The business of fashion shows is struggling this week, but fashion retailing is not. Already eCommerce figured to play a major part in the various fashion weeks across the globe this week and next due to new technology and a willingness for designers to make their clothing more accessible. But now eCommerce will get a star turn rather than a supporting role. It just might turn out to be the saving grace for many events as the COVID-19 virus scatters plans and people.
Tokyo’s Rakuten Fashion Week is the latest casualty of the coronavirus, which has spread to Japan. It joins other events forced to postpone or cancel, including fashion weeks in Shanghai, Beijing, Seoul, Bologna and Geneva. Milan Fashion Week was cut short while most Parisian shows have gone on as planned. Most Parisian shows were streamed online, including Chanel, which outfitted models with logo-clad velvet surgical masks.
“I am sorry for the designers [who] looked forward to their shows,” Japan Fashion Week Organisation (JFWO) Director Kaoru Imajo told Business of Fashion (BoF). JFWO is working to bring collections online and will essentially stage a new online event with the cooperation of various media outlets. As Rakuten Fashion Week is largely a B2B event, local designers will bear the brunt of the cancellation. However, Imajo said the effect will be tempered by online exposure.
“It’s a good opportunity to consider new ways to do shows or showrooms digitally … so that [brands] can reach more audiences from all over the world,” wrote Maiko Shibata, creative director and buyer of Tokyo-based multi-brand boutique Restir, in an email. “The current mood in Japan is not suitable at all [for spending] money on fashion. We have to think of ways to make people feel okay to buy or talk about fashion again.”
This season, Shibata will place orders from Japanese brands online. She also said online showrooms will help collections reach buyers and eventually consumers.
The coronavirus hits at a time when many in the fashion industry were doubting the need for exclusive fashion runway events. Says the Business of Fashion, “times are changing. By and large, designers are no longer looking to plan and execute a daunting presentation. And it appears that consumers aren’t looking for them either — instead, they want to participate. Innovation now looks like pop-up shops and see-now-buy-now events.”
For example, designer Phillip Lim opted out of a runway show and hosted a ready-to-wear event at his brand’s loft, open to the public and with items for sale. Minju Kim (winner of the 2014 H&M Design award) recently won the top price in the Netflix series Next In Fashion. Her New York Fashion Week collection was released in conjunction with Net-a-Porter. It has 12 items from MINJUKIM on its website.
It will interesting to see if the fashion show as a concept is changed by this year’s disruptions. “It needs to be edited and designed to fit well on a screen that fits in the palm of your hand and to fit within the technology that is available to the audience: the iPhone video and Instagram,” Alexandre de Betak, the founder of Bureau Betak and longtime show producer said in a Vogue report. “The purpose of fashion shows, for me, is to help luxury brands communicate and to continue to make that brand’s audience dream. What that means [for the future] is that we need to continue to make people dream in a more efficient, shorter way, and in a way that the POV of the audience matters more than the one from the traditional media.”