On March 26, Ida Peterson, director of purchasing for London Browns designer boutiques, was supposed to attend the first round of the catwalk performance at Shanghai Fashion Week.
Instead, with the help of a Chinese assistant on his purchasing team, Peterson entered the Taobao application on his phone. Here, in a special section on one The biggest e-commerce site in China, is the schedule for the Shanghai Fashion Week Autumn / Winter 2020, which in a month’s time was changed from eight days of shows and bought appointments to a completely virtual seven-day experience featuring shows from 151 brands.
Founded in 2004, the twice a year Shanghai Fashion Week has become one of the leading fashion events outside the Big Four fashion week in New York, London, Milan and Paris, thanks to the strength of the Chinese luxury consumer market and the growing recognition of Chinese Designers in home and abroad. Participants run gamut from local labels, upper class designers to international mass market brands such as H&M and Gap.
But in early February, with the number of COVID-19 infections rising rapidly in China, it seems that Shanghai Fashion Week will not continue. After announcing on February 10 that the March fashion week would be postponed, on February 28 the organizer announced that it would be a fully digital event, broadcast live through the Tmall e-commerce application and the Taobao sibling application. At that time, the number of new COVID-19 cases in mainland China had begun to slow down.
After several rejections, designers moved quickly to prepare a video of their show. Some are still struggling to complete their collections after months of social disruption and supply chain disruptions.
“I have to cut all the cloth myself, [which] I haven’t done it in a long time, ”said designer Yutong Jiang from Shanghai-based Shushu Tong, who showed the Autumn / Winter 2020 collection on the last day of Shanghai Fashion Week. “That [felt] a bit like doing my graduation collection. “
Shanghai Fashion Week is organized like an ordinary fashion week, with designers giving slots every hour to show off their collections. But the similarity ends there. Some use their time to hold live streaming sessions, where they talk to a general audience about their brand and show off their Autumn / Winter collections or, in the style of a home shopping network channel, peddle spring collections already sold.
Other designers avoid direct sessions for short videos that are previously recorded that replicate the look and feel of the catwalk show, minus direct viewers. In the Shushu Tong video, a series model laid out as a secretary in the 1960s sitting on a typewriter, in a disheveled dress in a boy or a gingham print coat, fixing their makeup before taking up their top-handle bags and, one by one, walking through the revolving door. The five-minute show designer Angel Chen features a fast-moving camera pan and fast turnover from virtual, pseudo-apocalyptic sets – models paraded through gladiator rings at night, or past a group of stone head statues.
According to Tmall, 2.5 million viewers watched during the first three hours of the show, with brands like Zuczug seeing sales conversions as high as 13 percent on their video stream. Larger commercial brands, which can direct their followers to their video feeds directly, account for the most views; Smaller designers say that they reach an audience of 20,000 to 40,000. Yutong said he was happy, because the audience for his live show was usually around 350 people.
Is the all-digital Shanghai Fashion Week a suitable substitute for real performances? For industry members – designers, buyers and editors – who listen, the answer is: not yet. Although it was an impressive first attempt, Shanghai Fashion Week’s live streaming was plagued by technical glitches, and even the previously recorded video resolution was too low to get a sense of fabric and construction quality.
Besides technology, there are human factors that need to be considered. Fashion week isn’t just about shows. Equally important, if not more important, interactions that occur far from the catwalk: meetings between designers and editors, where concepts and constructions can be discussed in detail; and personal agreements between showrooms and shop buyers, where orders are placed and young designer was found.
During Shanghai Fashion Week, Peterson scheduled virtual appointments with Chinese showrooms, but, without being physically present, he missed the opportunity to research shelves to find new talent, he said.
To be fair, the latest edition of Shanghai Fashion Week was not designed with the consideration of industry or international viewers. Instead, it was redesigned as a public-facing event, intended to increase brand awareness and encourage purchases in China after weeks of store closures sending February fashion and luxury goods sales to a drop of 85 percent, according to the Boston Consulting Group estimates.
Other fashion weeks follow in the footsteps of Shanghai and avoid live shows for online events aimed at engaging the public and driving sales. The weekend of April 4, Moscow Fashion Week Russia streamed previously recorded videos from around 30 brands (about half the amount normally displayed) on the e-commerce site Aizel.ru and magazine sites such as BAZAAR Harper Russia and Mode Italy.
In other parts of Europe, fashion week has been postponed or canceled. Men’s fashion weeks in Paris, London and Milan, which are scheduled to take place in June, have been canceled or postponed until September. Both the British Fashion Council and Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana Italia are exploring digital alternatives to catwalk shows and showroom appointments.
These are all relatively small fashion weeks. The bigger question is whether the next round of women’s performances in September will continue as usual – which seems increasingly unlikely.
What will be done if they can’t? Known brands like Gucci or Burberry can divert their budget to a deeper digital experience. It would be far more difficult for smaller designers, who lack name and financial recognition to attract audiences and drive sales. At a minimum, buyers will need better, more interactive software to view collections, Peterson said.
While Peterson does not believe fashion week can be fully replicated online, he is very enthusiastic about the improvements he has seen in the brand’s virtual showroom since the outbreak of COVID-19, citing Burberry as the best.
Peterson travels 10 months a year to see collections, and would rather do more virtually if he can. “The carbon footprint we put on as the industry in the world is quite impractical,” he said. “[Because of COVID-19] we see some interesting innovations coming. “
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