Can a digital or virtual experience ever replace the real thing? Over the past few months, many designers have been forced to at least try. At London’s digital men’s week, only a few brands managed to produce new collections, choosing to create films, podcasts, and playlists instead. It’s a trend that will continue through July with the first-ever virtual Couture week, followed by a video-only Paris spring 2021 men’s week and a similar “digital men’s fashion week” in Milan. Some major brands, like Dior, Burberry, and Ermenegildo Zegna, have announced that they are hoping to capture the best of both worlds with “phygital” shows: Live events with limited or no audiences to be broadcast to the public via livestream or video.
It all begs the question: Will we ever attend a fashion show in “real life” again? And if so, when? This morning, the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode gave us an answer: In September, the spring 2021 ready-to-wear shows will resume in Paris from September 28 through October 6th. Few details were shared, only that the FHCM “will comply [with] the recommendations of public authorities.” Designers will need to rethink their guest lists and venue choices entirely, perhaps opting for larger event spaces or outdoor catwalks, à la Marine Serre, instead of intimate salons or underground bars. Whether they’ll be able to produce a new collection by then is another question: Factories have reopened in many parts of the world, but many designers are still struggling with limited finances, canceled wholesale orders, and furloughed staff. The additional health precautions for these shows will come at a price, too.
Still, many will see this as a vast improvement on blurred livestreams and flat, two-dimensional press images. As the Fédération’s president, Ralph Toledano, told Vogue back in May: “Digital is clearly part of the shape of fashion to come and we will take it as an opportunity of innovation to complement tradition. This being said, [in the] last weeks behind our screens, we all felt that a dimension was missing: the sensorial one. This has tremendously reinforced our position that nothing will ever replace the unity of time and place. Shows are a major component of the fashion industry, and this will remain…. Physical events will always have our preference, but as long as there is uncertainty, there should be flexibility.”
Until there’s a COVID-19 vaccine, flexibility will be key. September will likely be a small, careful step towards resuming a “normal” fashion week, complemented by a continued mix of physical, digital, and virtual events around the world. The FHCM also confirmed the shows will be “completed” by an online platform, which is good news for international editors who may not be willing to travel to Paris in September, if they’re even allowed. The European Union is currently considering banning American travelers from entering. Some might actually prefer to stay home; Vogue’s Sarah Mower reported that London’s digital men’s shows offered a bit more time for reflection: “It was a platform for the very thing that I love best about fashion, the thing which the catwalk system blocks: hearing people talk directly and intimately about the meaning of their work, and being able to follow them into their worlds.” Wherever fashion week goes next, you’ll be able to experience it all right here on Vogue Runway.