Fashion, Forward

Virtual catwalks are taking center stage—in style

the Edge



A model walks in the Burberry virtual show in September. At right, digital avatars model clothes for the Digital Village component of Helsinki Fashion Week.


COVID-19 didn’t kill the fashion show—it’s simply accelerating the industry’s shift to digital events. Ever since Shanghai Fashion Week canceled its in-person event and unveiled plans for its first all-digital experience in March, other signature showcases have followed suit. From Moscow to London to Lagos, a steady stream of project teams are shifting plans from venue rentals and rehearsals to selecting virtual platforms and testing interactive features for new-look fashion weeks.

But as virtual catwalks become the norm, planning remains experimental—and fraught with risk as decision makers assess platforms. Live chat with designers? Click-to-shop features? Enabling augmented reality? Models streaming from their own homes? YouTube, Twitch or Instagram?

“There isn’t necessarily a clear winner today, as none of the platforms were designed with shows in mind,” says Melissa Jackson Parsey, global chief strategy officer, B-Reel, New York, New York, USA. The agency has worked on video projects for Fenty, H&M and Nike. Instagram, she says, can offer a built-in office and easily integrated commerce tools, “but it isn’t very flexible when it comes to creating custom experiences.” Luckily, teams have options.

First in Line

In September, Burberry kicked off London Fashion Week with a virtual fashion show on the platform Twitch. It’s been heralded as the first collaboration between a luxury brand and a live video streaming service, but “expect others to follow,” says Jackson Parsey.

The pandemic has spurred a surprising level of collaboration behind the scenes, among project managers for various fashion events, Joana Jorge, project manager, ModaLisboa, Lisbon, Portugal, told Women’s Wear Daily.

Another emerging trend is a “fusion of fashion and technology” that extends far beyond simply turning a video camera on the catwalk, says Jackson Parsey. “We’re currently envisioning digital-only fashion shows where everything, even the clothes and models, are digital,” she says. “It may sound far-fetched but it’s not when you consider that leading sportswear brands already compete to get their digital boots on top players in leading videogames.”

A New Reality

At Finland’s Helsinki Fashion Week in July and August, designers were paired with a digital expert to demonstrate innovations that might one day be the norm. For an event by designer Damara Inglês, attendees could don a virtual reality (VR) headset and soar around a “runway.” For another, the VR-fueled show created a Vatican City-inspired catwalk and nestled it among fluffy clouds. Designers at the Helsinki event also embraced turning outfits (and the models who don them) into 3D avatars, cyber networking, an online digital designer residency and streaming from their own homes and studios.

Still, bottom-line metrics likely will determine whether immersive digital events are the new fashion week reality or merely a pandemic diversion.

“The fashion industry, for as creative as it is, is a creature of habit,” Robert Burke, a retail and fashion consultant whose clients include Marc Jacobs and Nordstrom, told Vogue Business. “The tech world is built around testing and putting it out there when it’s not perfect, and that is a different philosophy than fashion shows have.”

Seasonal Shake-up

“Fashion Week can feel like an overdose of information, and I believe in a future with no seasons and brands who create timeless collections that aren’t restricted to the calendar,” Tana Latorre, designer, Paloma Wool, Barcelona, Spain, told Harper’s Bazaar.

She’s not alone in reassessing seasonality. Gucci, Michael Kors and Saint Laurent have all announced decisions to step back from the traditional fashion format and release collections on their own cadence.

Even the idea of a fashion week is under fire. In September, TikTok launched #TikTokFashionMonth. The project will livestream two fashion shows each week, starting with fashion heavyweight Louis Vuitton, and will culminate in a virtual fashion show featuring Puma and Alice & Olivia. The Puma and Alice & Olivia collections will be available to purchase exclusively through the app.

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