Updated: Sep 8
“Life can only be understood backwards but must be lived forward.”
As the Fashion Week kicks off this month (starting with New York Fashion Week on 8th Sept ’21), I looked back at the first ever fashion week that was held in 1943 - How did it come about? What was the excitement, energy and frenzy about then? And what are we looking forward to in the post-pandemic era?
In 1943, when Eleanor Lambert combined her public relations and fashion bandwidth to create Fashion Press Week in New York, little did she know that the influence the organisation would have on the world of fashion would be far beyond her years.
Her Fashion Press Week was for writers and press initially, but grew into the bi-annual New York Fashion Week, becoming an integral part of society. During the 50s and 60s, it solidified the US as a hub for art, culture and fashion. An opportunity emerged for Americans to establish their own design credentials, where Paris had been the epicenter. Many of today's big powerhouses like Oscar de la Renta and Ralph Lauren spawned from there.
The world began to catch on as Milan started its own fashion week in 1958, Paris in 1973, and London in 1984.
Almost eight decades later here we are, just as eager.
For one, the eagerness is a different kind as we step out of a period of metamorphosis, into a new beginning.
The nature of the shows transformed as cultural currents took new directions. The shows got bigger and better (Halston, Diane Von Furstenberg, Donna Karan), the music louder, and there was a rise of celebrities in the front row. By the 1990s, buyers and press were exhausted from shuttling between the many venues. Eventually, the viewing became centralised, and in the millennium there was a breath of fresh air - with a slew of upcoming designers, a global explosion in streetstyle, and blogging.
Just like World War II made it impossible for the fashion powerhouses to travel to Paris to gather inspiration - hence leading to the first ever fashion week, the recent worldwide pandemic called for a new way of doing things.
Giorgio Armani staged the Autumn/Winter 2020 show without an audience, in Feb last year. The fashion house released a statement notifying guests not to attend the show to safeguard public health. The show was live streamed on their website and social media instead. Many fashion houses followed suit.
The runway shows have always been a grand way to tell a story - a monumental finale to a creative process, all in a matter of 5-7 minutes. In the digital age, however, and especially due to the pandemic, digital content and assets became just as important as physical presentations. Last year, Jonathan Anderson held his show for JW Anderson and LOEWE in an A4 size box! It was called a Pandemic-Proof Show box - an inventive approach to showcasing the first 2021 collections. You have heard the saying that necessity is the mother of all invention (and innovation). This is brilliant proof of it.
Delivering physical assets that connected people to what was going on digitally is a clever way of reaching people and connecting with them. Many brands made headlines with video games and avatars.
Balenciaga showcased its Fall 2021 collection with a video game that captures the theme of human destiny in an interactive, gamified journey. Fashion and video games. Who would have thought?
The flash of technological advancement is alluring, of course. It adds to the enigma and beauty of the collection itself.
The most engaging experiences of 2020 have been those that have really shown up for the consumer with a real understanding of their lives. Going to them, being involved in their lifestyle.
Although the fashion week is a great way to transmit new ideas, it has aided wasteful consumerism in the modern age, considering all that goes into producing a show - Invites, elaborate sets and lighting, people being flown in from all over, and not to mention the numerous show outfits, and the production cycle for every season to follow the retail cycle.
The fashion week post-pandemic is expected to take steps towards sustainability with a focus on renting and recycling. Designers, brands and fashion houses have shifted to a more timeless and seasonless collection, as consumers don't necessarily buy into seasons anymore.
Gucci, Giorgio Armani, Alexander Wang, to name a few, are deviating from the traditional fashion calendar by showcasing at their own pace, resorting to more digital avenues and presenting season-less collections. Ditching the traditional fashion calendar was in the wings as fashion was dying and luxury was struggling to keep its heritage alive. As we cross the bridge of this challenging time, many aspects of the industry are being reset, preserving what is necessary - an expression of beauty and creativity without the appendages.
While the apprehension arose over the validity of fashion weeks in the uncertainty of last year, looking back it is fair to say that fashion weeks remain as a culmination, but the way of presenting, and the role of each facet has certainly undergone metamorphosis.
" Changing the nature of Fashion Week is the answer, not dismantling it altogether."
- Orsola de Castro
The excitement continues as we kick start new beginnings, hopeful and this time, mindful of our impact.