Covid-19: the new sheriff in (fashion) town

The fashion industry prides itself on being the most glamorous form of escapism. The clothes, the extravagant, the beauty and stars, it has everything you could dream of. But, in the year 2020 we were made to welcome a new saint. Saint Corona stepped in and swiftly destroyed fashionistas’ plans. The virus made fashion look bleak. Gone were the glamour and anticipation. Even the most fashion-oriented people were not excited by new clothes and runway shows. Amidst the gloominess, every fashion entity persevered. 

Contrary to what many believe, the protagonists of the fashion world are not its most visible faces. The seamstresses, the retailers and the fashion show organizers are. Something Covid-19 helped put at the forefront. The virus impacted every level of the industry. Production was halted, retailers closed their doors and the public became disinterested. Who wants to buy clothes when no one can see them? Fashion cannot survive without its buyers. It is dependent on physical retail. 80% of the transactions happen in stores. When potential buyers are unable to leave their house, the numbers decrease. 2020 made fashion an afterthought, at a time when brands were ready to unleash their new collections in Milan and Paris. Being an afterthought made the industry vulnerable. The average market capitalization of apparel, fashion and luxury dropped by 40% between January and March 2020, a report from McKinsey & Company shows. Bear in mind that fashion generated 2,5 trillion in global revenues before Covid19.

Shopping became an afterthought amidst the pandemic. © AP Photo / Alexander Zemilanishenko

The alarming figures made the fashion world hold its breath and bet it all on Paris Fashion Week last month. The event went on as 12 115 new cases of Coronavirus were announced in France. Pascal Morand, executive president of the Fédération Française de la Haute Couture explained the decision by explaining that empty seats at fashion shows are not the problem. What is happening in showrooms, the holdups, the supply chains can be detrimental to the industry. Fixing these gaping financial holes means selling clothes. For clothes to sell, they have to be shown. 

The brand Koché held its show in the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont. Unusual for a fashion show. When arriving at the park, Carine Roitfeld, ex-editor in chief of French Vogue was heard saying loudly “never been here before” (Loic Prigent, fashion journalist, revealed it on its Instagram account). This illustrates perfectly the ways in which designers had to transform their shows to fit new restrictions. Christelle Koché, the designer, who always showed her clothes in urban, closed spaces such as les Halles had to rethink her whole show. A few hours before her guests arrived, she had to deal with another blow. There could not be more than ten people in the same place at the same time. A permission slip had to be signed. Nevertheless, she persisted, in the name of fashion. “It’s a matter of resistance, it’s a matter of emotion…physicality is not dead; physicality is evolving, as it always has been” she declared to fashion journalists after the show.

Koché chose les Buttes-Chaumont, Coperni favored la Tour Montparnasse. The rooftop to be exact. No fashion shows had been held in such a place. But, desperate times require desperate measures and the need for outdoor spaces made it all worth it. Arnaud Vaillant and Sebastien Meyer, the minds behind Coperni were obsessed with keeping their show a physical one. La Tour seemed like the perfect compromise. It also helped give a serious business boost to a place that is wide enough to enforce social distancing while giving people an extraordinary view of Paris. The designers acknowledged the pandemic in their collection. 25% of the clothes were made with an antibacterial material called C+. The new normal means creating with Covid19 in mind. 

Other brands bet on going digital. Balmain held its first digital front row. Olivier Rousteing knows his shows cannot do without the pomp of having a Kardashian in the front row. No stars mean fewer eyes and coverage. As the show needed to go on, he partnered with the brand LG to reimagine the front row experience for his celebrity friends. LG helped Balmain out with 58 LG OLED TVs placed on each side of the runway. Each screen showed celebrities such as Anna Wintour, Jennifer Lopez, Kris Jenner and Cara Delevigne dressed in Balmain (of course).

Balmain’s digital from row. From left to right: Anna Wintour, Jennifer Lopez, Cindy Crawford, Claudia Schiffer, Natalia Vodianov. © Balmain and LG

And for other brands, livestream and digital shows were key. Even the poshest brands had to play the game. The Dior show was streamed lived on all platforms for an audience of 60 million viewers according to their CEO Pietro Beccari. What they could not convey in physical shows, they put it in theatrics and grandiose effects. Dries Van Noten presented an experimental collection, Ralph & Russo made their digital runway dreamy and Givenchy made theirs experimental and futuristic. The new normal allowed Fashion Week to be an event for all instead of one with only a selected (rich) few in mind. 

But, the splash and real significant change came from Anifa Mvuemba, 29. The Kenyan-born designer was bound to present her 2020 collection when Covid hit. So, she decided to host the first-ever virtual runway via Instagram live. Instead of simply showing models wearing her clothes, Mvuemba used 3D animation. No models, but ghosts walking the make-believe runway. Curvy ghosts, walking with bravado and attitude towards our screens. It was the most talked-about and successful event of the fashion weeks, 2020 edition. It went viral and made fashion an unusual, exciting, outworldly experience. It put old fashion ways and brands to shame. Mvuemba made Anna Wintour’s words at the beginning of the pandemic about emerging designers true, “They are a creative force and the generation we look to lead the way forward”. 


*Featured image © Rex Features

*Gallery images © all rights reserved

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