As innovative and glamorous as it can be, the fashion world has a couple of things that appear to be set in stone – and fashion month is one of them. For those in the industry, come February and September of each year, things start to get extra heated: outfits for all four weeks are carefully chosen, sponsors start to work day and night to guarantee appearances, influencers showcase gifts sent by different brands each day, models have to go left and right to get to every single show booked… the list goes on. But that is only the peripheral view of what fashion month is. The actual premise that makes February and September so crucial for the fashion calendar is that designers showcase their seasonal collections. More than that, trends that will likely dictate how both high and mainstream fashion will follow in the next few months make their first appearances.
Although when thinking of “fashion week,” most people may automatically think of New York, Paris, Milan and London, there are in total 22 fashion weeks that take place around the world. The year 2020 was not only a rather peculiar year for all, but the impact on the fashion industry was gigantic, and massive events like fashion weeks had to be reinvented entirely in all 22 capitals. Last year, fashion shows adopted the format that is the epitome of the “new normal“: hybrid—a mix of in-person shows with a select number of guests plus digital exhibitions. Although an atypical fashion month, September was slightly optimistic: right after the summer, European countries had somewhat improved the pandemic scenario. The current fashion month of February of 2021 is already different, as it is right after the winter and with significant differences in the pandemic situation. Even with all the moment’s adversities, fashion brands once again made it possible to innovate and showcase their latest collections, only this time, mostly in digital formats. At the beginning of February, I enjoyed covering three shows at Copenhagen Fashion Week for my fashion page, and, although digital, all three shows took entirely different approaches.
The first show I watched was Stine Goya’s, which was composed of a short video of models wearing the latest collection while leading rural and calm lives. At the same time, a narrator motivated watchers to believe in themselves while navigating the ups and downs of life. Later on the same day, it was time for Samsøe Samsøe’s show, where a beautiful forest became the stage of a fashion show. The models navigated between trees in a fast-paced dynamic while a mysterious-sounding techno song played in the background. Lastly, Munthe took the (virtual) stage, and models appeared walking a catwalk located inside what seemed to be an Ikea warehouse with pop music played in the background, much like a pre-pandemic fashion show.
As I write this article, Milan Fashion Week is commencing, London has just finished, New York took place last week, and Paris Fashion Week begins in a few days. It is not hard to imagine how demanding fashion month is for those in the industry, especially those who attend more than one of the main shows. The idea of a fashion week taking a hybrid formula or even just fewer shows might not be such a bad idea, as it gives time for attendees, stylists and models to recompose between shows, or if not, at least to do all of it from one place. Simultaneously, a fashion show is, above all, a sensory experience, and a digital version is likely to lose its relevance.
To understand how digital formats affect the whole fashion month experience, I had the pleasure to interview a fashion industry expert, Caroline Vazzana, creative director, style influencer, founder of the website Making It In Manhattan and author of the eponymous book. In addition to these titles, I would say that Ms Vanzanna is a fashion week authority and a must-have appearance for many fashion shows. Starting as an editorial intern for Teen Vogue and In-Style Magazine, Ms Vanzzana has worked her way up in the industry using her social media and love for fashion, eventually making a name for herself, becoming her own boss, and writing a survival guide for those who dream of working in fashion and don’t know where to start. Right in the middle of fashion month’s craziness, Ms Vanzzana took some time to (digitally) meet with me and answer some of my questions. As a fashion enthusiast myself, I was excited to hear her perspective. Currently, Ms Vanzzana is finishing up her NYFW coverage, and with this in mind, I was curious to listen to her insights on how this fashion month compares to last September.
“September definitely felt more lively — in New York City at least — this season; it feels even quieter. There are really not that many in-person events going on. However, yesterday, I went to my only in-person show of the season, the Christian Siriano show, and it was really great: the chairs were very spread out and socially distanced, which shows that it really is possible to make a safe and well done in-person fashion show.”
While fashion month is still managing to go on via digital platforms and innovative virtual experiences, it is not the same. Ms Vanzzana then compared the feeling and impact an in-person fashion show provokes and the digital structure in the current context.
“I think that the brands are definitely trying. Putting together these beautiful videos and pre-recorded shows, other than streaming for us to watch. It somewhat still feels like that magical moment. For example, yesterday, I watched the MaxMara show that usually takes place in Milan. The way they put their videos together did, for a moment, make me feel that fashion week magic of being in the venue and looking around. It’s very hard for brands, but I feel like they’re trying their best and doing a great job, but there’s nothing like the real thing.”
Ms Vanzzana’s routine during fashion month is usually composed of five or more shows a day in NYFW, switching outfits multiple times, hoping in and out of Ubers, taking a flight to Milan to attend more shows and then Paris, right after. It is not hard to imagine that the fashion month experience she usually has is very different from the one she’s having right now. After experiencing the “pandemic” fashion month, Ms Vazzana says that, although a part of her doesn’t mind this quieter version, as it is much less stressful. The chaotic aspect of fashion month is just part of a bigger scheme that is very fun and a dream come true for aspiring fashion followers, including Ms Vazzana. Despite that, Caroline believes that, when things are back to “normal,” fashion shows and brands will probably not go back to what they were before. As she stated: “we all know the year we had with the virus, so I really don’t think that brands will jump right on it again,” which suggests that the fashion industry will be leaving these testing times with some baggage to improve. Finally, in an analysis of the trends that have appeared this season, Ms Vanzzana sees a direct connection with the current pandemic situation, as she believes the use of colours and a mix of patterns to be a longing for happiness and lighter times.
After talking to Ms Vanzzana, I thought it’d be interesting to get the perspective of a fashion entity in St Andrews, as, after all, our town hosts the biggest student-run fashion shows in the UK. During this fashion month, I began to wonder what strategies the shows in town were planning, whether it’d be a pre-recorded show or a video. I talked to Sophia Do, Creative Director, and Kaitlyn Lai, Co-Head of Public Relations of St Andrews Charity Fashion Show (FS), to resolve all these questions.
Firstly, Ms Lai discussed her views on digital fashion shows and their impact, especially for creators: “Although digital fashion shows will never be the same as physical ones, I don’t think it is necessarily a bad thing. Rather I think digitalisation, to a certain extent, removes a mould that fashion designers and houses thought they had to fit into. The pandemic has forced designers, media producers and marketers to convey the stories of their brands in an infinite digital space, and the lack of choice but to explore their labels and collections off the runway has actually, in my opinion, liberated a lot of creatives in the industry.”
Ms Do answered my question on how FS is dealing with the current situation: “Our plans this semester remain uncertain as we are prioritising the health and safety of our committee members, models and St Andrews community (…) as the industry slowly moves online, we have taken the opportunity to create new digital platforms to exhibit the collective student effort that goes into FS every year.”
FS has established several digital projects to share the fashion experiences of students during the pandemic: the FS blog, where models and committee members share their FS experiences and creative insights, and the Fashion 4 The Earth (F4TE) Week, a digital event in October of 2020 which highlighted sustainable fashion practices, up-and-coming designers and featured an E-Catalogue of environmentally conscious fashion brands pieces.
Whether you are deeply inserted in the fashion industry or just starting, fashion month and fashion shows continue to be a sacred time of year. However, as the pandemic context opens doors to new experiences, it is in our hands to make the most out of it and continue to immerse ourselves in these fashion experiences. After all, as Ms Vanzzana stated, fashion month has “some kind of magic.”