Pandemic realities are pushing the styling industry to examine ways to reshape a failing system


In early December, Chanel launched its latest Métiers d’Art collection in a chic new headquarters for its artisan workshops on the outskirts of Paris. The show, which spotlights the embroiderers, metalworkers and milliners behind its collections, brought fashion to life in a way that has been absent from the digital presentations explored by luxury brands throughout the pandemic.

The show was one of many fall events that marked a return to the multi-seasonal globetrotting extravagances that once filled the industry calendar. There was also the Louis Vuitton menswear show in Miami during Art Basel, the Gucci takeover of Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles, and the Alexander McQueen womenswear showcase in a transparent bubble atop London.

Alexander McQueen’s women’s clothing storefront was staged in a transparent bubble atop London.Handout

The return to face-to-face shows with successful budgets, which began last September, reflects how eager brands are to reclaim the buzz that was lost when they moved to virtual events. According to online activity tracker Launchmetrics, London Fashion Week saw 55% lower social media engagement for its all-digital spring 2021 season. But it also highlights just how difficult the call to revamp the Hamster Wheel calendar and the presentation of new collections that came at the start of the pandemic has been to implement.

In May 2020, designer Dries Van Noten spearheaded the Letter from the Forum, an open letter to the fashion world that criticized the industry for being unsustainable, both commercially and environmentally. The missive, also signed by designers like Angela Missoni and Gabriela Hearst, and Nordstrom chairman Pete Nordstrom, denounced the proliferation of fashion seasons which has led to a rapid cycle of large in-store discounts. Business of Fashion online point of sale conducted another proposal, Rewiring Fashion, who suggested that the industry shift its Fashion Weeks to January and June to allow designers to show off closer to when collections hit stores.

Among the signatories of Rewiring Fashion was Elizabeth Bowring, a professor at the Palimoda Fashion School in Florence, Italy, who at the time was at the head of the WGSN trend forecaster’s catwalks. “I really felt that we had to look into the future and think about future fashion leaders,” she says. “I felt that young designers were being left behind and their voices were not being heard.”

In addition to signing the document, Bowring developed his own plan, which centered creativity as a catalyst for change. “Creativity does not only exist in fashion design, but also in how you can create from our fashion world,” she says, citing digital fashion shows, emphasizing the ethical and slow design and the readjustment of the seasonality of Fashion Weeks as concrete advances. .

While Bowring says all of these scenarios came to fruition at the start of the pandemic, they were ultimately put on hold by many conglomerates and luxury brands in favor of reverting to old standards a few months later – a move that comes as no surprise Bowring. “Money is more important than anything that matters in this world,” she said, noting that those who run the ship benefit from the existing structures.

Small designers, however, had the most to gain from changing things. For Canadian designers, meeting the demanding expectations of the industry has always been a challenge. It’s a problem the pandemic has only exacerbated, with local designers keeping the bag for canceled orders from locked-down retailers and increased pressure to create a nifty e-commerce presence.

Calgary designer Paul Hardy, who also signed the Business of Fashion letter, has moved away from seasonal collections altogether, opting instead for made-to-order capsule collections. “I was disappointed with the commercialism of fashion and missed the handcrafted aspect of the design,” he says.

For some small designers, open letters signaled the start of something new. “It was a vote of confidence that we could defend ourselves, that the whole industry felt similar,” explains Parris Gordon, one of the designers of the Toronto-based Beaufille brand. “We do our own thing, but we also work to meet the needs of our retailers,” she says of her company’s change in collection schedule.

The onset of the pandemic forced Gordon and his sister, co-designer Chloe Gordon, to launch their own e-commerce platform, which opened up a new source of income and allowed them to offload older goods through to successful archival sales. Direct-to-consumer sales offer an alternative business model that is unrelated to the discount rush favored by most mass retailers.

“Since the 2008 recession, [deliveries of merchandise] come in earlier and earlier, and the constant promotions start there, ”says Lanita Layton, luxury consultant and former executive at Hugo Boss, Birks and Holt Renfrew. “Now we’re seeing a decrease in that, but I don’t think sales like Black Friday will ever go away. “

According to Moneris, Canada’s largest provider of mobile, online and in-store payments, Black Friday 2020 has passed Boxing Day, a trend expected to continue into 2021. “For department stores and those who think the only way to compete with them is to follow suit, the promotion and discount cycle seems entrenched, ”Layton says. “Everyone is in the ‘Who jumps first off the cliff?’ Cycle? “”

This season, however, the steep discounts could show signs of abating. Many luxury brands have delayed sales promotion until after Christmas, or not advertised at all, instead focusing on private sales for the best customers. Recent supply chain issues, Layton said, will give luxury retailers yet another reason to rethink the timing of promotions.

Chanel has launched its latest Métiers d’Art collection in a chic new headquarters for its artisan studios on the outskirts of Paris.MATHIEU BONNIN / Document

Despite the lack of a consistent effort to reframe the direction of fashion, the past few months have shown that the industry is more flexible about its future. “For us, it has not returned to normal. We’re trying to reinvent what we look like from here on out, ”says Phillip Lim, creator of New York label 3.1 Phillip Lim. Since the pandemic, Lim has downsized his collections and pulled out of fashion shows in person. “Our footprint is much smaller and we are reinventing how to use resources more wisely. “

When asked if he’s worried about losing market share due to the downturn in things, Lim doesn’t seem overly concerned. “We are still part of an industry that thrives on being in the [spotlight], and it depends on how much you want to play it, ”he says. “There is a cost to not playing it – you’re not the honey – but at the same time, it’s not about being the honey, it’s about doing what’s right for you. “

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