Eight China-based fashion designers were invited to Paris Fashion Week to present alongside several of the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund finalists at Tomorrow Le Palais, a showroom for emerging designers. But when they could no longer travel to Paris from China due to coronavirus-related travel restrictions, Tomorrow chief development officer Julie Gilhart coordinated a backup plan: each designer would create an introductory video to discuss and display their work.
The last-minute videos weren’t of high production value but successfully introduced the audience to the designers. It was also a learning experience, Gilhart says. “We all think we are so technically connected, but this has made us realise we are actually not. We are using [tech] as a tool but when the shit hits the fan, we aren't really prepared.”
While calls for a new approach to fashion month have accelerated, this season’s spate of cancellations — with Seoul and Tokyo fashion weeks being the latest — due to Covid-19 have clarified the need for technology that facilitates an alternative to in-person fashion shows, presentations and showrooms.
Vogue global network head of fashion shows Emily Zak chose to tune in remotely for some Paris shows. She found some surprising benefits. “When I wasn’t travelling from show to show, I had more time to absorb them,” says Zak, who turned to multiple sources — including livestreams, online slideshows and Instagram — to follow runway content. “That’s a real benefit that maybe I wouldn't have appreciated fully if the circumstances hadn’t come to that full boil. I don’t know why we haven’t invested more energy in coming up with an alternative.” (Vogue and Vogue Business share the same parent company, Condé Nast.)
Following shows remotely raises concerns that the in-person “visceral” momentum will be lost, Zak acknowledges. She points to the vibration of human voices singing at Louis Vuitton, and the vast puddle of water at Balenciaga as moments that wouldn’t resonate as well when viewed digitally. While it’s true that technology hasn’t nailed virtual rain — yet — there are early explorations of how fashion events could pivot to digital, a move that could become increasingly common.
“This is a huge focus of everyone working in immersive technology — creating a sense of 'presence',” says London College of Fashion’s Matthew Drinkwater, whose Fashion Innovation Agency has worked on a number of projects that use augmented, virtual and mixed reality, a group collectively referred to as cross reality, or XR. He says that creating a sense of immersion is critical to the success of digital events. “It's not about using XR to take us away from people; it’s more about how the development of these platforms will connect us in ways we could never have anticipated.”
This year, YouTube’s new fashion vertical, /Fashion, live streamed more than 40 runway shows, including newcomers Bottega Veneta, Jonathan Simkhai, Tod’s, Marni and Lanvin. YouTube’s fashion month livestreams garnered over four million views.
In China, live streaming is already a popular way to shop and see collections, and brands have embraced local platforms. Last September, Gucci’s first livestream on Chinese platform Weibo brought in 16 million viewers. “People say it’s hard to replicate, but look at what movies can do. The length that people have gone to create these amazing fashion shows — like bringing in sand to recreate a beach — there is no reason why you can't have more effects [on video]. You could have a flying unicorn going across the screen,” says Connie Chan, general partner at Andreessen Horowitz. “The idea of what is possible should dramatically open up and the costs should go down.”
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