Should Brands Cancel Fashion Shows?

Fashion month has arrived once again, with menswear and haute couture shows scheduled to start next week and run throughout January. And, once again, the new season coincided with a surge in coronavirus infections in Europe and the United States, leaving the industry to question whether it is safe enough, or worth it, to move forward.

The governments of Italy and France have given the green light to the National Chamber of Italian Fashion in Milan and the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode (FHCM) in Paris to go ahead with the shows in person, provided they comply with the regulations coronavirus nationals, such as reduced guest capacity, social distancing, use of masks, and updated vaccination passport requirements for attendees. The British Fashion Council (BFC) announced in December that it would not host men’s fashion week in January due to uncertainties related to Covid-19, but the body is still planning in-person events for February women’s fashion shows, as well. such as the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) in New York.

In practice, it is up to the individual brands to decide whether or not to carry out the plans for the fashion week.

Some brands have already decided to cancel, move or resize their Fashion Week plans. Ann Demeulemeester, who was due to stage an event next week at the Pitti Uomo menswear fair in Florence, has postponed the show to June. Giorgio Armani pulled two menswear shows and his couture show from the January line-up in Milan and Paris. Brunello Cucinelli has decided to put aside the Pitti Uomo projects, while continuing with a presentation scheduled during the men’s fashion week in Milan. Meanwhile, the charity fashion dinner organized by FHCM and Sidaction that traditionally closes Haute Couture Week in January has been postponed to July.

Should others follow their example?

The decision raises a financial and reputational conundrum. Shows can be valuable, but they’re expensive, and right now brands need to decide if they’re comfortable with the risks posed by rising infection rates.

For those on show in January, the argument for cancellation is stronger as cases are expected to continue to rise. However, if Omicron peaks by the end of the month, following the pattern it did in South Africa, cases could be plummeting in both Europe and New York, where hundreds of thousands of people have already tested positive, by mid-February when the women’s fashion shows begin.

It’s still a risk, though. Right now, the production of many of these shows is only just beginning. If a brand retires now, it could save a lot of money. If they advance and things take a bad turn, they could lose as well.

The question that every brand must ask is how valuable a physical show is to the development of their business. Is it worth demonstrating that you know that fewer people will be able to participate and that higher security protocols can cause increased overall costs?

Many brands engaged in an in-person showcase have implemented additional measures to protect people. For example, Brunello Cucinelli extended the planned presentation of the showroom on January 13 in three days instead of two, to allow for a reduced number of appointments. A medical team will be on site to provide guests with rapid Covid tests, the brand said.

The designers are also using what they learned earlier during the pandemic to create hybrid experiences. At Zegna, director Alessandro Sartori said he conceived his January 14 show with digital viewers in mind.

“Since the pandemic, it is more important that brands take into account guests who are not physically present,” said Sartori. “If you are looking at your desk, you will also have an immersive experience.”

Some may decide to make their programs entirely digital, despite the fact that past efforts have essentially failed, failing to deliver the same marketing impact as an in-person presentation. Others may show off off-calendar, in their spare time, as many have done previously during the pandemic. However, nearly two years later, the big boys who led the group on that front – Saint Laurent, Balenciaga and Gucci – are back on schedule.

Ultimately, brands need to be prepared to be flexible and comfortable with tough late-game calls.

Giorgio Armani, the first major fashion brand to cancel a show in February 2020, when the pandemic was just starting to spread across Europe, at the time turned to a live streaming event from an empty venue. This time around, the brand is still trying to figure out how to best reveal the upcoming menswear and couture collections it was supposed to show this January. A video production may not be possible given the tight turnaround, the brand said, so it’s also exploring a new mixed show option during its main collections in February.

The key to takeaway for brands approaching the new season is preparing for the unexpected.



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Compiled by Joan Kennedy.

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