The next round of fashion shows will be virtual fashion shows. This is not in doubt.
The British Fashion Council announced at the end of April that it would be creating a gender agnostic “cultural fashion week platform” for designers to use as they see fit during London’s former men’s wear dates, June 12 to 14. Shanghai and Moscow went digital for their fashion weeks in late March and April.
Ermenegildo Zegna, the Italian men’s wear powerhouse, is forgoing ye olde schedule entirely and doing its own digital thing in July, for which it has a whole new word: “phygital” (that’s physical space and digital technologies).
What does it mean? On Friday, an answer of sorts was provided.
The occasion was Fashion Unites, a YouTube-streamed edition of CR Runway, the special fashion show run by Carine Roitfeld, the former French Vogue editor and Tom Ford muse, and her son, Vladimir Restoin Roitfeld, the president and chief executive of CR Fashion Book Ltd., to raise money for the amfAR Fund to Fight Covid-19. Billed as “the first of its kind” by its host, Derek Blasberg, the head of fashion and beauty for YouTube, it was hailed as “a high-fashion runway show entirely from home.”
Which is to say, it was not the ye olde digital fashion show — that is, a livestream of an actual event. Rather, it was the fashion equivalent of the celeb-packed music specials that have proliferated over the last few weeks, such as Elton John’s iHeart Living Room Concert for America and the Global Citizen-Lady Gaga One World special.
Olivier Rousteing of Balmain, Pierpaolo Piccioli of Valentino and Virgil Abloh of Off-White and Louis Vuitton were there, sending messages of safety and love. The models Karlie Kloss, Winnie Harlow, Stella Maxwell and Joan Smalls strutted their stuff in their own stuff in their homes (and applauded workers on the front lines), as directed from afar by the go-to experts of fashion weeks past: Sam McKnight for hair, Tom Pecheux for makeup and Stephen Galloway for movement. Michel Gaubert, who has a practical monopoly on runway soundtracks, did the music.
And the result was … charming. But ultimately it was less about the pleasure and potential of clothes than about the pleasure of voyeuristic glimpses of famous people in their homes.
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Or rather, when it came to the models — notably diverse in race, gender identity and size — in their kitchens (Halima Aden’s, in chic black and white, matched her black and white outfit), bathrooms and closets (Alessandra Ambrosio’s being particularly organized and impressive). Kim Kardashian West spoke in front of her tastefully monochromatic garden in a tastefully monochromatic top. Riccardo Tisci of Burberry wore shorts and filmed himself reflected in a giant photograph of the artist Marina Abramovic. Miss Fame vamped in what looked like an empty foyer.
There were behind-the-scenes glimpses of the experts giving “tutorials” from afar: Mr. Pecheux suggesting the makeup be “focused on a smoky black eye;” Mr. McKnight, wearing a mask and a center-parted wig, urging, “Keep it natural.” Mr. Galloway chanting: “Sell it, ladies. Feel the fabric! Feel the fabric!”
And so they did: Shanina Shaik, in a Marine Serre moon bodysuit, posed in front of some striking inlaid wood doors. Natasha Poly chose a Paco Rabanne chain-link minidress and strutted through a loft with a huge orchid and an all-black kitchen, not a fork out of place. Ms. Kloss, in a little navy suit with gold buttons, also strode a very long loft corridor.
Ms. Maxwell, in neon Versace print leggings and a cropped leather motorcycle jacket, walked her wood terrace with her dog in her arms. Other models accessorized with babies and birds. Julia Restoin Roitfeld wore an ostrich-trimmed little black dress; Candice Huffine chose a boho deluxe style. Joan Smalls wore denim shorts and a bandeau top in what was presumably her garden.
“Thank you, Carine, for giving me an excuse to get dressed up because I have pretty much been in my sweatpants for the past month,” said Karen Elson from her bathroom, with its gold-framed mirror and antique glass chandelier, before donning what looked like a dark jumpsuit, though it was hard to tell. It could have been a matching shirt and pants.
Which pointed up the difficulty with the “runway from home” concept. On the one hand, by inviting viewers in and behind the scenes (at least theoretically; can all models really be that neat?), it did provide that sense of human connection fashion needs when trying to justify its existence at a time when tragedy has put its future in jeopardy.
On the other hand, it doesn’t exactly make you focus on the clothes. They become almost beside the point. So while this may be, as Mr. Rousteing said while perched on his staircase, framed by its elaborate iron scrollwork, “a new way of presenting the fashion show,” it may not ultimately be the best way.
The fashion show form has lasted for decades precisely because it works so well — in real life. There have been occasional designer attempts at change, mostly via “movies” that come off like music videos instead of shows, but they have never been that successful. Generally that’s because they prioritize mood and concept over being able to see the telling detail, or material essence, of a garment. And it’s in that detail and essence that individual desire lies.
There’s an opportunity now to provide a different solution. What it demands though is not just recreating events, but rethinking them entirely.