Fashion calendars worldwide are transforming into  wider, more ambitious, and committed business platforms for all types of brands. The fashion capitals’ players are starting to bet high. Will anyone take the lead? 

The fashion industry is resetting; the worldwide pandemic has forced it into recalibrating its impact from a cultural and socio-economic dimension, understanding major changes in the playbook, where nothing is safe anymore, and everybody is playing its own melody.

Last year’s lockdowns in major fashion cities urged rethinking fashion presentations and the mandatory attendance of fashion tribes from one city to another. A volatile contraction of the economy and restrictions affecting international travel unleashed a domino effect of loss for all company services related to fashion runways and expenditure by the city.

The economic fallout in every major fashion city is affecting all business professionals focused on live events and related industries such as luxury accommodations, catering, security teams, transportation, restaurants and retail shopping to name a few. According to Bloomberg’s data, the four cities New York, London, Milan and Paris could miss out on more than $600 million in economic activity this season, as all presentations go digital. 

Several years ago, representatives from institutional organisations in the four cities started a discussion about creating a better synchrony for the fashion calendar, shortening presentation days, setting agreements on start and end dates, to avoid overlapping and benefit the press and professional buyers’ itinerary from one city to another -a route better known as the “fashion marathon”-.

With the rise of e-commerce, social selling, and a considerable increase of Direct to Consumer (DTC) brands in the market, industry insiders started to question the utility and the role of major organisations focused on fashion week. The conflict laid for all kinds of brands, since the big ones barely need institutional promotion as they had developed brand awareness in the public eye, and the less known, can completely skip the protocol without a proper runway, jumping directly into social media as a more effective communication tool.

It is a fashion conundrum as, on one hand, the major fashion institutions in the four cities, bring timeless prestige to the fashion aura of a region and, on the other hand, they have to be modern and forefront facing the new wave of presenting and supporting a fashion business. The winning formula seems, as everything right now, a hybrid process.

Platform Development & Integrations: Let’s Get Digital

To keep up with digitalisation, the fashion weeks organisers adapted the websites in aim of being the center of the digital presentations, including alliances with brands, creative studios, PR representatives and showrooms network.

DE-YAN, a multidisciplinary design studio created a seasonless digital tool for the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA). RUNWAY360 is a platform that brings together every relevant aspect of a collection launching in New York Fashion Week, such as key figures of a designer’s background, press materials, sales and digital brand activations. 

It is a centralized hub and business tool connecting designers with key industry stakeholders and consumers. The site allows each participating brand a modular page for video and photography to present the collection. In the future, as they state, it will support AR/VR, 360-degree capabilities, live video-streams and e-commerce extensions.

“It is essential to look at the future and the opportunity to change, collaborate and innovate. Many of our businesses have always embraced London Fashion Week as a platform for not just fashion but for its influence on society, identity and culture”. Caroline Rush, BFC Chief Executive.

London Fashion Week with the support of British Fashion Council (BFC) revamped their website and updated a platform, digitally accessible for trade and general public audiences. This website hosts multimedia content and acts as a global meet-up point, offering interviews, designer imagery, digital showrooms and webinars. 

Almost a year ago, BFC started the merging of all womenswear and menswear presentations into one gender neutral platform, allowing designers greater flexibility. With the merge, they increased the number of presentations for both segments and unified the dates when designers showcased, as the space limitations physical presentations required became nonexistent. 

“This year’s pandemic made us all rethink the current system in place. We are confident that this move will help designers reach more people via the digital LFW platform, while still allowing them to do business as early as January without the deadline of a show”, commented Dylan Jones BCF Menswear Chair, as men’s shows usually opened the annual calendar, now integrated in February.

Milan Fashion Week maintained the separation of dates for men and women’s offer promoting the website platform as the main channel for communicating and reporting all of the events taking place. 

As other organisations, The Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana (CNMI) created a protocol for accreditation in their website, for press or buyers being able to access digital workshops, web series, fashion films, lookbooks and video presentation of designers. 

The platform, launched last July, achieved more than 105M users globally on social media networks generating a 58% of Earned Media Value (EMV) of global Digital Fashion Week, directly generating 300K views and more than 15M in play. 

Paris Fashion Week (PFW) opted for a similar approach as other organisations, combining the official calendar members with invite-only presentations and the help of technological partners like Launchmetrics, to provide images and video hosting for each brand. Brands created related content, such as, interviews, designer profiles and online events, as well as, commercial and PR contacts. 

The Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode (FHCM) is the French organisation providing structure and policies for the ready-to-wear presentations besides the couture houses and the international fairs, held in Paris. 

Through “Sphere Paris Fashion Week Showroom”, FHCM provided to a set of emerging designers a wide range of services and tools, from financial support to the provision of expertise. Making it available in digital version with the help of Le New Black (a B2B platform) and Grand Shooting (a photo intelligence service for e-commerce).  

Some of the four players have not confirmed if they plan to continue with the hybrid strategy presentation once the pandemic is over. As the physical effect of hosting and showing a fashion collection with a live audience is very rooted into the fashion liturgy, aiming to affect the perception of a brand by the press, guests and potential buyers.  

The social gathering, as stated before, aims to increase the fashion connections that flourish in physical events and other dynamics during the two months of Fashion Weeks

Go Green or Go Home: Sustainability as the Only Way

Sustainability has been a subject behind all governance structures surrounding the fashion ecosystem. The green campaign has landed into many product phases related to the design process, and not only presentations. 

Is the fashion week model a sustainable one? Is fashion production fair? Is worldwide travel for fashion presentations worth it? Are fashion seasons obsolete? Tough, but necessary questions to be answered by top management executives. 

CFDA released the study “Sustainability by Design: Rethinking New York Fashion Week Today” in partnership with Boston Consulting Group addressing two main subjects: first, the environmental impact of NYFW and second, a playbook for brands who want to get into the action. 

The report stated a score on overall sustainability for NYFW is 53 out of a 100, within six impact areas such as generating content, sampling, production, venues, public relationships, transportation and logistics. 

Another finding was the top impact area in NYFW: production and sampling, which are, without a doubt, the common ground in worldwide problems for all fashion cities. “For example, if one designer discovers a supplier with hyper-sustainable fabric, they should share that with other designers to help push the overall industry toward sustainability” stated designer Maria Cornejo, in aim to build an industry based in cooperation and strong bonds and less secrecy around designers.

The study revealed that brands are unclear about how to set goals and objectives and do not know how to control costs, as implementing sustainable policies drives up budgets. Although in the long run, being sustainable is a good pay off if we trace the right commitments. 

“Half of the waste or more is already being generated at the design table; being sustainable is not more expensive; in fact, being conscious of waste has helped me reduce costs at my company.” Gabriela Hearst, Fashion Designer.

Regarding British fashion, the BFC acknowledges “the necessity to look at the future in ways that will establish long-term benefits, develop new sustainable business models and boost the industry’s economic and social power”.

The Institute of Positive Fashion (IPF) was launched last June, bringing together global resources to help businesses increase knowledge in three main pillars: environment, people and, community and craftsmanship. 

Besides the Mapping Global Initiatives project, they announced the first flagship research project, the “Waste Ecosystem Project”. The research will lead to a focused action-driven plan, detailing solutions on how the fashion industry can responsibly manage inventory, reduce, and move to circular business operations.

In Italy, The Green Carpet Fashion Awards, was a pioneer project of CNMI to raise awareness about the subject almost a decade ago. The Italian organization has established over the past years a sustainability committee and three working groups foreseeing retail, chemicals and technical recommendations for Italian brands. 

Furthermore, they provide active guidelines for brands on eco-toxicological requirements for articles of clothing, leather goods, footwear and accessories, as well as frameworks to apply sustainability on retail based on a study in partnership with Goldmann & Partners. 

Back in France, The FHCM presented last July the panel “Fashion Matters: Can Fashion Be Sustainable” with an introduction by model and activist, Amber Valetta, fashion journalist and editor, Camille Charrière, moderated by journalist and bestselling author, Dana Thomas, exploring different aspects of sustainability inside the fashion industry.

In terms of sustainability, the FHCM wants to “reinforce the positioning of Paris and French fashion as a forerunner for the entire sector on an international scale”. The institution joined the technical secretariat of the Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) Apparel & Footwear as a voting member and also the Apparel & Footwear Cluster (EF-subgroup) at the European Commission

A call to action is needed inside the fashion industry’s practices, therefore the Federation has launched a project to develop an impact measurement and eco-design tool for the industrial and event value chains. This will enable the anticipation of impacts and the calculation of its environmental, social and economic impact in collaboration with PwC and with the support of DEFI, a French institution created in 1984 and related to the ministry of Culture and Economics. 

The project will focus on several indicators such as, climate impact, management of energy resources, water and waste, nuisances, impact of digital, diversity, management of social regulations, working conditions, accessibility and economic criteria.

“We recognize the need for some to broaden their global visibility. In the past few years, many of our members have chosen to show in Europe, Asia, and other key markets and in many cases off-calendar. The events of the past year have only highlighted the need for flexibility within the fashion system”. Tom Ford, President of CFDA.

The Ins and Outs of The Season

The biggest change covering the headlines this season around Fashion Week is the absence of the biggest fashion brands in the official calendars

From NYC to Paris, each hub suffered a major step down of key participants. Ralph Lauren, Michael Kors, Coach, Tory Burch skipped NYFW. Alexander McQueen and Burberry did not show the womenswear collection in London. In Milan, Gucci, Bottega Veneta neither, as well as Saint Laurent and Balenciaga, in Paris.

This no-show trend, in some cases, is due to brand policies and their own right to present or to not present novelties, and on the other hand, to do it outside their city or country. Kering Group is leading the differentiation strategy, showing collections in their own terms, seasonless -in some cases-, and in their own timing. 

The change of structures and global trends is what prompted designer Tom Ford, president of CFDA, to rename the organisation schedule as the “American Collections Calendar”, as a way to be in sync with the times. “We will include all American designers within the calendar and on RUNWAY360, regardless of location or collection release date”, stated in a letter, promoting American designers showing off-calendar and abroad. 

Ralph Lauren will present the new collection in a “immersive fashion experience” featuring its muse, the singer Janelle Monáe. Titled “All or Nothing at All,” the show will be streamed on the brand’s website and feature the women’s Ralph Lauren Collection and men’s Purple Label line together. 

Promising a cinematic experience, the brand is aiming for guests to buy directly from the screen in a see-now-buy-now strategy. 

Entertainment, as a form of fashion communication and client engagement, is spreading through all fashion brands and gaining its position as the “normal” way in showcasing a collection, besides selecting the right time and place to win the battle of PR promotion.  

“It is an inspiring moment when brands and their creative teams and top talent can collaborate during fashion week, generating content assets that live well beyond the runway show.” KCD- Production house and PR firm.

In a way, it is a logical move for brands to stand out from the competitors. In the standard dates, sometimes there is too much noise around and so many simultaneous presentations that it becomes almost impossible, even for professional attendees, to know who is presenting what and where. 

Digital Fashion Weeks have created a space for all those designers who, in other circumstances, would not have been able to present in official calendars. However, with the increase in the number of presentations, and the all-welcome strategy, the positioning of each organisation and, their selection criteria, are less defined and focused. 

Especially now if they, as institutions, are promoting sustainability. In this context, promoting more brands that produce more items, is clearly not the solution.

Industry Fairs: Buyers and Digital Tools for Sourcing

As fashion shows, international trade fairs had to adapt physical restrictions last year and to date. 

Pitti Uomo has been the prime destination for press and buyers as the leading fair in menswear fashion. The Florentine organisation is preparing the 100th edition next June while innovating, as all fashion players, in digital ways to host the event or maintain the hybrid option. 

Pitti Connect is a platform released last summer, now improved (from January to March 2021) with new functions, designed and realized, to satisfy requirements of the brands with regard to their relationship with buyers. 

“Compared to the June 2020 edition, when the platform was launched, visits have increased by 55%, the number of pages visited grew by 60%”, states Agostino Poletto, General Manager of Pitti Immagine, as the organisation shared impact data. The reach is beyond Pitti Uomo, as the platform Connect includes the Pitti Immagine fairs, Filati and Bimbo. 

The digital platform has already attracted around 12k buyers, record a 1.3m page views and 252k visits in total with 470 brands present. Their editorial platform The Billboard, recorded a rise of +147%, meaning an interesting rise of brand content consumption from potential buyers.

 “The principle is to give our exhibitors an opportunity to release as much content as possible throughout the period they are online”. Agostino Poletto, General Manager of Pitti Immagine.

Première Vision (PV), the ultimate destination for textile sourcing based in Paris, also had to create digital solutions for its more than 1,500 exhibitors and worldwide buyers. The response is “Première Vision Marketplace”, an interactive digital catalog to facilitate products’ presentation, and buyers’ sourcing. 

The platform helped to show the latest product developments and manufacturing solutions in yarns, fibers, fabrics, accessories and components, designs, leathers and garments. Also, offer inspiration and creation services in virtual forums, webinars, as well as networking through video-calls, to personalize meetings and the ability to highlight specific product information via photos or videos.

In comparison to the Summer event, the February edition of Première Vision, incremented all its numbers, confirming the relevance of its future omni-channel strategy. With international visitors from 110 countries, the platform had 35k connections over five days, with more than 460k page views and almost 175k products viewed in an average visit of 20 to 50 minutes. Their “Digital Talks series” were followed live by 7.260 fashion professionals. 

 “Buying patterns have changed. Sustainability, transparency and traceability are increasingly central to consumer expectations, just are local manufacturing and the «Made in» phenomena”. Gilles Lasbordes, Managing Director of Première Vision.

The new platform will be progressively integrating various digital events throughout 2021. 

Nevertheless, the French organisation knows its strengths in the face-to-face environment. “This crisis has demonstrated the extreme necessity and vitality of physical trade shows, which are essential to ensure creative and business interactions between fashion brands and their suppliers”, commented Gilles Lasbordes, managing director of Première Vision, knowing that the evolution of the current health situation will set the pace for this resumption.

The organisation confirmed the next edition of Première Vision Paris will be held on September 21, 22 & 23, 2021 and will be a physical event with a significant amount of digital content to follow online.

Whether at fashion weeks or specialised trade fairs, the 2021 reality demands investments in technology, an open mind perspective to adapt and cope with digitalisation. For brands, it is mandatory to innovate in communication formats, simplify their buying/selling process and to be committed to sustainable development.

A new deal is taking form, imagining a better way of doing business, although it is also highlighting the complexity of the relationships between the players in the fashion industry and their malpractice issues. Fighting against customer’s overconsumption and revealing the final truth for fashion, an urgent need to reinvent itself for the future.