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Image / Style / Fashion / Off The Cuff

What does the future of Fashion Week look like?

by Freya Drohan
19th Feb 2021

catwalkpix / instagram

New York Fashion has just ended. Did you even know it was happening this year? NYC-based fashion editor Freya Drohan reports on the state of runway in 2021.

Welcome to fashion year! It’s collection reveals coming in hot morning, noon, and night from every city. It’s digital Haute Couture from Paris while I’m having my breakfast. It’s a “phygital” show from London later that day. Followed by a socially-distanced Spring Summer presentation in New York, and a Pre-Fall or Fall-Winter lookbook sent from Milan as a bedtime kiss.    

A fashion editor’s email inbox can be a mind-boggling place at the best of times. And while it’s not unusual to be fielding pitches or seeing market months ahead, the fashion calendar is now in such a state of flux that it’s become impossible to make sense of what brands are showing what season. 

New York Fashion Week in 2021

Case in point: it’s currently New York Fashion Week. Albeit another underwhelming iteration of it. Unlike this very time last year, there’s no runway shows at iconic venues, no front rows, no rush, and ultimately no buzz. While the industry has grappled with what the value of hosting an eye-wateringly expensive physical event is for aeons, it finally answered its own question when it was forced to pause and re-assess. While NYFW might be barely making an audible whisper outside of fashion-centric websites, there are more than 100 “events” going on this week. 

While designers are endeavouring to still create and keep the lights on, they’re relying on those digitally-shared collections to make a lasting impact in 2D format. This is hard at the best of times, let alone when the framework of having all eyes on NYFW is pulled out from under them. Not only are designers now competing with their contemporaries in the city, but also with major brands around the world who are determining their own schedule of sorts. Because no one is travelling in line with the traditional fashion calendar right now, instead it’s become an international conveyor belt of virtual shows; with little format, structure, or logic. 

The February and September shows normally see over 150,000 people arrive in New York City alone, including pivotal international press, buyers, and content creators, who get the word out about what we’ll all be wearing for the next six months, and keep the tireless (and exhausting) fashion cycle churning in the process. According to Bloomberg, the fashion capital is likely to miss out on several hundred million dollars in economic activity—when you factor in an endless checklist like hotel stays, satellite events, parties, car rentals, and event staffing.

Its importance to the fashion calendar

On a recent Instagram Live, Tom Ford, who is chairman of the Council of Fashion Designers America discussed why the decision was made to rename New York Fashion Week to the American Collections Calendar. In essence, it’s widening the support net for any U.S. designer to showcase their wares whenever, however, and wherever they want – remember I touched on the inbox madness? I think it’s the tip of the iceberg!

While the idea makes perfect sense, as the CFDA’s fundamental aim is to promote and nurture homegrown talent, it does question what the future relevance of New York Fashion Week is. Even more pressing, what the relevance of New York as a creative hub is.  

But Ford himself, resplendent in the glow of his tripod ring light, agreed that he too is yearning for the energy of a real-life show, which simply can’t be replicated in an online experience. Ironically, the designer opted to controversially show in Los Angeles this time last year, but he assured Vanessa Friedman of The New York Times that he’ll be back to his NYFW roots, hopefully, in September.

Tellingly, Ford admitted that he does think that despite endless open letters and industry debate, things will end up going back to their old ways for the time being. Ultimately, the fashion community has realized that while they might not need to get together as often as was once customary, there is no moving forward without some semblance of physically being there to witness and interpret that energy. 

Pandemic-induced innovation

If one of the world’s leading fashion designers and the chairman of a major body thinks things will just go back to normal, where does that leave us? It would be doing a major disservice to say that nothing has been learned and we’re all just biding our time until we can default back to what is notoriously an unsustainable system. Indeed, so many designers brought innovative concepts to the fore. From Balmain’s TV screen front row and J.W. Anderson’s “show in a box” for Loewe to Hanifa’s Anifa Mvuemba showcasing her garments in motion without any models at all, there were certainly light bulb moments.

Yet, as Ford said, this is a business and it’s a consumed-led one at that. During a phone interview before her NYFW presentation earlier this week (one of few designers to once again physically host an audience this season), Rebecca Minkoff explained to me that endeavouring to put on a “see now buy now” presentation in September led to a four-fold increase in sales and unprecedented media impact value. And speaking of innovation, she’s incorporating technology this season by sharing content on buzzy emerging platforms like OnlyFans and Clubhouse. 


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A post shared by Hanifa (@hanifaofficial)

So for a few more weeks, it’s going to be a lot more pre-recorded, audienceless fashion shows going down on Instagram Live and Dropbox links to couture imagery. Yet with the notion that I’ll experience that unrivalled energy with my own eyes again soon, I can keep the blue light glasses on for a little longer. It’s almost enough buzz to keep me on top of my chaotic inbox.

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