Ever since the early 1900s, when American retailers imported the concept of the fashion show from Paris salons, they have always been considered very exclusive events usually attended by private buyers and no photographers, due to the fear of designs being stolen. Forward to the 80s and 90s, the runways transformed into avant-garde mini productions with a more relaxed and fun attitude.
In 1998, Yves Saint Laurent broadcasted a runway show to about 1.7 billion people that included 300 models and a sold-out stadium. This birthed a movement for fashion shows to evolve into theatrical staging, with Alexander McQueen, known as the genius of runways, producing fashion shows that amazed audiences and made an emotional mark on the fashion world. His Autumn/ Winter 1997 shows “It’s a Jungle Out There” and Spring/ Summer 1999 “No. 13” and 2010 “Plato’s Atlantis”, were some of the fashion shows that defined his entire career.
Today, there are numerous fashion weeks in New York, London, Milan, Shanghai and Paris that debut their collections as either Autumn/ Winter or Spring/ Summer fashion shows. They are watched by millions of people via social media and attended by the world’s most renown celebrities, designers and bloggers.
However, as technology evolves so do fashion shows. With the physical shows on hold, the world’s first entirely virtual fashion week, took place in Shanghai in March 2020. 3D avatars, real models and computer-generated graphics made all of this possible. Despite a few glitches, Moscow also joined the virtual trend in April and streamed their fashion week to 830,000 people.
Some high fashion designers, such as Ermengildo Zegna, the Italian menswear brand, is doing its own thing by forging a new fashion show schedule in July and going “phygital” (physical space combined with digital technologies). Whereas, the former French Vogue Editor and Tom Ford’s muse Carine Roitfield decided to raise money for the amfAR COVID-19 fund by streaming a “home runway”. Yep, it is what it sounds like, supermodels like Karlie Kloss walking in their living rooms, kitchens, closets and bathrooms. Although, the focus was much more on the models in their homes than on the clothes themselves.
This brings us to realize that traditional runway shows can be restrictive and many people welcome the many new opportunities digital runways can offer us i.e. such as the “See Now, Buy Now” Pinko (Italian womenswear) approach, which kept their relationship with their clients alive during this tough time for Italy.
Digital runways give more room for creative expression, as well as serving as a platform to directly engage consumers. COVID-19 has forced brands to experiment with immersive technologies and seeing how digital retail is gaining traction, this is an area that many brands will definitely keep exploring for the near future.