HOW FASHION IS EMBRACING DIGITAL IN THE FACE OF DISASTER

How fashion month went digital

Written by: Frances Leach

@frances_beatrix


It’s been a year of firsts for fashion. In our living memory, nothing has derailed the industry to such an extent as Coronavirus has. And as of yet, there are not many signs of a full return to normality.


In January 2020, Vogue Business penned an article citing that augmented reality (AR), digital clothing and blockchain would be the standout digital advancements in fashion at the start of the new decade.


Technology in fashion has been the topic of conversation for quite some time. Championed by early adopters, tech has been hailed as the industry’s saviour. A way to drag the often arcane and restrictive processes of fashion weeks across the world blinking into the light of the 21st century. To its critics, technology in fashion was viewed with palpable distrust.



Fears that such advancements would strip away the authenticity and originality of the craft and of the industry were commonplace. After Dolce & Gabbana used drones to carry handbags down the runway during their AW19 show Tyler McCall, Editor-in-Chief of Fashionista made the tongue in remark "Dolce & Gabbana replaced millennials on the runway with drones, proving no one is safe from being made obsolete by technology."





What the rest of the world, did not yet realise was that new technology would be key to fashion’s survival. Saving and invigorating what was left of a broken industry into a state of regeneration.


There are a few standout moments of AW20 and SS21 where technology's grip on fashion had truly taken hold. The first came in June 2020, months into the pandemic and months into the panic of the industry across the globe.


Caroline Rush of the British Fashion Council set the scene for what was to come; “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”. The offer was modest, a three week digital presentation of the creative content of British brands, so far so plain.


July brought a virtual week of Couture in Paris, followed by news from Italy that Gucci had committed to only showcasing 2 season-less collections a year, all via a video conference held by Allesandro Michele. In the wake of new supply chain scandals, first abroad and then at home in the UK, brands moved quickly to prove their sustainability credentials.


Fashion’s survival is of course as much of an attempt to make good of its circumstances as it is to truly embrace the future.

For an industry so often dismissed as slow moving, it seemed that everything had begun to change all at once.


Without physical opportunities for shopping, shoppers flocked to e-commerce. Building on their 2019 venture into augmented reality, Gucci began a partnership with Snapchat allowing users to try on shoes from their new collection via lenses with an option to ‘buy now’. Ralph Lauren also recently partnered with Snapchat as a way to target a new millennial audience.


Courtesy: Snapchat


This would not be the last social media - high fashion collaboration that 2020 would see. By September video-sharing app TikTok had announced it was holding its own Fashion Month throughout September and October.


At a time where nobody is attending shows, there is a unique opportunity for social media platforms to truly tap into the desire to be ‘including’ in such an ordinarily exclusive world. TikTok planned to livestream two fashion shows each week, from designers such as Louis Vuitton, Saint Laurent and Prada. JW Anderson were revealed to be exclusively launching their new collection via the app.


Fashion's relationship with technology is one of ups and downs, however in the battle to endure the ongoing affects of Coronavirus, it has proved to be key to its survival.

Fashion’s survival is of course as much of an attempt to make good of its circumstances as it is to truly embrace the future.


For their SS21 show Louboutin partnered with gaming app Zepeto, inviting attendees to create personalised avatars to view the collection in-game. Last month Burberry became the first luxury fashion brand to partner with Twitch, before that they launched their own game B Bounce where users could dress in branded outfits whilst playing.



Balmain also created a virtual showroom to debut their new collection, using avatars like those used by Louboutin with Zepeto to showcase their latest designs. The virtual show was led by an avatar of Olivier Rousteing that guided attendees through the space.


Fashion and gaming may seem like unlikely friends, but luxury retailers are quickly realising the potential in storytelling and of course, revenue in the industry.


Technology giants Amazon are quickly moving towards new partnerships with luxury brands to boost up their e-commerce credentials. They announced a new collaboration with Oscar de la Renta named "Luxury Stores," which is set to be a series of high-end fashion storefronts backed by the online retailing giants.


For Amazon, this is the first step towards joining the likes of Net-A-Porter and Matches in the luxury fashion e-commerce space.



Technology is allowing retailers, that exist outside of the virtual world, to enter the world of e-commerce. For these brands, developments such as QR codes, virtual try-ons and AR may be the key to surviving the pandemic-induced economic downturn that has affected the brick-and-mortar retailers so badly. E-commerce, artificial intelligence and data led insights could be key to driving physical foot fall in-store through targeted advertising, for brands that traditionally relied on in-person purchasing.


For brands that are seemingly behind when it comes to embracing technological advancements, it's now a race against time to adopt the latest tools so they can catch up before it's too late.


Fashion's relationship with technology is one of ups and downs, however in the battle to endure the ongoing affects of Coronavirus, it has proved to be the key to its survival.


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