The COVID-19 pandemic brought challenges to all professions in 2020, specifically the fashion industry. Social distancing guidelines forced many countries' annual fashion week to be broadcasted online rather than hosting in-person runway shows. In London and New York’s shows, for example, designers were asked to prepare a virtual reveal of their collections. Now approaching almost a year since the pandemic began, retailers are still facing uncertainty in how to prepare for the new season. News broke last week that the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode, who oversees the French fashion industry, was told by police that they are unable to host the famous Paris Fashion Week in person. Nonetheless, transitioning to a digital fashion week is not unprecedented as Milan Fashion Week was also forced to move online this year and Paris Fashion Week was held almost entirely online last year as well.
Digital runway shows have been approached differently by designers such as Tom Ford, for example, who opted to only release images of his collection and not broadcast live at last year’s New York Fashion Week according to USA Today. Alternatively, some luxury brands such as Dior and Balmain were able to create an event for last year’s Paris Fashion Week that was partially online and partially in person. Those designers, according to Women’s Wear Daily, received better reviews than those who had an entirely virtual show. In addition to the negative effect the COVID-19 pandemic has had on retail sales, changes to fashion weeks around the world threaten an event that usually generates a great deal of income and publicity for designers. A large concern for many viewers and those in the fashion industry is that an online fashion week detracts from the experience and storytelling that a live runway show offers. However, brands and public officials have said to make this decision in the interest of public health and safety.
While France is no longer under a nationwide lockdown, the country still has strict regulations on social gatherings and has a curfew in place. The Associated Press reports that fashion houses were told they can still hold their runway shows, but they must be broadcasted live. This announcement complicated production for brands such as Fendi and Dolce & Gabbana, who were among the very few brands attempting an in-person show this year. Fears of having fashion week in-person stem from the event’s popularity with hundreds of journalists and fans wanting to attend annually. Moreover, France is still struggling to control the spread of COVID-19 as The New York Times reports that the number of cases is still high and there are concerns for hospital capacities being met. In addition, the possibility of a third lockdown or more restrictions in France has not been ruled out by the Prime Minister, Jean Castex, according to The New York Times. With museums and dining establishments still closed in France, the chance of this year’s Paris Fashion Week bearing any similarity to its usual format appears slim.