We Dared to Ask: Is Fashion Week Still Relevant?

Last week saw Shanghai thrill to its own Fashion Week. The rapid growth and increasing interest from local and global fashion industries are proof of the Chinese fashion community’s potential.

While SHFW may still be far-off the original Western events, the atmosphere is one of pure optimism and fascination of the new.

As Fashion Week season relentlessly rolled through Europe and New York, different discussions were being had. Alongside the still-present clamouring and gushing adoration, you might also have picked up the questioning of its status – and even the evaluation of its relevance.

Yet are these wonderings brought up by many in the industry, or are they simply points of conversation raised by editors and bloggers who have been exhausted by back-to-back shows and incessant hype?

From the time of it being exclusive and elite, to an internet-fresh sneak-peek behind the closed doors, to its present state of being photographed and blogged about by thousands, are Fashion Weeks still relevant? The Luxury Conversation put that question to industry experts:

 

Jing Zhang, Fashion Editor, South China Morning Post:

Fashion Weeks are still important for designers to debut their collections to the world, though the nature of them has changed. There are still moments where you “had to be there”, when the vision doesn’t wholly translate via Instagram or WeChat – like the recent Saint Laurent or Rick Owens shows in Paris, for example. Those moments are still special & experiential.

In recent years, fashion week has become too much of a circus – and with countless shows in countless cities, we’ve probably reached peak Fashion week. The digital revolution has made everything faster, looser and more instant — and yes, more accessible. While there are benefits to democratising fashion access, too many voices and images can drown out quality analysis. There’s definitely been a dumbing down of content as fashion gets more mass. Even print editors can be seen prioritising bite-sized social media instead of articles.

The fashion industry is at a bit of a crossroads. It experienced an explosion 10-20 years ago and now it’s slightly shrinking. The industry over-estimated its own potential for sustained, fast growth in the long term. This instability means that people are re-thinking the fashion week system. A look at how Shanghai Fashion Week (which will soon be the epicentre of Asian fashion) evolves can give insights into how new models might work. Fashion weeks won’t disappear but they certainly will change.

The Chinese market and its stars are of course now huge. In terms of global fashion week front rows, the Chinese stars, KOLs and a Korean contingent (with their fans across both Asia and the West) are all highly influential newcomers to the scene. The biggest frenzy this year in Paris was not for a Hollywood movie star, but for a K-pop star arriving to one show.

With so many fashion weeks — NY, London, Milan, Paris, Shanghai, Tokyo etc. — things can get very repetitive and tiring, even for casual observers. If you include men’s, women’s and couture, there are Fashion Weeks running for about three months of the year, which hardly makes it seem very special. The added noise of celebrity and “the scene” can be deafening and distracting. This is one of the fundamental issues these days – the froth obstructing what Fashion Week should be about; the collections and designs. There are too many runway shows for sure. My prediction is that smaller brands will scale back to more creative presentations/performances to show off their collections, whilst the big ones will continue to invest in more spectacular shows (like how brands do with destination Cruise shows) to stay above the fray.

Divia Harilela, Fashion Editor of SCMP; Business of Fashion, Jing Daily:

I started attending Fashion Week in 2004, when it was a very different time. They were much smaller shows – not the big spectacles as we have today – mostly attended by media, buyers and a few friends of the house. Like today, runway shows were considered a PR exercise and showcase of a brand’s creativity. Back then however, the majority of runway pieces would end up in the store. Today that isn’t necessarily the case – the majority of a retailer or brand’s budget goes towards pre-collections, which are showcased earlier.

As such pre-collections have become increasingly more important than ready-to-wear (runway) shows. For pre-collection shows brands go all out, flying journalists to exotic locations where they can immerse them in the world of a brand. It’s completely different to fashion week where we see several different brand shows in one day.

Journalists today don’t have enough time to cover everything between pre-collections and RTW fashion week. It means we are travelling constantly. The advent of digital makes our job harder – we have to write about the collections straight away but they don’t end up in stores until six months later, by which point you are already bored of them.

Having four countries back to back is exhausting and the pace is relentless. In the old days you would see maybe three shows a day – now it can go up to five or six. New York has come under some criticism for being too long, while Milan has enjoyed a regeneration, and of course London’s creativity and Paris’ top-spot remains.

10 years ago, the Fashion Weeks were mainly industry insiders, buyers, and was more low key, business first, and you went to connect and network. There was more of an open dialogue. Now it’s a cast of thousands for some shows, you are fighting for space with celebrities to get seats and it’s more difficult to do real work. All of this makes it quite ineffective.

As Asian press things have changed considerably. Back in the day we’d be lucky to get seats and if we did they would be in the back. Now the Chinese press are all in the front row. In fact entire sections are now reserved for Chinese media. For HK its different as the city has lost some of its spending power and we are losing seats to China.

As Fashion Week gets bigger, it’s more difficult to get time with the designers as the scale is so much grander. Issues that need addressing are related to how can we maintain the engagement and community dialogue while also addressing the fanfare of the celebrity and instant digital coverage which is what is now required for the new generation.

 

Jerri Ng, Editor in Chief, In Style China:

Fashion Week is definitely relevant. Firstly, it’s simply because when you attend the show, you don’t just see clothes, you also take in the atmosphere, the music, the make-up, the hair, the whole environment. You are in the world of the designer/creative director.

It’s not only about the show, but it’s when you are in the showroom, and you can touch and feel the clothes and get an understanding of the collection.

Fashion Weeks are a time when everybody comes, it’s like the Olympics of fashion. You set up meetings, deals, collaborations and a lot of things get decided at this time.

It’s exhausting of course. I always joke it’s like a marathon except we do it with better clothes.

Especially for the Asian press – we have to maintain our publications in Asia while we are still travelling. It’s not just dressing-up and partying which is only the tip of the iceberg. Nobody posts about getting blisters, getting sick, getting caught in the rain in a foreign city, the late nights and early morning working with your teams across the world at all hours. You have a full day of shows, being pushed and shoved for space, from 9am to 11pm. And you repeat the cycle every day. For a month!

But then during this, you see an amazing talent, or fall in love with the clothes, and everything pays off, everything makes sense.

We all wonder if there is an easier or more convenient way of doing it, but if you skip it and watch it at home you miss the ambience and feeling. I’m still wowed by the shows, the music, the styling – and that’s the full picture.

I do hear the talk about whether it’s relevant – but everyone is still doing it. If it wasn’t relevant it would have disappeared. It’s fair to pose this question – it’s our role in the media to pose questions and put the thought out there.

Fashion shows are already morphing, with live streaming and integration of technology. I think it’s a great thing, as you have to embrace all change. The minute you stand still, you are done.

We are still so relevant – designers are pushing for sustainable design, eco-design, relating to charity work and consciously trying to affect changes. It’s not just frivolous and about fine beauty, it’s very real and relevant to the world.

Maybe one day it will come to a point where you don’t have to go to Fashion Weeks, but for the forseeable future I don’t see it going away. It’s about human interaction also, isn’t it? Like a medical conference, like comic-con and so on. Fashion Week is a conference. We share ideas, network and that’s what it’s about for the business.

 

The Luxury Conversation Takeaways

  • What is it and who is it for? This is part of what FW needs to decide. Celebrities, photographers and social-media one-liners are vital to fashion yet do they sit comfortably besides the more in-depth press and industry people?
  • How long does New York have left? With the reality of designers moving away from NY to other cities, should it quit while it’s ahead or totally re-invent itself as a new type of FW?
  • The need for the instantaneous is not exactly a new thing in media or buying habits. Only now have some responded to this – so is this the only way forwards for those still taking 6 months to have the product on the shelf?

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