When Parisian fashion shows were canceled during World War II because of the Nazi occupation of France, designers had to find another way to promote their work. The result was “Fashion Week,” originally dubbed “Press Week,” which launched in 1943 as a way for journalists – and, by extension, the public – to see the collections scheduled to arrive in stores the following season.
In the initial decades that followed, Fashion Week, which is now held twice a year in the fashion capitals of New York, Paris, London and Milan, became the ultimate insider event. Fashion Week shows were attended only by editors and buyers, and the public saw little, if any, photographic evidence of what took place within the walls. Eventually, fashion magazines peeled back the curtain a little bit, allowing the fashion-conscious and curious a snapshot, sometimes weeks or even months after the event had passed.
That’s all changed in the current Instagram age, when it sometimes seems just about anybody can be an “influencer.” Today, Fashion Week is accessible not just with a tough-to-obtain ticket but right in the palm of your hand. Online media platforms stream runway shows to millions of viewers, connecting commoners to the catwalk. Meanwhile, shows that used to be invite-only have become purchasable experiences. The 2020 spring/summer London Fashion Week, held in September 2019, became the first to sell its coveted front-row tickets to the general public.
Fashion Week, therefore, is more accessible than ever. But given the way modern consumers acquire information and spend their money, is it possible that Fashion Week is less relevant than ever? Designers have been asking themselves that very question in recent years, as the brick-and-mortar model has given way to e-commerce-centric shopping habits.
In 2016, for example, the famous brand Burberry radically adjusted its schedule, reducing its runway shows from four per year to just two and making the clothes instantly available online and in-store after the showing, instead of waiting several months after the fact. That same year, designer Tom Ford told Women’s Wear Daily, “In a world that has become increasingly immediate, the current way of showing a collection four months before it is available to consumers is an antiquated idea and one that no longer makes sense. We have been living with a fashion calendar and system that is from another era.”
For smaller designers, the determination of whether to participate in an expensive fashion show (given the price of models, lighting, sound, etc., the total tab routinely ends up north of six figures) in the name of brand awareness can be daunting. A well-executed social media strategy can be more cost-effective and more effective, period.
These concerns haven’t prevented the concept of Fashion Week from continuing. In fact, cities other than the aforementioned fashion capitals – including Shanghai and Seoul – have launched their own version of Fashion Week in recent years. Designers often can’t resist the allure of the exposure and the prestige of participation, where you can still catch the eye of influential stylists.
But as far as stoking enthusiasm for buying things is concerned, Fashion Week is arguably not as influential as a photo-sharing social networking service like Instagram.