Redefining Luxury: What’s Left of Fashion Week?

As lockdown starts to ease throughout Europe, the Haute Couture Imperium has started to reopen slowly but questionably. With high-profile events gradually being cancelled for the rest of the year and customers now being followed by overly-eager-to-clean employees in department stores, it seems as if the world was settling into a “new” normal.

However, over the past week, the pandemic seems to not only have accelerated, but forced big designer brands into a more carbon-conscious spread of fashion (at least for now). Indeed, as household names gradually pull out of the massively-publicised Fashion Weeks (FW), designers and creators are finally starting to question the real and immediate legitimacy of FW in the twenty-first century.

Although many are unaware of this fact, FW actually originated during the Second World War, when American journalists found themselves unable to enter Nazi-occupied France for the season’s ‘new looks’. Eleonor Lambert, an American fashion publicist, believed this to be the “perfect” opportunity to promote local designers and American fashion which had long been on the back-burner of Paris and London. And voilà, NYFW was born.

Schiaparelli’s first show after WW2 (source: @julienbaulu on Instagram)

A bit over half a century later, FWs have evolved into long-awaited social events, showcasing the dos and don’ts of the season in front of (literally) rows of famous people sharing their ‘favourite looks’ on Instagram and making us lowly people feel a part of it all. But quite frankly, in the midst of this information overload, it becomes clear that some designers have felt the pressure to perform and deliver on time, and consequently, have been sacrificing their creative drive.

Now, with the uncertainty of social interactions at events looming over Luxury Houses, many designers have indeed taken a moment to reflect on their creative process behind-the-scenes. Amongst the many brands using the pandemic as a way to reshape their artistic expression are Saint Laurent and Gucci.

The latter’s creative director Alessandro Michele is already much beloved for having redefined chic Italian menswear, ultimately playing on a more androgynous style. In the search for a connection with creativity, he has decided to distance himself and the brand from the more ‘commercial’ aspect of FW by withdrawing the household name from it and by choosing to showcase only two collections a year. In extracts of his personal diaries published on Gucci’s Instagram, he goes on to explain in what ways the fast pace of fashion nowadays does not allow him to feel fulfilled creatively. This comes only a couple of days after Saint Laurent also drew back from the FW schedule to focus, not on set and specific deadlines, but on its own “creative flow”.

These trends of ‘going back to their creative roots’ is clearly setting a new pace for Fashion which seemed to be going down a hole of “who’s-who” rather than on the actual clothes and designs. The lack of focus on creativity as mentioned by Michele has indeed been a debated issue in recent times, with discussions regarding the environmental viability of hosting four shows in three cities in one year. Not only is the carbon footprint of such travelling massive, but the ever-changing looks and materials used are not exactly environmental-friendly. Some designers are however already taking full advantage of the whole world only being accessible digitally, with Congolese designer Anifa Mvuemba already putting her creative spin on a digital runway.

Covid-19 has thus ultimately promoted a more eco-friendly FW in the short-term, and how these new houses’ take on Couture will ultimately reflect and affect the fashion industry in the foreseeable future remains to be seen. The greater impact of digitalising Fashion Week would perhaps be on the hosting cities’ economies, as it yearly represents a major source of revenue for restaurants, clubs, hotels and tourism in general.

As lockdown comes to an end, it remains quite clear that the virus does not, and it will be interesting to keep an eye out on how the public’s interaction with Haute Couture and its creative side will ultimately evolve. And whereas this period of quarantine has been a period of self-reflection on the little specks of happiness and fulfilment in life for some, others were fast to queue up at Zara and Pull&Bear as soon as it re-opened. Needless to say that fast-fashion will be disappearing anytime soon, but maybe for now, think before you shop, and think locally.