Is it too early for physical fashion shows?

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Jacquemus staged the first physical show in France since the Covid-19 pandemic, and others are set to follow.

“We had to do it, our company is all about fashion shows, the impact of the shows cannot be compared with a beautiful film or a lookbook,” says Simon Porte Jacquemus of his Spring/Summer 2021 show called L’Amour in a hilly, undulating 35-acre wheatfield in Us, an hour drive from Paris. “It’s a friends and family show.”

Jacquemus and Alexandre de Betak, founder of fashion show production company Bureau Betak, went hunting after the lockdown to find the perfect location, echoing the designer’s previous social media-perfect lavender field event with the wheatfields of a local farmer who held off harvesting for them. The result this time was a 600-meter-long runway framed by golden-yellow wheat that the 100 guests — who received a bag containing a mask, hydroalcoholic gel, and water — amply Instagrammed. “Times have changed but there is continuity,” de Betak noted.

Is it too early for physical fashion shows?

Putting on a physical show while the majority of the industry reverts to digital events or takes a pause, comes with risk. Designers are balancing the sanitary risk and potential negative social media backlash with the need for exposure and to tap into the current mood. Jacquemus showed after the Paris SS21 men’s fashion week’s digital event, and during Milan’s. Two Milanese houses Etro and Dolce & Gabbana also hosted guests for runway shows this week, while Valentino will stage a live performance in Rome’s Cinecittà Studios on 21 July, Dior has its cruise show in Puglia on 22 July and Louis Vuitton has its menswear show in Shanghai on 6 August. Copenhagen Fashion Week will follow in a physical format.

While insiders enjoy seeing the collection in real life and mingling, images of the Etro show stirred controversy among industry insiders, given global infection rates and travel restrictions from Covid-19. “This is one thing I really noticed in the show coverage as I am looking online, I am also looking to check who’s got their masks on!” says global consultant for Harper’s Bazaar Glenda Bailey in a Zoom call from New York. “Still being in New York and having to wear a mask to go outside, you are very conscious of the importance for the audience. You want to be respectful of other people and the bigger picture.”

“A physical show right now is a bet that pays off in terms of visibility but it’s a risky one,” says Institut Français de la Mode professor Benjamin Simmenauer. France counts 174,838 total cases including 64,664 currently infected patients and 30,138 deaths.

So, how can designers show their collections without seeming out of touch and accurately reflect the current state of the world?

These three physical shows were held in outdoor spaces with all the required sanitary measures. For Jacquemus, who declined to reveal the investment behind the show, it was important to do it now. “We’re an independent company so we cannot skip a season,” Jacquemus explains. “My teams cannot prepare the next collection in two months. So from a human and strategic point of view, we had to show in June or July. We weren’t necessarily ready as we got back from lockdown in May but it was important.”

Jacquemus used some of the French governmental assistance designed to help independent brands to navigate the crisis. “When a restaurant reopens to serve meals, they are doing their job. I am doing my job here, we’re not just having fun, it’s not my ego,” he says. “If I don’t show my silhouettes, am I going to sell them? Am I going to be able to keep my 80 employees? We cannot afford to wait until it’s cool to do shows again.”

Etro Spring/Summer 2021 in Milan.
© Etro

The fashion industry attended: LVMH scion Alexandre Arnault and Vogue Paris editor-in-chief Emmanuelle Alt sat alongside actors Maisie Williams, Isabelle Adjani, and singer Clara Luciani. “I am a little stressed so I am wearing my mask, but we’re in optimum conditions here,” says Luciani. The singer’s concert dates have been canceled until March 2021, if the pandemic is contained.

Copenhagen Fashion Week will be a hybrid event featuring both physical and digital shows. “We need to keep the wheel spinning,” says Copenhagen Fashion Week chief executive Cecilie Thorsmark, referring to the rationale behind the hybrid event. “Copenhagen has opened up to a degree that feels almost normal but I understand the concerns of people who are still living under strict lockdown.” The event complies with the Danish authorities’ requirements and the live stream of the physical shows will be disseminated on a digital platform for international guests. “This isn’t a one-off ‘COVID edition’ but a new way to do fashion week. This is the kick-start of something new,” Thorsmark says.

Last year’s Jacquemus show boosted his social mentions by 1,343 percent in the third quarter of 2019, according to the fashion search platform Lyst. Data was not available for Thursday’s show. “It was also important that the collection echoes the collection currently in stores so that the sales through is better,” says Jacquemus, a clever way of aligning the fashion season with the real-world season. “There are dramatic situations in fashion today, a lot of companies are closing down, people are being laid off. It’s important to make the right decisions.”

#Is it too early for physical fashion shows?

#Is it too early for physical fashion shows?

#Is it too early for physical fashion shows?

#Is it too early for physical fashion shows?

#Is it too early for physical fashion shows?

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