PARIS — The future of coed fashion weeks looks set to be defined along geographic lines, as the coronavirus pandemic prompts organizers of the big four fashion weeks to streamline their offerings.
Paris and Milan, which both have sizeable men’s wear markets, plan to maintain separate fashion weeks for men and women, while London and New York could durably fold their smaller men’s weeks into the women’s calendar, the fashion weeks’ organizers said Thursday.
In a rare occurrence, Steven Kolb, president and chief executive officer of the Council of Fashion Designers of America; Pascal Morand, executive president of the French Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode; Caroline Rush, ceo of the British Fashion Council, and Carlo Capasa, president of Italy’s Camera della Moda took part in a virtual summit on brand performance organized by data research and insights firm Launchmetrics.
Capasa said that while Milan Fashion Week has been adaptable in allowing some brands to show men’s and women’s collections together, it was important to keep the markets separate.
“January is a men’s fashion week, but you can show also women if you want,” he said. “And February is for sure women’s collections, but if you want to show some genderless, you can show in February. So I think what we are trying to do is to be flexible, but to still keep the two roots of the men’s and women’s, because our brands require it.”
As Milan prepares to go back into lockdown, the shape of the next men’s fashion week in January remains uncertain. “How much will be physical, and how much will be digital, will depend on the pandemic,” Capasa said.
Even before Britain went into its second lockdown this week, the BFC said it was canceling its January event, which was traditionally reserved for men’s wear and rebranded into a genderless platform earlier this year. It will be folded into London Fashion Week in February, a digital-first event with scaled-back physical activations.
Rush said that while the BFC initially merged its women’s and men’s wear showcases out of necessity, the move should be permanent.
“As that conversation has evolved — the whole conversation around diversity, inclusivity — to have gender-specific weeks in a way feels quite old-fashioned. The opportunity to have fashion weeks that are open to all genders, and much more inclusive in that respect, feels like the right way to go,” she said.
Already struggling to attract big names even before the COVID-19 crisis hit, New York Fashion Week: Men’s may be a thing of the past, Kolb suggested.
“We never had a well-established men’s fashion week and so for us, the idea of combining men’s shows into women’s…makes sense,” he said, adding that this would be easy to do next season due to the market timing. He proposed tacking a couple of days of men’s shows onto the women’s calendar.
Paris will stick to its separate schedules for men’s, women’s and haute couture collections, said Morand, noting that despite some high-profile defections, such as Saint Laurent and Celine, most brands adhered to the Paris Fashion Week calendar last season.
“Each brand had its own reasons to do that. But what happened is that the great majority has participated in the fashion week, and we’re very happy with the numbers, so we know that we had a very positive dynamic on that. But then again, nothing is freer than fashion. It’s our job to have a consistent landscape and framework so that it works,” he remarked.
Kolb was equally confident that despite the upheaval generated by the coronavirus pandemic, fashion weeks will survive. “Because of the digital approach, that gave brands more license to feel like they didn’t have to be in a defined time. I think that was great,” he said.
“But I believe that the defined fashion week dates are valuable and are not going to go away. Because when you look at the fashion weeks and you look at all the shows that are happening in fashion week, that’s a narrative in itself: each brand has a message, but each city has a message. And if that is all spread out, that message is going to be really hard to communicate,” Kolb reasoned.
“I think February is still going to be very digital in New York. But kind of looking towards September, where we look to be live again, as the other cities, this combination of digital and physical, that interaction that happens during a fashion week, is so critical,” he added.
“It’s where you meet your colleagues, it’s where you do business, sitting next to someone. It drives the economy of our cities. It’s a cultural event. And so I don’t think we’ll ever not have those defined dates, but what we will have, and this is something that is a good result, is the license for brands to kind of show outside,” Kolb concluded.
Morand said the last six months had been “a fantastic field for innovation,” with an acceleration of a digital transformation that was inevitable. “It will never replace in-person shows,” he said. “But for sure, it has initiated what we can call a kind of augmented creativity. The relationship between fashion and the visual arts has been amplified.”
He noted that the Paris Fashion Week online platform, developed in partnership with Launchmetrics, had become a de facto media, featuring not only the shows and fashion films produced by the participating brands, but also its own sections with designer interviews, panels and other content.
“This is going to stay,” he predicted. “For sure, we’re not going to go back to the past. The former format is passé, I would say, but at the same time, digital is not going to replace everything. It’s a combination, but the core of what’s happening will remain the physical.”
Kolb cautioned, however, against digital presentations veering too far from the original purpose of a fashion show.
“Remember, it’s about business, it’s about showing a collection, it’s about editors writing about that collection and buyers buying that collection. And we have to be careful that we’re not becoming filmmakers and telling a narrative where the clothes don’t really become featured or the focus character,” he said.
Conversely, he noted, it was not enough just to post a look book. “That seems to kind of go flat as well. So there’s something in the middle there,” he suggested.
Capasa said it was especially important to tailor content for China, which accounts for 30 percent to 40 percent of sales at leading Italian brands showing in Milan. “In general, we saw that especially in China, there were more people ready to watch a fashion show live in streaming than in digital content. But still, I think that is a very beautiful, nice experiment,” he noted.
“In the future, we have to go to find the best way to mix up those two worlds, thinking that obviously, the trade prefers the touch and feel, so prefers something physical, and the big community prefers to have the chance to look at a show or an exhibition that they never had the chance to before,” Capasa said.
“This gave much more democratization to fashion, in terms of audience but also in terms of brands who could participate, new designers, talent of color,” he added. “We are starting a revolution in communication. What we did these last seasons is just the beginning.”