Digital Fashion Week: catwalk-ing during covid

Fashion week has long been a staple event in the fashion industry’s calendar. However, Covid makes exceptions for no-one and, just like in all other areas of life, things have had to work a little differently this year. Companies have been forced to adapt to the online reality we now exist in with numerous brands replacing their much anticipated catwalks with audience free shows or presentations which can only be watched via livestream.

For the fashion fanatics among us who would probably never get the opportunity to sit front row at a Gucci catwalk, ‘GucciFest’ – an online film festival accessible to all via YouTube – is definitely an exciting prospect. There’s no doubt that digital runways make high-end fashion more accessible for all…you can literally experience them from your couch. However, part of the allure of fashion week and huge catwalk shows might have to do with their exclusive status and as these shows become more accessible to the general public, do they lose their sense of prestige and glamour?

And if so, is it such a bad thing? Personally, I don’t think so. Things change and evolve and the fashion industry has been due an overhaul for a while. The pandemic has simply escalated the inevitable and we should be celebrating what has been gained, not reminiscing on what has been lost.

The pandemic has caused companies to open their, once highly guarded, doors and let those of us who were previously on the outside, in. In this way, the digital space allows for brands to reach a wider audience in a way that is arguably more intimate; in a sense we are being let into the heart of these companies, not just simply allowed a temporary window view. Going digital could be, therefore, the opportunity which brands have been looking for to connect with and understand their communities better.

The digital space is not only more accessible to us as consumers, but also to smaller more niche brands. Brands who may not have been able to afford to host extravagant shows or attract the press needed to make them a success can now join the online space on equal footing. Social media has already shown itself to be an incredible platform for startup brands to grow so imagine the opportunities that would arise if the digital space became the norm for high-end fashion.

Another advantage of moving online is that it is more sustainable. Helsinki Fashion week has been at the forefront of sustainable fashion for the last few years and has adapted just as quickly to the digital space. Parts of the show in Helsinki were already digitised before the pandemic and this year has allowed them to experiment further with different virtual experiences. They digitised many of the collections, rendering them 3D and dressing them onto avatars who were digital versions of the models. Viewers could even order physical garments from the shows or a limited-edition digital garment, which could be ‘dressed’ on their picture or used in virtual spaces. This way of producing clothing is not only more accessible for consumers but is also much more sustainable as mass production is unnecessary. Going digital would allow fashion companies to work to demand and as a result, create less waste.

However, not everyone has found the online fashion world to be positive and after experimenting with digital shows this summer, Paris, London, and Milan fashion weeks have decided to return to physical shows. On the plus side, changes are happening: several big labels – including Saint Laurent and Gucci – have already announced their intention to permanently leave behind the traditional seasonal calendar, which Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele branded “stale”. There is no doubt that we live in an increasingly evolving world and companies need to adapt to keep up, or they’ll get left behind.

Illustration: Marie-Louise Wöhrle