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The timely death of the runway show as we know it



Fashion shows once provided the ultimate means of escapism, but now, as the world teeters on the edge, will the escapism that fashion shows once brought be met with indifference? September’s shows are likely to be held virtually, if at all. And, frankly, in cities like New York and Milan, which have been transformed into hell on earth in a matter of weeks, they may not find much solace in frolicking Instagram savants taking photos in Central Park - that, a few months prior, served as a field hospital. 


Having a September void of fashion weeks introduces the possibility of a mass realization that we don’t need them. Brands will jump on gimmicks to ensure sales, and will turn to live-streams to be seen, but when our entire worlds have been turned into virtual interactions, how profitable is this anymore? The number of shows at fashion weeks have been on a downward trend. And, this September, without there being an audience, the fate of fashion week and the fashion show are put into limbo. 


In September, designers are faced with the possibility of live-streaming shows. However, if social distancing restrictions are still in place during the early weeks of September (a speculation that seems likely to become reality) they will be forced to turn to other ways of marketing their collections. Brace for Instagram lives following the see-now-buy-now model or, in the vein of streetwear, “drops” of collections, sprung onto audiences at a moment's notice.  


Forced into a corner, there are limited ways to mimic the spectacle of the fashion show. Audiences may flock to the social media-focused see-now-buy-now model, first introduced to the runway in 2016 by the likes of Tom Ford and Burberry. Although jarring to some, it’s the way we consume close to everything in our lives now. Minimal time, minimal effort: within a few clicks and a few seconds we can buy anything. With the absence of fashion shows in September, brands may latch onto this instantaneous model and forego the staging of shows altogether. Many brands, after the looming recession, will lean towards options that allow for them to spend the least while making the most. A 50K cheque for lighting doesn’t pair well with economic austerity.  


Michaelis Zodiatis, senior communications director for the BFC and the CFDA tells Rabble Rouser: “once the crisis is over and non-virtual events can resume, we also recommend that brands attempt to show during the regular fashion calendar in one of the global fashion capitals in order to avoid the strain on buyers and journalists traveling constantly.” They also “recommend designers focus on no more than two main collections a year” explaining that “these changes have been overdue for a while, and the fallout from coronavirus has forced us all to prioritize the process of rethinking how our industry should function.” 


NYFW, as it stands, is only 27 years old, birthed at Bryant Park in 1993. It’s a grim reality that a pandemic, not faux environmentalist funerals, ultimately lead to the demise of the fashion show as we know it. F/W 2020 is channeling some apocalyptic mixture of the Old Testament meets Brave New World. Usher in the locusts and the World State.  


Some designers, as a way to slash costs accompanied with a realization that many just want to buy and are not entertained by the spectacle of the fashion show, will turn to marketing and selling their collections exclusively online, and never look back. People crave for reality when our entire lives have become a matter of bread and circuses. Fashion shows have always been about marketing; about encouraging people to buy more. As it was first introduced in France under the reign Louis XIV of as a way to encourage textile buyers to buy more. Pageantry and novelty stoked demand. 


The shift to a digital existence for the fashion show can to some seem predictable and hollow, but with the decentralization of the fashion show, there is space for new designers and new means for sharing collections to take place. Quarantine will yield new designers; ones who have had formal training, and ones who have taught themselves via Youtube videos and lucky guesses - and maybe we need more of the latter. 


With virtual elements of life no longer a way to escape for some, the tactile garners an increasing allure. Turning to create things on our own, and redefining concepts of luxury to reflect a desire for things that last. This invites in the idea not of live streams and digital reveals, but of presentations that reflect the tactile trade shows fashion shows once were. Perhaps once this is all over we will rediscover a kindred joy in being shoved into a small space with complete strangers, gathered around to feel fabrics through our hands, and not through blurred pixels on a screen, or packed in with paparazzi and Instagram influencers on folding chairs ten meters from the catwalk.  


As life becomes one big unknown and the more we distrust systems, the government, and formal education, the more self-sufficient we become. The show is leaving the stage, and entering into the crowds of the curious. 

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