The most recent run of fashion weeks—the womenswear shows in New York, London, Milan, and Paris—were overshadowed by the spread of COVID-19, which spread to Italy just as the shows were beginning there. As a number of reporters on the ground have explained, the precaution and paranoia over the virus hung over the season, as several editors left early and shows were canceled, and the virus began appearing in the United States.
And much as COVID-19 has had a seismic effect on pop culture, it’s weighing heavily on the fashion industry, too. A number of shifts in reaction to the spread of the virus will change the next round of fashion shows—the lucrative “cruise” season—as well as the way Americans shop and what will be available to them. Here are just a few ways that will happen.
Cruise Season Is Off
The “resort” or “cruise” season is one of fashion’s most lucrative: held in the spring, it’s a kind of in-between, amorphous schedule of ambitious but commercial collections that brings editors, influencers, and, perhaps most importantly, major clients to locations across the world. A number of brands have already cancelled their cruise shows: Gucci, which had planned to show in San Francisco in May; Burberry, which had scheduled an April show in Shanghai; and Prada, which planned a resort show in Tokyo, Japan in late May. Even if Cruise shows are less directional than the traditional “on-season” shows, but they are nonetheless major brand-building moments for fashion houses—and a chance to bring their clothes to audiences outside of the four major fashion capitals. They are also a major resource for stores to revive their stock in-between seasons.
The Future of the Fashion show Is Up for Discussion
Outside of the traveling circus that is the cruise season, fashion designers are canceling and rethinking their shows, which may lead to questions about format itself longterm. “In a time of crisis, we have to think about a radical reset,” Vogue editor Anna Wintour told the Times. Ralph Lauren cancelled his April show, originally intended to display his Fall 2020 collection, and Giorgio Armani, on the final day of Milan Fashion Week, opted to livestream his show, from an empty room, to the audience. A number of smaller events, from a Michael Kors event in Milan to Rosie Assoulin’s presentation in Paris, were cancelled, too. The virus might force designers to question whether they really need to do a fashion show to sell their products and build their brand at all. Undoubtedly, there will always be brands that insist on shows—this past season, Balenciaga’s powerful apocalyptic submersion and Marc Jacobs’s joyful spectacle with Karole Armitage, demonstrate there’s still something to be gained from seeing a designer’s vision expressed in a staged runway setting. But designers may finally discover that paying models for hour-long presentations or staging the big “I belong here” statement show is not necessary—ironically, the kind of existential questioning that the sustainability movement has been begging the industry to take seriously over the past year.
The Way Stores Buy Is Changing
Designers are not merely in Europe to show clothing, but to sell it. (Contrary to popular mythology, this is the real reason most American designers choose to show there: it’s tough to build a brand without lucrative European wholesale accounts.) But a number of designers discovered this season that they could still make sales without the person-to-person appointments, using digital platforms like Joor to sell their goods instead. Others reportedly used PDFs—almost quaint—to make sales. Undoubtedly a number of high-touch, visionary merchants will struggle to place orders for clothing that they are not able to feel, but wholesalers are undoubtedly already thinking about how they might solve for that over the next season.
Online Shopping Is Affected, Too
Contrary to popular belief, most luxury shopping does not happen online: only nine percent of luxury goods transactions took place over the internet, a 2019 report found. In the midst of government-mandated quarantines in China, consultants at Bain found that shoppers dramatically increased their online purchases through Tmall, an ecommerce site, but that their designer goods purchases went down. This is consistent with what happened during the SARS outbreak, too, the consulting firm reported. Intriguingly, luxury sales spiked after SARS was contained—o luxury brands may have a storm on their hands, but they perhaps have relief-shopping to look forward to.
The Watch World’s Crazy Year Hits a Snag
This was supposed to be a banner year for the luxury watch industry. For the first time in 2020, the two biggest watch fairs, Baselworld and Watches & Wonders (formerly Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie, or SIHH), were scheduled back-to-back, rather than with their typical two-month separation. The fairs are an opportunity for brands to preview their new releases for the entire calendar year to press, customers, and retailers; the new dates were meant to make it easier on those who previously had to make back-and-forth trips to Switzerland for the two watch fairs. The thinking went that this would lead to increased attendance for both events. Last week, though, both Baselworld and W&W announced this year’s events would not take place because of fears over spreading Coronavirus even further at such a global gathering. Don’t call the events “cancelled,” though. Baselworld wrote in a statement that the event is “postponed”…until January 2021. In response, many brands are individually trying to pull together their own presentations to replace the two fairs. —Cam Wolf
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