PARIS — It was never easy for brands and buyers to pack meetings into the unforgiving rhythm of the fashion season calendar. So it’s little wonder stakeholders are welcoming a wave of new, virtual platforms where brands and buyers can connect, present new collections and place orders, offered by Paris’ ready-to-wear trade shows, in response to coronavirus-impacted events.
Digital platforms can “contribute to slow things down, bring more flexibility with a trade show we buyers can access all year long…[which can] help us take more time to discover emerging brands,” wrote Julien Bouzereau, buyer for the Paris men’s wear store Beaubien, via the Man/Woman trade show’s new online platform, launched during Paris Men’s Fashion Week.
The site, which represents more than 90 brands, in the coming weeks will provide an avenue for professionals to view and order from new collections directly. Other, still evolving digital offshoots to Paris trade shows include Tranoï Link, hosting exhibitors from Tranoï physical events, plus other brands, to be launched Sept. 1.
WSN Développement is planning to hold physical shows: Who’s Next, Impact and newly added Traffic, from Sept. 4 to 7 at the Porte de Versailles, alongside the virtual platform Vimeet. Slated to go live before August, Vimeet will close after the physical shows end.
Meanwhile, trade show View, presided by Caroline Mossot, expects to unveil its “phy-gital” showcase during the next round of men’s shows in Paris in January 2021, via a physical event featuring 80 brands at the Carreau du Temple, and an online platform that will remain open for order placement for an additional six months.
View’s online presence will offer exposure to a database of more than 10,000 international buyers, according to organizers.
Seen as a step toward a more efficient, better-paced, and even personal way of doing business, these digital trade show “tools” are intended to work in conjunction with physical events, not to replace them. But with so many online avenues at their disposal, brands may opt to further limit travel to fashion capitals in future, raising questions about what that means for post-pandemic fashion weeks.
Anna Wallack, founder and creative director of Misha & Puff, the Boston-based, sustainable hand-knitwear brand, said her strong online and Instagram presence has made her reconsider “what is necessary and responsible,” in terms of how she presents her collections, and other business operations. The brand’s fall 2020 collection is available for viewing on the Man/Woman platform.
“While there are limitations to [virtual] meetings, I do also think they can be less distracting,” Wallack said. Known for children’s knitwear, Misha & Puff debuted a women’s collection just prior to the pandemic’s spread to the U.S. and saw most retailers drop out. In response, Wallack opened her fall collection to direct consumer pre-orders, and made more sales than initially projected, allowing her to keep her staff and invest in new production in Peru.
“I don’t want to diminish how awful this has been for so many people, but I think there are forcing factors — instead of closing you down, which open you up to what else something could be,” Wallack said in a Zoom interview. “There is something about being in person that is valuable, but I think it can be done more strategically, in a way that we have not thought as much about,” she added.
“The pandemic has unsurfaced a lot of cracks in the fashion industry’s pavement,” agreed Lauren Yates, founder of W’menswear, an artisanal brand with a workwear aesthetic. She said digital platforms like the Man/Woman site, where she is registered, can help draw new buyers into the brand’s showroom on a less season-focused model that has “become irrelevant overnight.”
W’menswear was one of a handful of brands on the Man/Woman site able to present a spring 2021 collection for the platform’s July 9 opening. Most others were stalled by production issues related to COVID-19. Yates attributed this in part to working with diverse artisans, and small to medium-sized factories in Thailand, where the outbreak was managed relatively well. “We were able to move quickly and shift all production back to Thailand once we got word of the factory closure in Vietnam,” Yates said.
Her latest collection was inspired by the rain forest on Borneo Island, and the “balancing act between chaos and order.” She looked to the island’s native Iban weaving tradition, in which female weavers are seen as warriors. Blood-red dye and indigo are some of the collection’s key natural tones.
Paris show organizers agree that to survive, the industry’s pre-pandemic model cannot stand, but they don’t want these digital platforms to become permanent alternatives to physical gatherings.
“It’s not a replacement of physical trade shows. It’s a complement, and we want it to last over the long term,” Antoine Floch, cofounder of the Man/Woman show, said in a telephone interview. “We will encourage brands to use the platform during the physical show planned for October [at Place Vendôme], so that if a brand can’t visit with an international buyer, they can engage in conversation from inside the salon by using Zoom, and they can show their collection,” he explained.
“We’re lucky to be in a country with a huge fashion culture, and where there is a real discussion between federations, salons, showrooms and brands, and I think that’s the strength of Paris. We have to ensure that Paris remains a place of reference,” he added.
In coming months, the Man/Woman platform will also provide a space for consumers to directly purchase select items from designers via the site, which also includes a media space featuring playful interviews with designers and retailers.
“It’s important for people to be able to express themselves, and also to let the industry know that they are still here and present,” Floch said. Uncertainty around the health crisis “made moving forward complicated, so at least this gives us a certain visibility into the future,” he added. “We have to do everything we can to save our businesses, and to make it through this together.”