Following the British Fashion Council’s announcement that LFW will proceed as a digital-only event, we can’t help but wonder... will we ever get to sit front row again?

As the UK navigates its third national lockdown, the British Fashion Council (BFC) is prioritising finding a way for fashion businesses to continue to operate in a COVID-secure way. Under the current government guidance, filming and shooting are allowed with certain precautions. The fashion elite, however, won’t be taking their seats this season as the London Fashion Week shows and presentations will proceed without a live audience.

Courtesy: British Fashion Council

The LFW digital platform, launched in June last year, will continue to serve as the event’s official hub and will be freely accessible to everyone, industry professionals and fashion consumers alike. The gender-neutral showcase will take place from 19-23 February, featuring a line-up of designers including Erdem, Bethany Williams, Eudon Choi, Edeline Lee, and Richard Malone. While we’ll miss the backstage drama, front row politics and frenzied photographers’ pits, there’ll be plenty of action to look forward to online, as participating designers supplement their scheduled show with additional content, such as interviews and podcasts.

Of course, the latest lockdown poses its own challenges in casting for the shows. ‘The British Fashion Council continues to ask the government to engage in support of the fashion industry,’ commented BFC CEO Caroline Rush. ‘One of the main active requests is to allow key creative and model talent to travel to and from the UK with a phased introduction of quarantine exemptions for the fashion industry, in order to carry out essential business, to protect the competitiveness of the British fashion industry.’

Courtesy: @Erdem

It isn’t the first that London’s fashion scene is diving into uncertainty. In early June 2020, the BFC announced that its men’s fashion week would be moving forward digitally. At that time, Rush stated: ‘By creating a cultural fashion week platform, we are adapting digital innovation to best fit our needs today and something to build on as a global showcase for the future.’ Nevertheless, the new format did not entice several major designers like Burberry, Richard Quinn, and Wales Bonner, who opted to postpone their spring collection showcases until the following September.

With new media dynamically altering the landscape, the seasonal fashion calendar is becoming an increasingly obsolete marketing model. Although digital fashion shows have predated social distancing, it begs the questions: can a virtual fashion week ever hold up to the real deal? And do we need yet another Netflix-style viewing experience?

The fashion industry is driven largely by image creation. Fashion weeks offer an exclusive look at designers’ upcoming collections – a first-look for a select elite. Most consumers only get a glimpse at next season’s trends via their digital devices. Amid a global heath pandemic, the multi-trillion dollar fashion industry is facing both unprecedented demand and challenges, yet runaway shows have been unable to adapt.

Designer Rebecca Minkoff has previously offered an interesting take on the viability of fashion weeks. ‘In the film industry, you’ll get a minute-and-a-half trailer – it’s reflective of a two-hour movie but it’s not the whole thing,’ she told Fast Company 2015. ‘Why do we take the experience at these “Super Bowl” moments twice a year and reveal everything? All of a sudden, the consumer is excited, the media universe explodes, but the consumer can’t act on anything.’

Courtesy: Rebecca Minkoff

Social media is undoubtably a powerful tool in leveraging awareness around a brand – but is unveiling a product several months before it becomes available a sustainable strategy in this current climate? In recent years, a handful of major fashion houses have adopted a ‘see now, buy now’ model, among them Mulberry and Burberry. Though far from the industry standard, the runway-to-retail concept caters to increasingly market-savvy consumers who have typically been excluded from fashion shows.

Courtesy: @97crush

On a more optimistic note, if you’ve ever fantasised about sitting front row at a fashion show, you can now tick that one off your bucket list. Everyone who has access to the internet can join in on LFW – normally an invite-only event – with the click of a button. As labels expand their digital offerings, the democratisation of fashion is only gaining momentum.

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