How are digital fashion weeks like cell phones? To some extent, they removed the absolute necessity of showing up on time, which has led to a more splintered calendar in the key capitals of New York, Milan and Paris.
Celine, Acne Studios and Off-White were among brands that dropped out of the recent men’s fashion week in Paris and opted to show later, while Maison Margiela said it would unveil its spring couture and fall coed ready-to-wear collections after their respective fashion weeks — exact dates still TBD. Citing “technical reasons,” Versace said it would broadcast its fall 2021 coed collection on March 5, after the women’s shows in Milan, but not affiliated either with Paris Fashion Week, scheduled for March 1 to 9.
According to Donatella Versace, “being a digital event has its advantages. One of them is the possibility of connecting with your audience whenever you think is the right moment.”
The recently released American Collections Calendar also reflects the fact that numerous designers will unveil their new lines well after the official New York Fashion Week schedule, which runs from Feb. 14 to 17. There are even a few early birds.
Fashion week organizers in Europe argue that it’s a tiny minority of brands that fall out of the fixed schedule, either by design or because of production or technical delays in the wake of the pandemic and its many restrictions.
Meanwhile, data from ListenFirst suggests that enormous audiences for digital fashion shows can be found outside of the organized weeks.
According to its tallies, the full runway livestream that generated the most YouTube views in 2020 was the desert-themed Saint Laurent women’s show for spring 2021, which was uploaded on Dec. 15 — more than two months after Paris Fashion Week, in which it normally participated pre-pandemic.
“Yves Saint Laurent has 16 million fans or followers on social media — they can reach their audience on social media about a new collection without needing the amplification of a formal fashion week,” said Lisa Grant Damico, director of account management at ListenFirst.
Similarly, Dolce & Gabbana, which counts 43.6 million fans or followers on social media, garnered more than 200,000 video views around the YouTube livestream of its fall 2021 men’s show, also unaffiliated with Milan Fashion Week.
“It’s the smaller brands without a built-up social media audience that benefit the most from participating in fashion weeks, and are suffering in the absence of in-person ones,” Grant Damico said.
In general, the digital fashion weeks that have replaced physical ones during the pandemic “just aren’t moving the needle on social media in the same way,” she noted.
To wit: There were 18,192 tweets that used the hashtag #PFW around Paris Fashion Week between Sept. 28 and Oct 6, 2020, an 87 percent drop from the 139,403 tweets using the hashtag #PFW between Sept. 23 and Oct. 1, 2019.
“In that context, there’s little advantage from a social media perspective for established fashion brands for sticking to the schedule of traditional fashion weeks,” Grant Damico concluded.
Indeed, there were pre-pandemic examples of established brands winning the social engagement sweepstakes without participating with what was then New York Fashion Fashion Week. These included Tom Ford, according to ListenFirst.
Ralph Toledano, president of the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode, which organizes Paris Fashion Week, said it would stick to an official calendar whether shows are digital or in-person because it brings a “common rhythm to the industry” as well as “synergies in communication and commercialization” for participating brands and designers.
“Having fixed dates obliges the designers to present their collections at a given time, otherwise collections would never be finished as creative teams would keep trying to improve them,” Toledano said in an interview.
What’s more, “being part of the most selective and prestigious fashion week is a major challenge and a fantastic incentive for designers,” he argued. “As soon as physical shows start again, the unity in one place and time won’t be questioned.”
Toledano noted that brands that were not ready on time during recent fashion weeks would not be penalized for relinquishing their time slots.
“It has indeed happened that some brands did not show during the fashion week, but every time they came back to the official calendar,” he said. “We have witnessed a strong interest for brands to belong to the federation’s platform initiated last year with Launchmetrics. The platform has become a real media that strongly benefits their visibility. It includes the videos of the official calendar, a magazine, specific events, also collaborations with our partners, cultural institutions and a dedicated space for houses.”
Adapting to a more splintered fashion calendar, Launchmetrics indicated last week it would only release data some time in March at the “end of the season” instead of upon the closing of fashion weeks in the four main capitals of New York, London, Milan and Paris.
Carlo Capasa, president of the Italian Camera della Moda, also touted the “value of comparison” inherent in organized fashion weeks, and the sense of community they foster.
“Fashion weeks, whether digital or physical, create a collective energy that makes our system alive,” he told WWD. “If everyone went their own way, in a short time you would lose the magic that comes from confrontation or challenge. Young people and new brands would risk having even less access to the market, novelties would find less space, interest in fashion would decrease over time — an interest that is amplified by the union of creative energy that cohabits in a space or at least in a defined time frame.”
Fashion weeks also serve a professional purpose, Capasa argued.
“It gives the opportunity to all of those working in the fashion community to scout the new trends of the season and to have a full picture of what is happening,” he explained. “For brands, it is also important because fashion weeks generally aggregate media interest and more buzz and it gives the brand the possibility to show their work in an established environment, which is already known and has a fixed audience.”
Retail executives have adapted to a more sprawling and irregular slate of digital shows, though few see it as ideal.
“With a fragmented calendar, we, as a business, have been agile and have adapted by conducting remote appointments, but it does pose challenges,” said Mia Young, chief merchant at Hong Kong-based Lane Crawford. “When travel restrictions are lifted and we go back to in-person shows and buying appointments, we would prefer if brands honor the calendar.”
“With the shift to virtual fashion weeks, the limitations of a set fashion calendar don’t really exist anymore,” said Roopal Patel, senior vice president and fashion director at Saks Fifth Avenue. “Given the current environment, we do have the flexibility to see collections off the calendar. As long as brands are fulfilling their delivery needs and working within that timeline, I think it’s fine for designers to present their collections in the seasonal time frame.
“We would be at a standstill without digital fashion weeks, so I applaud designers for thinking outside of the box and finding innovative ways to engage with us in this new form,” Patel added.
Natalie Kingham, global fashion officer at Matchesfashion.com, said she is always looking to discover the most interesting design talent “and so it is important to us to ensure that we don’t let schedules dictate how we work with them.
“Lots of collections are currently being presented via Zoom or other digital platforms which does come with certain challenges — mainly that you cannot see or touch the clothing which is very important,” Kingham said. “Whatever form these fashion weeks take going forward, we are determined to ensure that we will continue to have visibility of young and emerging talent around the globe, whether virtual or physical.”
In the meantime, brands continue to experiment, with Off-White and Rejina Pyo among those to recently step back from fashion weeks and shift to a see-now-buy-now rhythm. Gucci, Balenciaga and Bottega Veneta are among bigger brands that have also unveiled collections at offbeat times in recent months.
Organizers in Milan and Paris noted that time slots in the early afternoon are most in demand as they offer the best chance of capturing live viewers in Europe, North America and Asia.
However, both weeks also have international media and streaming partners able to share their contents in other time zones.
In Paris, the rules of the federation dictate that “each brand ‘owns’ its slot, and a new slot can be allocated to a specific brand only if it becomes available,” Toledano noted. “For sure we will get back to in-persons shows — all of us are looking forward to it, the digital feeling will never be the same as the in-person one. But we will keep in the future our recent innovations, as in the next decades, we will live in a phy-gital world.”
ListenFirst’s Grant Damico suggests that the 2:30 p.m. time slot is “in the range of hitting a sweet spot.”
According to its data, considering the top 10 Louis Vuitton posts that generated the most social media response, 60 percent of them were posted between 3 and 7 p.m. CET, while 70 percent of Chanel’s top 10 posts went live between 2 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. CET.
“Additionally, there’s no month that seems especially bad for sharing fashion content,” Grant Damico said, adding a curious qualifier: “It is worth noting that of the top 10 posts that generated the most responses for Chanel, Dior and Louis Vuitton, none of those posts were released on a Thursday.”