Pros weigh in on digital fashion week

Video may have killed the radio star, but on the reaction to the first ever digital Paris fashion week, the queens of the catwalk can breathe easy.


Forced online for the first time in its history by the coronavirus pandemic, brands both in haute couture and the Paris men’s fashion week presented videos of their collections instead.


While some had seen this as the advent of a long overdue opening up the cliquish salons of the fashion elite to the masses, the digital revolution has somewhat fallen flat.


“The runway can’t reopen for business soon enough,” quipped Bridget Foley of the industry bible Women’s Wear Daily, who like many felt the online shows — which end Monday — lack the buzz and razzamatazz of the real thing.


“Oh Lord, how pretentious are some of these film shorts,” she wrote. “This digital fashion week is making the live show model feel plenty relevant, and even essential.”


Front row fixture Diane Pernet was not impressed by the early offerings either. “I am sorry, I think they can do more,” the Paris-based American critic and curator told AFP. “I am all into digital, but it is not doing it for me,” she added. But Laurent Coulier, head men’s buyer for top French department stores Galeries Lafayette and BHV Marais, could see upsides. “The great advantage for us compared to a normal fashion week is the time we save,” he told AFP.


Fashionistas don’t miss the rushing crowds of fashion week

Rather than the mad race across the French capital from one show to the next “we can see them all every half hour online. Sometimes in a normal fashion week with the transport and meetings, it is difficult to get a global view of what is going on.”


He also liked how some labels, like Y/Project and the young Paris brand Egon Lab had used their films creatively to show the uniqueness of their clothes. Coulier said the films were very useful calling cards “giving us a good view of brands that we have not been working with already… so we can go and see them in their showrooms.”


Still even he admitted digital lacked the magic of a live show. On the vexed question whether he would buy a collection on the back of an online show alone, Coulier was more careful. “You can see how the garments hang and fall, but with digital you cannot touch or feel the material… that’s what it lacks.” Pernet cannot see fashion shows being rendered obsolete, “and I am not one of those people who cry at shows,” she said.


The digital revolution has already happened to some degree, she argued. “We have had live streaming of shows for five years now at least there are lots of digital showrooms.”


Digital fashion weeks have a long way to go before completely replacing the physical runway

As for the designers themselves, Berluti’s Kris Van Assche told AFP that you can’t beat the drama and adrenaline of the runway. “I really love the emotion of the show, the history you can tell with the place you hold it in, the music and the people” who come. “But there is one thing in a fashion show you can’t do, and that is to press pause and explain where things come from.”


Van Assche said this was “a once in a lifetime opportunity” to give people the background of how he worked on his collection with the American ceramicist Brian Rochefort. Even so, Foley said that early signs “indicate that digital has a long way to go — light years — before it can replace the live fashion event.”


While she admitted that with the extraordinary circumstances labels did not have long to prepare themselves, she still found the digital experience lacking. And that included acclaimed Italian director Matteo Gorrone’s lavish film for Dior haute couture — which clocked up nearly 3.5 million Instagram views even as it was criticised for its lack of diversity in casting.


“Exquisite” as it was, Foley said, “the film veered toward fashion satire”. For her, the digital experience did not have the “enjoyable intimacy of actually ‘being there’, an intimacy borne of the gathering of a finite number of people in a finite space watching a one-time-only event, shared communally.”


There was one thing, however, that Coulier, Pernet and New York Times critic Vanessa Friedman all agree on — digital has cracked fashion show’s eternal tardiness problem. “I’ll say one thing… you don’t have to sit there for the usual 20-30 minutes twiddling your thumbs and waiting for them to start,” Friedman tweeted.(AFP)


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