The Times They Are a-Changin’
By KELIN DILLON
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to ravage countries around the globe, powerful international fashion houses and small-scale designers alike have been forced to change the way they introduce their new collections.
Restrictions on crowd sizes and social-distancing mandates have all but eliminated one of the long-held pillars of the industry in its traditional form: the fashion show.
The sequential Mercedes Benz Fashion Weeks in New York, London, Milan and Paris, known affectionately to those in the industry as the “Big Four,” have dictated the next season’s fashion trends for decades.
To present designs in one of these cities is to have proverbially “made it” in the business.
These runways have long been the hot-ticket event for fashion editors, celebrities, socialites and the who’s who of the moment to both see and be seen.
A glowing review from one of these elite audience members could potentially catapult a brand to new heights, and an unfavorable assessment could trigger its downfall.
The times, however, have been changing.
The rise of social media and the new-found power of social influencers has brought to light an immediate marketing opportunity for designers.
A front-row invite to the right Instagrammer could drive millions of followers to a brand’s account before the last model has left the runway of the live show.
Particularly during a global pandemic, going viral seems to hold more power than any traditional form of advertising.
With millions of loyal followers from around the world, influencers are capable of reaching an audience traditional advertisements may fall short of.
The beloved advertising demographic of the millennial is more likely to be wowed with a stunning photo on their social media timeline than by impressions made flipping through the pages of a magazine.
Rather than waiting months to roll out products and ads, designers can release their content for the immediate consumption of and purchase by the general public.
This accessibility for consumers simultaneously increases competition for designers.
With trends now capable of changing at the upload of a story, and the pandemic severely limiting their retail options, designers at all levels of success must ask and answer a difficult question: How do I remain a stand out from the crowd?
Up-and-coming designers are seemingly better equipped to adapt to the times.
This could be because they don’t have to wade through all the corporate red tape more-established fashion houses such as Louis Vuitton and Prada must deal with.
Back in May, Congolese designer Anifa Mvuemba broke the internet when she debuted the new collection for her brand, Hanifa, in a digital fashion show.
Rather than filming models walking in her clothes on an empty runway, like many of her peers were doing, she instead utilized technology to create 3D-renders of her garments parading down a runway, sans-model.
Her vision of luxurious garments draped on invisible mannequins took the internet by storm, and catapulted the talented designer to the top of Twitter’s trending feed, gaining coverage from many large fashion magazines.
Innovative techniques like Mvuemba’s model-less fashion show, turning the traditional runway format on its head, could be indicative of the direction toward which the fashion industry is evolving.
On the other hand, Chanel, the fabled Parisian fashion house, made headlines this week with the release of their pre-fall 2021 collection via a slightly less ambitious take on adapting to the times.
The brand produced a large scale fashion show filled with models and crew members — totaling above 300 people — with a sole audience member: the face of the brand, Kristen Stewart.
As Stewart watched the models parade by, her reactions were streamed live along with the show on YouTube for anyone to see.
Chanel took advantage of social distancing regulations by cashing in on Stewart’s millennial star power by making her the guest of honor.
Though not particularly revolutionary, Chanel’s name power and strategic guest choice caused it to pick up a lot of press along the way.
Coronavirus continues to rage on through the world, and with a vaccine not yet available to the general public, the future of the fashion industry seems uncertain.
However, with innovators like Mvuemba creating a new perspective of the runway show, and even traditional houses like Chanel taking small steps into the digital age, even the uncertainty feels bright.
But one thing is certain: The whole world, with our phones in our hands, will be watching.
KELIN DILLON is a renowned U.S. fashion model and writer who has worked in the industry in New York, Tokyo, London, Milan, and Paris.
…Dec. 10, 2020