New York Fashion Week is going to vastly change. Here’s how

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IMG, the organizer of New York Fashion Week’s biggest events like Rihanna’s Fenty line, says there is a potential and profitability in the digital reset.

The lights will go up next week on a new sort of fashion month where green screens and virtual reality technology will replace many guest-seating charts and snaking attendee queues. After months of a pandemic have forced brands and designers to reevaluate traditions, many of these shifts will be lasting, says Leslie Russo, the executive in charge of global fashion events for IMG, the biggest producer of shows for the shrinking footprint of New York Fashion Week.

“This is a real inflection point,” says Russo, who has been looking to sports broadcasts and other productions for insight into techniques and technologies that can be useful to fashion brands that are more willing than ever before to experiment. “We’ve seen people doubling down on the way it used to be,” she says. “There’s a lot to be gained right now by doing business in a new way.”

Russo has been working since June to plan the first leg of fashion month. The Spring 2021 collections, produced with the help of a 40-page Covid-19 handbook — will include some segues into other seasons as brands adjust their production and sales to both the pandemic and changing consumer sentiments. The events that once numbered 150 or more shows and presentations will be significantly scaled back, with IMG anticipating just eight to 10 live events with guests and roughly 15 presentations for the working press, but no guests permitted. In one dramatic move, Monse will put its unsold Autumn 2020 collection on live models and sell the clothes directly to attendees at a rooftop presentation next week at IMG’s Spring Studios venue. It signals what is to come globally: already Valentino has made an “exceptional” decision to shift away from its usual Paris show this September to Milan and many big names have dropped off the season in New York including Marc Jacobs and Michael Kors.

New York Fashion Week is going to vastly change. Here’s how

As an event producer and entertainment company, IMG’s role differs from the Council of Fashion Designers of America, which owns the Fashion Calendar for New York Fashion Week, but doesn’t produce shows. Both groups say they are willing to do whatever brands need in a time of extreme stress. But IMG’s show-based fashion business model is shrinking even as it grows related businesses representing models, stylists, photographers as well as brands. IMG’s fashion weeks, which once included ancillary events such as Berlin Fashion Week and Miami Swim, have shrunk in recent years mainly to New York and Sydney.

As the first full women’s ready-to-wear fashion month to take place since the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic, attention will be paid to how New York Fashion Week unfolds. Eight months in, the industry remains in turmoil, with supply chains disrupted, revenues experiencing historic drops and designers attempting to suss out consumer desires that have shifted tectonically towards the apparel equivalent of comfort food. As the major fashion weeks play out in the US and Europe over the next month, physical attendees will be more local and far smaller in number than usual, while digital experiments will proliferate. Few Americans will be able to travel at all, given international restrictions on travel due to the still burgeoning pandemic in the US.

Bella Hadid at the Savage X Fenty Show, Spring/Summer 2019.

© Kevin Mazur/Getty Images

Image may contain: Clothing, Apparel, Human, Person, Underwear, and Lingerie

That makes the stakes simultaneously higher — many brands are reeling and working to survive — and the opportunities broader. IMG is pressing brands to think more broadly than the city-based show schedules that tie brands to calendar slots — a move that can benefit IMG as well. Better digital offerings mean less concern with the city and fashion week. In fact, it raises questions about whether fashion weeks tied to cities are fully necessary when the digitally amped shows really are as close as anyone’s phone. “I like to say the phone is the only global stage,” Russo says, noting that the iPhone is only 13 years old.

It’s unlikely, if not impossible, that September’s shows will offer a single solution to the future of showing and selling collections. Just a week before the first events were scheduled, many brands were still deciding whether and how to show a collection. Hence, IMG hadn’t published its full calendar for its brands’ shows. The line-up is “changing every day” Russo said on Monday. Rather, IMG highlighted a schedule bookended by flashy names — opening with a physical runway for Jason Wu on an outdoor rooftop, and closing with Christian Siriano.

Given New York state’s restrictions on public events, physical shows such as Jason Wu’s at New York Fashion Week will be limited to 50 guests. That is forcing a tricky calculus of who counts as a guest. Working press and photographers will be considered “crew” and therefore won’t count towards the limit. Influencers and celebrities will be considered “guests”, IMG says. Cue a predictable controversy over whether influencers at fashion shows are working or not.

The oversized entertainment approaches that come of well-funded brands are not expected to emerge on the schedule this season. Rihanna had planned a second streaming special for her Savage by Fenty label much like her Fenty show in September 2019, which aired later as a streaming special on Amazon Prime. The second Savage spectacle, which will also stream on television, has been postponed for a month or more, according to people familiar with the plans.

Russo says she expects a big future for live streams where products can be purchased. “I think you’ll see it more and more,” she says.

She says that watching the US Democratic National Convention in August, reminded her of the importance that a live audience can bring — even if that audience is virtual. Shows produced by IMG will have expanded camera options to make a live-streamed or filmed event feel more energetic.

New York Fashion Week

Sports broadcasts offer enticing ideas that could be applicable to streaming fashion shows. Fashion “live streams have traditionally been one angle straight down the runway. You don’t watch a basketball game from one angle the entire time”, she says. “The energy of life is never going away. People consume fashion like sport. You follow your favorite models. People follow season to season.”

The smaller fashion weeks that took place over the summer offer limited lessons. Paris’s haute couture shows evolved some spectacular filmography and COVID-19-centric designs such as Viktor & Rolf’s loungewear. More promising for ready-to-wear, at this summer’s digital-only Shanghai Fashion Week, Alibaba’s Tmall enabled consumers to order catwalk looks on their phones. Alibaba reported that the streamed events generated $2.82 million in sales, and generated 11 million views — an extraordinary feat for events that have traditionally been aimed at wholesale buyers and magazine editors.

Ties to traditional seasons are morphing as well. While selling its already-produced autumn collection direct to show guests next week, Monse will take pre-orders for its Resort 2021 collection, which it will reveal on its website on 14 September, says spokesman Marco D’Angelo.

Designers Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia, who are also creative directors for Oscar de la Renta, have decided not to show Monse’s Spring 2021 collection until sometime in October or November, D’Angelo says. They hope that shortening the time between the public reveal and production will limit the number of knockoffs that appear.

All of this forces fashion brands to more directly confront the essential question of where their collection reveals should be aimed — at stores and magazine editors who need to see in advance, or at consumers who want to buy what they see. The ultimate answer, Russo suggests, is no answer at all — it depends on the brand.

The takeaway here is that the fashion industry won’t be returning to scenes that even last February felt comfortably normal and that experimenters are likely to gain the edge. “This is the watershed moment,” Russo says.


#New York Fashion Week is going to vastly change. Here’s how

#New York Fashion Week is going to vastly change. Here’s how

#New York Fashion Week is going to vastly change. Here’s how

#New York Fashion Week is going to vastly change. Here’s how

#New York Fashion Week is going to vastly change. Here’s how

#New York Fashion Week is going to vastly change. Here’s how

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