September is fashion’s month. Once bulging fashion magazine issues - remember those?! - the start of fashion’s most important selling season, and, of course, fashion weeks makes September the most important month of the year for the, estimated, global $1.5 trillion fashion industry.
Above - Louis Vuitton's COVID LV Shield hitting stores in October
Fashion week is the canary in the mine and the biggest to suffer from the pandemic. Events which combine travel and vast numbers of people aren’t going to work right now, and, therefore, puts the traditional idea of fashion weeks into a strange predicament. While many fashion councils are trying to push ‘business as usual’, it is far from it.
New York has started, but few would have realised. Designers sitting out New York Fashion Week, this season, include Marc Jacobs - its biggest draw - plus Ralph Lauren, The Row, Pyer Moss, Michael Kors, Telfar, Oscar de la Renta and Brandon Maxwell. Those still taking part can have a socially distanced crowd of just 30 people, while, before, traditional shows ranged into the multiple of 100s. London's fashion week runs from 17th September - Tuesday 22nd September 2020 with the same strict controls.
Fashion weeks is the fashion business in an event and drives focus and attention from outside its bubble to retail and the idea of purchasing something ‘new’ to consumers. They are also extremely old fashioned and had less and less relevance way before COVID 19.
While the majority of fashion shows are pointless, a few images, brands, designers will emerge that stick and steer the fashion industry into that direction for the next six months. It’s also a coming together of people and a temperature test of the industry. But, they have become bloated and drawn out exercises in wasting time and money when fashion can no longer afford either. Limos driving groups of pampered people all over town for 10 mins feels dated and indulgent.
The major of women’s fashion weeks - New York, London, Milan & Paris - managed to scrape through COVID in February and March at the beginning of the year. This will be the first test of how major fashion weeks will run with a global pandemic hanging over it. Some brands, like Louis Vuitton and YSL, have done separate shows over the past few months, but nothing like previous years.
Left - LFW's Digital Schedule home page
This season, the London Fashion Week the schedule has been split into three sections and includes brands showing digitally, physically or both - ‘phygital’. The gender neutral showcase will run from Thursday 17th to Tuesday 22nd September 2020 and include both digital activations on www.londonfashionweek.co.uk and physical events, adhering to government guidelines on social distancing. The schedule will host over 80 designers including 40 womenswear, 15 menswear, 20 menswear & womenswear and 5 accessories brands. There will be a total of 50 digital only activations, 21 physical and digital, 7 physical only and 3 designers who will activate through a physical evening event only.
The LFW digital platform, launched in June for the men’s calendar, will continue to serve as the Official Digital Hub and will be freely accessible to everyone, industry professionals and global fashion consumers alike. The British Fashion Council says. “LFW is one of the few international events to still be going ahead in London, proving the industry’s resilience, creativity, and innovation in difficult times. Now more than ever, the BFC acknowledges the necessity to look at the future of LFW and the opportunity to drive change, collaborate and innovate in ways that will establish long-term benefits, develop new sustainable business models and boost the industry’s economic and social power. The British Fashion Industry faces enormous challenges due to the impact of COVID-19 and the BFC keeps on calling on Government to support a sector which in 2019 contributed £35 billion to the UK economy and employs over 890,000 people (Oxford Economics, 2020).”
Having a traditional ‘schedule’ for barely 28 shows seems old fashioned. As fashion blogger @bryanboy tweeted to his 502.4K Twitter followers regarding NYFW, this week, “It’s really annoying how designers still get an individual time slot for what essentially is a release for a pre-taped short film. No one cares!! Just do a date and release it on the morning or afternoon of that day and it doesn’t matter if it overlaps with other designers”.
Right - Burberry Horseferry check face mask coming soon
It’s the equivalent of waiting in all day for an e-mail. Nobody has time for this, especially when it feels like most of this stuff won’t be ordered or bought anyway. Maybe just have a single release date, hub for content and publicise that?
The most anticipated London show is Burberry’s. Rumoured to be Riccardo Tisci’s last, it will be held outdoors. Burberry will use Twitch’s ‘Squad Stream' function, which allows users to view multiple perspectives of the show at a time and chat with fellow viewers using the service’s chat window. It will be live-streamed without an audience.
LFW designer Emilio De La Morena is presenting an exhibition rather than a traditional catwalk show. Called ‘Troubles SS’21’, it is an assimilation of fashion, film, and sculpture into a “consolidation of the designers professional and personal journey in conjunction to the global pandemic”.
Fashion’s optimistic hope has been that this pandemic will blow over and we’ll get back to the normal fashion week circus asap. Fashion weeks work in the future and were hoping that by the time the 2021 collections come out this will all feel like a bad dream, but, it’s also realistic to think otherwise. Fashion is fickle, when the pandemic is over any product will instantly feel dated and obsolete. It is difficult to know how much time and money to invest in it.
Adar Poonawalla, CEO of the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, saying that not enough COVID-19 vaccines will be available to inoculate the global population until at least the end of 2024. According to Poonawalla, pharmaceutical companies are not increasing production capacity quickly enough to vaccinate everyone faster. “It’s going to take four to five years until everyone gets the vaccine on this planet,” Adar Poonawalla, chief executive of the Serum Institute of India, said.
Some brands are incorporating PPE protection into their collections. Louis Vuitton has designed a coronavirus face shield which can also be flipped up and used as a sun visor. The LV Shield will be available to purchase from 30th October 2020 in selected Louis Vuitton stores worldwide for around £700. Burberry face masks are coming soon on the brand’s website, strange they haven't released these faster, and are donating 20% from the selling price of each face mask to the Burberry Foundation COVID-19 Community Fund operated by The Burberry Foundation to support communities impacted by the pandemic globally.
Fashion weeks as an idea is still important, it just needs to reinvent itself for life post-pandemic. Mega brands can still blow millions on a pointless extravaganza, but for smaller designers and brands it can be their slim opportunity to be scouted and brought to attention. It also reaffirms the importance of seeing, feeling and experiencing fashion, but with many influencers shunning fashion week and with the amount of traditional magazine press dwindling, who is it for exactly?
We do need to see. Digital is all a bit unreal. We may as well be dressing avatars. You also have a better memory of items in real, it’s the equivalent of a school trip, they’re fully rounded and you can picture yourself wearing it. But, is it that worth £100,000s to brands? Fashion week is a preview and is also important for brands to know what to make and order. We’ve tried ‘See now, buy now’ and now’s the time for digital presentations. Is the future for fashion weeks somewhere in-between? Or does that just take us back to square one?!
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Recently, a government advisor, Professor Neil Ferguson, director of the modelling programme at Imperial College London's MRC centre for global infectious disease analysis, estimated that up to two thirds of people who die from coronavirus in the next nine months are likely to have died this year from other causes. He said that many of those deaths were likely to be old and seriously ill people who would have died from other conditions before the end of the year. What COVID-19 is doing, sadly, is speeding up the end of life and it’s the same for brands and retailers.
Some retailers have started to fall into administration, pointing the finger of blame at the COVID-19 coronavirus. The majority of these brands and retailers were sickly patients to start with. Brands like Beales, Laura Ashley, Carluccio's and BrightHouse were on wobbly ground way before this devastating virus was on the horizon. The coronavirus has just cut short the inevitable. Bournemouth based department store Beales closed earlier than scheduled and left unsecured creditors £17.6m out of pocket.
Left - The Beales flagship store in Bournemouth
Other patients at risk are brands like shopping centre group Intu, struggling under a £4.5bn debt mountain, and who failed to secure new funding before the crisis hit. They’ve also been hit by stores holding back their rent payments recently. Frasers, owner of Jack Wills, has been cutting off vast limbs of its retail network to save their critically ill patient, Cath Kidston is looking for a buyer to save the business and up to 800 jobs and New Look has requested a three-month rent holiday from landlords. H&M has threatened landlords with walking away from 300-plus store leases if sales fail to match pre-coronavirus levels once the pandemic passes. How others like Debenhams and the Arcadia come out of this pandemic is anybody’s guess.
Right - Laura Ashley has fallen into administration
The patient metaphor has one big and important point; the third of previously healthy people who could potentially die. This is where the government efforts to help businesses should be focussed. Those businesses who were previously healthy, but, due to unforeseen circumstances, have been thrown into jeopardy should be given the largest help. Whether it’s down to the sector they are in or the way they sell, these previously healthy retailers should be given the ventilator of loans and payment holidays to give them life.
The longer this crisis goes on the larger that third will become. It is survival of the ones who were the fittest going into all of this.
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