Fashion shows, but the runway will still survive

The Australian Fashion Week that begins next week is being hailed as the first fashion show to be held live since the COVID-19 epidemic began. The runway shows will include established labels and younger designers.


For decades, journalists and editors, buyers and celebrities, as well as tastemakers, have flocked to Paris, New York City, London, and Milan twice a year for the famous fashion week, where emerging and established designers showcase their new collections on runways. Tokyo, Shanghai, and Seoul have joined the four fashion capitals of the world, as well as Australian cities.

Fashion shows were first held in the early 1900s. They have always had as their primary goal to promote and sell new products. Fashion is a constant state of change. The pandemic forced people to go online. The world of high-fashion has been experimenting on the catwalk with technology — from handbags and dresses attached to drones to presenting an interactive show that viewers could view with 3D glasses.

Read more: Friday essay: how New York Fashion Week came to be

In the early 2000s, runway shows were grand spectacles. In 2005, Chanel began using Paris’s Grand Palais as a set on which Karl Lagerfeld envisaged grandiose installations recreating microcosms of everyday life. They included a supermarket, an airline desk, a beach, complete with sand and water, and a library.

At the height of the global financial crisis in 2008-2009, one runway was transformed into a giant merry-go-round with oversized pendants and bags, as well as pearl bracelets.

Dior, Dolce & Gabbana, and other luxury brands like Dior organized shows in exotic destinations such as Marrakesh, Mexico City Capri, and Hong Kong. Visitors were flown in at great expense.

Digital Collections and Social Distancing

COVID-19 was next. The COVID-19 pandemic has had an enormous economic impact. It highlights fashion’s environmentally and ethically unsustainable practices. The brands that survived the pandemic have moved to digital presentation of their collection.

Valentino’s Pier Paolo Piccioli, for example, addressed the rules of social distance by placing 15 models on pedestals as high as 5 metres and creating elongated shapes of white couture dresses. Then, textile patterns and colors were projected onto these silhouettes.

Jeremy Scott created a COVID safe fashion show in September 2020, Milan. The designer of Moschino, Scott, eliminated the models as well as the audience. Forty miniature marionettes 76 centimetres high walked down the runway, with two rows of puppets in place of the audience.

In the front row, a puppet version of Vogue’s editor-in-chief and fashion power broker Anna Wintour was prominent.

Chanel presented its ready-to-wear Spring/Summer 2020 collection in a live show in October. However, a COVID lockdown in Paris in 2020 prevented Chanel from presenting any more live shows. Its Haute Couture Collection for 2020/21 was a digital streamed show from a chateau located in the Loire Region.

Drones, 3D and more

Some major global brands were already presenting digital along with physical shows or playing around with technology.

Read more: Why STEM subjects and fashion design go hand in hand

In February 2010, Burberry experimented with live-streaming its womenswear collection digitally in 3D in five locations. Journalists and celebrities were invited to private screening spaces in Paris, New York, Dubai, Tokyo and Los Angeles where they watched the show with 3D glasses. The show took inspiration from the popularity of James Cameron’s film Avatar (2009).

Fendi sent drones to film a fashion show in 2014. This move was a source of excitement but also raised questions about hypersurveillance.

Dolce & Gabbana presented their new bag collection in February 2018 with drones. The drones flew down the runway, over the heads and shoulders of the audience. They then vacated the stage to allow the models on.

This was an unexpected move, given that models are usually celebrities who embody the designer’s collection or brand concept. In the near future, will real models disappear? Will drones, robots, or holograms replace them?

The same year, in Jeddah (Saudi Arabia), fluttering clothing was sent down the runway with drones. This created a ghostly effect. Social media was ablaze with outrage over the show. The organizers explained that it was to add novelty. It was the first fashion show to be open to both men and women, rather than just women. It is possible that this change led to the use of drones.

Fashion accounts for 2 % of the Gross Domestic Product worldwide. Runway shows will continue to be a marketing tool.

In-person audiences for menswear will be permitted during Paris Fashion Week in July. British Fashion Council will also be holding smaller in-person events that are COVID-safe. Brands will continue to experiment with the name novelty.


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