms of travelling fashion celebs, this presentation certainly is not emission free in terms of models travelling to walk, and the construction of the show space. Jeremy Scott's Moschino, unsurprisingly, took a more creative approach in conceptualizing a COVID runway, using ever-instagrammable marionette puppets to show a miniature version of his collection. Instead of flying in models and front-row icons, the brand even created miniature versions of Anna Wintour and Hamish Bowles. Not only that but evidently this showing used significantly less textiles.
"In spite of major brands taking on new approaches to showing their collections, during times of change like these one must wonder, does fashion month still serve its purpose?"
In spite of major brands taking on new approaches to showing their collections, during times of change like these one must wonder, does fashion month still serve its purpose? If we think back to the origins of fashion weeks, it's a pretty obvious no. Fashion presentations were originally developed in a time way WAY before the internet, so that buyers could view collections and determine what to buy for their respective boutiques. Cut the glamour, fashion presentations were originally a strict, and somewhat boring, industry event that served a very distinct purpose. With the access to media that we have today, a simple digitally photographed lookbook can easily serve this exact purpose (and did for many small labels this season as opposed to staging a fashion show), and with that, the fashion show becomes a bourgeois performance of the fantasy of fashion.
I guess to say that fashion week does not serve a purpose isn't quite accurate. Today, fashion week sells us the illusion and the idea of fashion. It presents collections heavily laden with performance, constructs a fantasy world in which fashion belongs. Most importantly, it creates a divide between those who are allowed to participate in the fashion world, and those of us lowly peasants viewing instantly uploaded images on Vogue Runway after the show, or, if we're lucky, sitting back row thanks for our underpaid fashion internship or assistant role. If anything, fashion week serves to tempt us with the promise of possibility, to remind us that maybe we too can join the fashion playground for the wealthy that is Paris, New York, London or Milan. So while obviously maintaining this imaginary of fashion is important to profit, does fashion week still serve a purpose in the ever democratizing industry?
"As smaller, specialist brands begin to take more prominence thanks to social media, new directions in presenting collections in collaboration with artists of other disciplines can begin to take shape."
Events and projects to display new collections, are in my humble opinion, still an important facet of the industry. However, the overproduced, overpromoted couture shows of fashion week are a very passé approach to doing so. As smaller, specialist brands begin to take more prominence thanks to social media, new directions in presenting collections in collaboration with artists of other disciplines can begin to take shape. New mediums can be explored that better represent the thesis of a brand, and slowing calendars can minimize emissions and waste of these presentations. Changes in this vein have even begun to spring to life with more prominent designers such as groundbreaking Margiela's video presentation concerning production process, or Balenciaga's real world-set music video. While this may sound like a utopic version of the fashion industry, I think that the shifts COVID has brought onto the steady-state fashion week model remind us that it is possible to rethink presentations in more boundary pushing ways. As Jessica Davis puts it, while fashion week can never really be sustainable, rethinking the mould of fashion week in general and how collections are presented is probably our next best option, and I for one can't wait to witness how young upcoming designers adapt.