Calls for the cancelling of physical shows have been growing for several years and, in light of the global pandemic, this change has finally come into fruition. Despite the grim context, such developments are a testament to the adaptability of the industry. After all; fashion - perhaps more than most things - goes on.
From Zoom-directed films to home-delivered miniature sets, let's discuss our most recent glimpse into fashion's future.
Since the parlour shows of the 1950s, runway fashion has been an industry staple. In the early show years, models paraded around crowded rooms, layers of tulle brushing against the who’s who of society. Such exclusive events meant that fashion became a hidden world, with only a select few granted access.
Over time access to fashion has become more democratic. The media now dictates a brand's image and the reception of new collections are shaped by the opinions of viewers from all walks of life. Regardless, however, there's no doubt that the catwalk still plays a highly significant part in the presentation of the newest designs. The runway provides media outlets with a wealth of content, captured by numerous cameras in the photographer's pit.
Photo courtesy of Karim Younis: https://www.karimyounis.net
In recent seasons, the exhibition space has become a show in its own right, for instance, presentations from Craig Green and Moncler Genius, as well as iconic houses, in particular Chanel, creating elaborate sets at the Grand Palais in Paris.
In the past decade, the growth in social media influence has already posed notable changes in the coverage of fashion shows. In addition to the expected uniform catwalk shots, media content now consists of teasers, music and pre-show backstage footage. Influencers adorned in the brand's clothes are given front row seats, along with the plethora of guests documenting every moment of the show on their phone cameras. The digital content created from the show immerses the audience into the world of the collection, not just showcasing the fashion but the atmosphere and experience around it.
With this in mind, the first digital fashion weeks in the time of the pandemic are not a far stretch. With the physicals shows out of the question, designers needed to choose how to present their collections virtually. Several designers decided to display their work as a lookbook, picturing the clothes in a way which mimics traditional catwalk photography.
The most effective collections were far more ambitious, recognising the need to engage and excite their audiences. One of the most memorable examples of this was John Galliano's Maison Margiela artisanal presentation; a 52-minute showing of the collection mixed stunning visuals with a subtle horror sub-story.
Famous fashion photographer and founder of SHOWstudio Nick Knight filmed the show via Zoom screen-shares, CCTV cameras and drones. To replace pre-show backstage film, screen recordings capture the development of the show's concept. Fittings and fine stitching were filmed in person, as well as the silhouettes which emerge in inverted colours from bold pyramids of light. The show brings its audience openly into the atelier and the world of Margiela. It provides an experience that is unique to the circumstance.
Margiela's show wasn't Nick Knight's only fashion week success. His zoom-directed film for Valentino Couture saw fantastical dresses used as projection screens for moving images of flowers and flames. To manipulate the shots further, Knight also used glitchy visual effects as an overlay. It was a magical presentation, a show which held the drama of an in-person Valentino show, despite the audience's distance from the event. As a result of the worldwide lockdown, the dresses existed in toile form, meaning they were left undyed and without embroidery.
Knight's innovative decision to project moving images onto the pieces hints at a future slowly arising with virtual reality technologies. While most of the long-established houses kept to lookbooks and more conventional fashion films, some smaller brands look to the future, into the new immersive internet.
A noteworthy example of this is Helsinki Fashion Week, where designers paired fashion designers with VR artists, opening the doors to a vast realm of digital possibilities. Helsinki Fashion Week presented surrealist imagery, such as clothing walking without bodies and sets in the style of dreamscapes. These shows reminded spectators that they were glimpsing the virtual world of the designer's vision.
Now for some speculation; if these three examples I have given, really are a sign of things to come, where might fashion end up?
Imagine shows set entirely in virtual worlds, accessed either on your screen or even better via a virtual reality headset. You are immersed in this digital world. You might suddenly take flight, spinning around garments which first appear as distant landscapes, before morphing into their proper form as they parade past you. Images flash through the screen, to show references and the journey of the collection. Then you take a closer look, dive into a pocket and follow the path of the needle through the fabric by the hand of the atelier. The fabric of the garment could shift and change, as moving images and messages. It might even take you into another space, to another setting and mood to a whole new shift in the collection.
This experience takes the audience completely away from reality, with the possibility to reinterpret what fashion means and its capacity to influence how we present ourselves and explore our identity. Without the bindings of physical reality, the possibilities of the future are limitless.
But do not think this is the death of something physical. The hands-on making of garments is essential to the art of fashion. Garments can be scanned using photogrammetry (the technology used by Google Earth) and then planted into a digital landscape.
Physicality can still be incorporated as a part of digital shows. Designer JW Anderson sent a lucky few a parcel; inside was the normal lookbook, but also a mini show set, with origami trees and rocks included, and paper doll images of the clothing to parade up and down this paper runway. Although this experiment was sent to a select few, it could just as easily been sent as pdfs to download and create at home.
The future of the fashion show looks hopeful. With the money behind some of the biggest fashion houses, fashion weeks could become a real frontier of the world's move into the digital landscape.