Per usual, the industry has been talking/writing/tweeting about the who’s and what’s of the past fashion month — the fresh faces, this designer’s debut, that one outlandish, (borderline offensive?) look. Industry insiders and storied publications have dissected and dissertated collection after collection for spring and summer 2020's key trends — but what if fashion week simply just… never happened?
Well, it didn’t! In Stockholm, at least. That may have flown under your radar since the city’s not one of the “Big Four,” but the Swedish Fashion Council cancelled Stockholm Fashion Week a month before the event was scheduled to take place on August 27-29. “Stepping away from the conventional fashion week model has been a difficult, but much considered, decision,” said Jennie Rosén, CEO of the Swedish Fashion Council. “We need to put the past to rest and stimulate the development of a platform that is relevant for today’s fashion industry (and) focus on creating tools and platforms in order to support and prepare the industry for the future.” The council plans to relaunch its talent incubator program and will reveal an alternative, sustainability-focused strategy later this year.
With each fashion week, the question of relevance is reintroduced, a years-old debate reignited, and the industry divides. Honestly, I’m not a ~super cool fashion journo~ who gets invited to all the shows, so I haven’t given this all that much thought. But I can see the logic behind the anti-fashion week case. The collections shown at fashion week usually aren’t wearable (even if they're RTW). The Gucci catwalk saw straitjackets in their S/S 2020 presentation in Milan, for example. Runway shows in the grand scheme of things are opportunities to showcase upcoming trends and aesthetics that will be reflected in the clothes that a brand’s stores and websites actually carry. This is indicative of a weird sort-of asymmetry between fashion shows and buyers that the industry is desperately trying to mend right now. Brands like Burberry, Tommy Hilfiger, and Tom Ford have caught on to the disconnect and adapted by introducing the “see now, buy now” strategy, where the pieces are for sale as soon as the show is over, rather than when the season the brand is showing for finally rolls around months afterwards. But the average buyer doesn’t even attend fashion week! It’s all PR people, fashion journalists, and Internet influencers. So the whole irrelevance point comes full circle, and no one has been able to answer the question of why we still have fashion week.
Fashion week is no longer apt to harness the attention (or $$$) of buyers. Instagram, on the other hand, is. Bear with me while I hit you with some numbers. Every season, Vogue publishes a list of the most-viewed collections. Gucci ranked #1 with 99,129 unique visitors, aka people watching the live stream. Okay, cool. I didn’t know how to put this into context until I went on Gucci’s Instagram account WHICH HAS 37.1 MILLION FOLLOWERS. Way more potential buyers are seeing the collection for the first time on their IG feeds than they are on the runway. Plus, shows are ridiculously costly to put on (major brands can easily spend millions on a fifteen minute catwalk), but posting on Instagram is free!!!
I’d be disappointed if fashion week ceased to exist with Instagram as its sole successor, though. Shows are unsustainable, expensive, and exclusive (in the worst way), but that doesn’t mean they’ve never been beautiful or inspiring or innovative. I’m looking forward to seeing what form this “platform” the Swedish Fashion Council is developing will take and what technologies it might incorporate; Artificial Intelligence? Virtual reality? Writing this has raised more questions than it delivered answers. There are infinite alternatives to fashion week to be explored, but first it’ll take brands to finally admit that the runway as we know it is dead.
Images via Gucci/Instagram