Opinion: Why digital fashion weeks are better than IRL

In 2020, you no longer need to be a fashion insider to nab a front-row seat at the world’s premier fashion shows. With the pandemic forcing many annual events and high-profile shows to reimagine their formats, Paris Fashion Week was no exception – no front-row seats, no invitation cards, no journalists and no fashion editors.

Instead of heading to Paris, designers and fashion houses debuted their autumn/winter 2020/21 couture collections or spring/summer 2021 menswear collections online, showcasing their works in video presentations of less than 20 minutes.

With the online Paris Fashion Week ending last weekend, the question lingers – was the digital experience as good as its physical counterpart? Although visitors could no longer witness the trendiest outfits along the Parisian boulevards, the digital version offered some silver linings that made this season’s show better than past incarnations. 

Experimentation abounds

Dior Autumn-Winter 2020-2021 Haute Couture

Without a traditional runway, many design houses viewed online shows as an opportunity to experiment. Dior released the mythical, captivating short film Le Mythe Dior, directed by Italian filmmaker Matteo Garrone. The 15-minute piece features mermaids, nymphs, fauns and other mythical creatures.

Through the stunning cinematography and compelling storyline, Garrone references Ovid’s Metamorphoses, as well as paying tribute to Théâtre de la Mode, a practice used by top Parisian designers after the Second World War in which their pieces would be exhibited on one-third-scale mannequins, which were staged in miniature houses and toured around Europe.

Balmain-Sur-Seine

Balmain chose a different approach to digital Paris Fashion Week. Creative director Olivier Rousteing kicked things off with the help of social media and a boat party in celebration of the end of COVID-19 lockdown in France. The event featured a musical performance by French singer Yseult and was live-streamed on TikTok, with #BalmainSurSein trending as the boat sailed along the Seine. 

Call to diversity 

We11done Spring/Summer 2021 | Paris Fashion Week Homme Online

The virtual venue allowed designers from all over the world to participate in the show with flexibility. Korean label We11done released an edgy six-minute film of models wearing its spring/summer 2021 men’s collection. Independent Japanese brands Auralee, Kolor, Yoshio Kubo and Sulvam returned to Paris Fashion Week with unique online presentations of their spring/summer collections. Lebanese couturier Georges Hobeika showed a full collection, while fellow Lebanese designers Elie Saab and Rabih Kayrouz offered a preview of their collections last weekend. 

There’s still more to be done, however – the lack of diversity in model casting in Dior’s film sparked industry-wide criticism. The design duo of Dutch menswear brand Botter, Rushemy Botter and Lisi Herrebrugh, made impassionate pleas for the Black Lives Matter movement online before presenting a collection inspired by the movement itself. As Naomi Campbell stated in her opening for the Fashion Week via Instagram: “The time has come to collectively call the fashion world to task regarding inequality.”

New designers’ time to shine

Because editors and designers no longer need to crisscross Paris to attend venues, the usual one-hour shows were reduced to 30 minutes. This meant that smaller houses, which normally wouldn’t have been given a chance, had the opportunity to showcase their work.

Inês Amorim and Reid Baker, the creative directors of Ernest W Baker, showcased a spring/summer 2021 menswear collection inspired by personal memories of childhood. Archie Alled-Martínez debuted his namesake brand’s capsule collection, which introduced a new elegance and sexiness to menswear. EgonLab’s “Renewal” collection delivered an ode to life written by brand creators Florentin Glémarec and Kevin Nompeix in this period of ecological and social crisis. 

Maybe there are some parts of the digital Fashion Weeks that can never compare with the physical, but no one can deny that the past weekend opened up the previously exclusive event to a much wider audience. While we hope that Fashion Weeks can soon return to their classic physical formats, the egality, accessibility and flexibility of the digital shows, as well as the call for diversity in the industry, should be carried on for the future of fashion. 

See also: 10 best looks from Fall 2020 Paris Couture Week

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