The Autumn/Winter 2021 fashion calendar is chaotic. Milan stalwart Versace is showing during Paris Fashion Week. Gucci and Bottega Veneta will show la
The Autumn/Winter 2021 fashion calendar is chaotic. Milan stalwart Versace is showing during Paris Fashion Week. Gucci and Bottega Veneta will show later, when they feel like it. Ralph Lauren is AWOL. New York Fashion Week has shrunk and is now called the American Collections, which may take place anywhere and anytime.
But what at first glance looks like chaos is an industry releasing itself from cobwebbed traditions and experimenting with new approaches to collections, fashion shows and showrooms. The future of fashion collections has actually never looked brighter as designers shake off pre-pandemic constraints and drill into essential elements of their businesses such as their most definitive designs and their relationships with consumers.
“We’ve let the genie out of the bottle,” says Keith Baptista, co-founder of Prodject and a long time producer of events such as the Met Gala and for clients including Prada, Chanel and Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty.
Almost every show has gone digital, which means they stream online in partnership with a variety of tech platforms. But after a mass shift to the medium last year, brands are building on the medium to stand out in a sea of virtual shows. One of the most intriguing video efforts in recent memory came from Sterling Ruby’s S.R. Studio L.A. C.A. label, whose collection for Paris haute couture week shows walking models overlaid on video shot at a paintball course on the outskirts of Los Angeles. It’s simultaneously a runway video, music video and art film. Baptista and Prodject pivoted to film production, upgrading fashion-show videos to involve choreography, set pieces, and lengthy shot lists with action beyond the catwalk. “A runway video is just not going to do it anymore,” Baptista adds.
As the American Collections close this week, the calendar will technically move on to London, Milan and Paris. But those distinctions will be less meaningful than usual. Many brands are ignoring fashion weeks and scheduling their collection reveals for their own convenience. Eckhaus Latta, a New York and LA-based label, chose 2 March to debut its AW21 collection, a reveal Mike Eckhaus calls a “moment” because he and co-founder Zoe Latta are at a loss for exactly how to describe it. Maybe a “show-shoot”, says Latta. The release falls during Paris Fashion Week, but the date was chosen because it made sense for their supply chain.
Eckhaus Latta’s Spring/Summer 2021 campaign.
© Talia Chetrit/Eckhaus Latta
That’s what designer and CFDA chairman Tom Ford had in mind when he announced the new approach for the American Collections: doing what makes sense for the brand, with a focus on getting fashion into the hands of consumers in the most efficient way possible. New York-based Ulla Johnson put her vividly maximalist Autumn 2021 collection on her website for pre-order and called it a trunk show.
Other designers have leaned into theatrics, exploring new ways of sharing their work. Virgil Abloh’s Louis Vuitton menswear has been travelling the globe in a series of shipping containers. They were set up recently in Beverly Hills, where the brand invited press and good clients to walk through the exhibit and step into dressing rooms to place orders, mostly, but not always socially distanced. Hedi Slimane took Celine’s menswear collection to the French-Renaissance masterpiece Château de Chambord to be shown in a fashion film that bordered on movie shoot as cameras circled the ramparts by day and shot a candle-lit army of models mounted on horses by night.
Latta and Eckhaus are looking forward to returning to live runway shows when it’s safe — whenever that is. “I love a fashion show. So much,” Eckhaus says. “The energy of it. There’s something so important about the fashion community.”
Off the runway, a change in structure
The pandemic has forced a jarring reset for fashion brands — and their suppliers and partners. When they return to the runway — whenever that is — that community will find dramatically smaller, tighter collections. Last year, after several of their most important retailers — Opening Ceremony, Tenoversix, Totokaelo and Need Supply Co. — closed permanently, Latta and Eckhaus began to reevaluate their approach to designing and selling collections. For the AW21 collection, Eckhaus Latta slashed looks, discarding the sort of pieces they once used to flesh out a collection. “The kind of stuff that was half-baked, we just took an axe to it,” Latta says. They paused dramatic show pieces that look great for editorials and on the runway, but are unlikely to sell. They focussed more on direct-to-consumer sales. (They have two stores in New York and Los Angeles. The LA store has been closed for much of the pandemic.)
Cutting superfluous looks changed their personal lives. Latta had a baby and took some maternity leave — a challenging concept for designers who, pre-pandemic, could barely take a breath between seasons. “I had a summer for the first time,” Eckhaus says. “I’m going to have one this summer, too.” In the past, he says, “We were afraid we were going to get left behind in the dust.”
Before the pandemic, designers’ attempts to create space for their private lives were often received with surprise. When Phoebe Philo cancelled a 2012 Celine show in the third trimester of a pregnancy, her move generated headlines — and drama. For Spring 2018, Narciso Rodriguez took a step back, slicing the size of his collections and pledging to focus on clothes and clients rather than runway hoopla. More designers are now moving away from proscriptions about collection sizes and timing.
Bibhu Mohapatra has streamlined his collection in price and breadth since the pandemic began.
© Bibhu Mohapatra
When the lockdown began last March, Bibhu Mohapatra says he went to his country house with his husband and “pretended to be working remotely”. After reopening his studio in July, many of his label’s retail accounts had shuttered or cancelled their orders. He’s still holding some of what didn’t sell. After he heard from clients through email and Instagram, he began taking their orders directly. He cut his design costs in half with careful editing. This season, which Mohapatra showed digitally, his collection has three fabric stories, rather than five or more. He dug into his archives for bestsellers, then used the patterns in new ways. He says the end result was a collection that drills into the best of his work while dropping the average price to about $2,500 from $4,200 two years ago.
“I used to think to have a successful business, I needed to hire lots of people (for e-commerce and) to have a big PR company on retainer,” says Mohapatra, who says he has three computer screens on his desk and is learning to handle aspects of his own e-commerce. “I don’t think that way anymore. Now, I think it’s all about the product and your relationship with your consumer.”
One of the primary reasons many designers say they create so many unnecessary pieces in their collections is because retail buyers ask for more and more. Mohapatra says he’ll be immune to those pressures going forward. “We were on a very, very, very weird path as an industry,” he says.
The late Azzedine Alaïa was known for decades as an outlier, the only designer who created fashion and showed it on his own schedule. When his Paris maison announced on 5 February that Pieter Mulier will take the reins, Mulier said he would continue the tradition, revealing his first collection for the label, Spring/Summer 2022. When it’s good and ready.
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