How the Fashion World Went Virtual in 2020

By Emma Treacy

 

“Ironically, the pandemic may have been just what the fashion world needed. The industry never moves backwards and so has woken up and adapted to a new digital era.” Fashion Staff Writer Emma Treacy takes a look at how fashion went virtual this year.

 

The fashion industry is being vigorously challenged by the Covid-19 pandemic, with clothing outlets repeatedly having to reopen and then shut their doors again for long periods. The world’s leading fashion weeks have seen their most turbulent year yet. However, the industry has certainly not forfeited the battle against the pandemic by any means. The ways in which it has used technology to adjust and adapt have revolutionized the way we as ordinary consumers interact with the world of haute couture. We are anticipating a transformation of the fashion world as we know it. 

From London to Paris, New York and beyond, 2020 fashion weeks faced a daunting reality. How were they to go ahead within the government restrictions? In unprecedented circumstances, models, designers, swarms of press reporters and photographers, as well as eager audience members were unable to experience the runway shows in person. Instead, designers like JW Anderson launched their collections virtually. 

In Paris, for some fashion houses, there was a ‘business as usual’ attitude. Just over half of womenswear fashion houses opted for live events, while the remainder utilized digital technology as their runways. There were smaller scale in-person shows with restricted audience size and socially distanced models. This obviously dampened the atmosphere. Other designers took a more creative approach and attempted to make their displays as akin to the norm as they could. Balmain invited absentee A-listers such as Jennifer Lopez and Cindy Crawford dressed in their couture to the stage by means of large screens alongside their runway display. Zoom calls with designers replaced backstage gossip while other virtual alternatives included livestreams of fashion shows on the brands’ social media accounts, pre-recorded videos and look books. 

Many concluded that these large-scale virtual fashion weeks in 2020 were substantially underwhelming. If the situation weren’t so unprecedented, offering very little time for preparation or planning, I believe this year’s fashion weeks may have had the potential to blow us away. This year may have been a trial run for what could be a revolutionary 2021 for the fashion industry.

Artificial intelligence along with digital and social media are rapidly becoming more and more prevalent within the fashion industry. Tommy Hilfiger has recently declared the brand will have switched to 100% digital design by the year 2022. This increases the tempo of both manufacturing and marketing while minimizing waste levels. I expect many other high-scale brands to follow suit in coming years. The pandemic of 2020 has compelled designers, manufacturers and marketing teams to think digitally and that indeed, they have done. 

A Japanese company has this year perfected the creation of the ‘Zozo suit’. This snake-skin-like one-piece suit tightly fits onto your body. The customer stands in front of a smartphone camera while wearing the suit. The Zozo suit allows for an accurate reading of your body to be measured in order to purchase clothing items that fit perfectly, minimizing returns and increasing the efficiency of online fashion retail.

Creative director and multimedia artist, Tupac Martir, is amongst those leading the way for virtual fashion. Having worked with the likes of Alexander McQueen and Beyonce, Martir is creating what is likely to be the future of fashion. Mixed reality displays and events consisting of both virtual models and virtual environments are Martir’s forté and his ideas are feeding the industry’s current appetite for technological advancement. 

Ironically, the pandemic may have been just what the fashion world needed. The industry never moves backwards and so has woken up and adapted to a new digital era. 2020’s fashion advances are just certainly the beginning of what will be fashion’s vision of the future.