The spread of COVID-19 is leaving a long list of canceled and indefinitely postponed events in its wake: the NBA season, the Met Gala, and even the Tokyo Olympics have all been moved, rescheduled, or put on indefinite hiatus. Friday brought news that the men’s fashion calendar would shift, too: the men’s spring/summer 2021 fashion weeks in London, Milan, and Paris, originally scheduled for June, have been taken off the schedule.
In addition to the men’s week, the French Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode, which oversees the French fashion industry, announced it is also canceling Haute Couture week, which was set for early July. In a statement, the federation said it “is actively working with its members on alternatives,” The New York Times’s Vanessa Friedman reported. The Camera Nazionale della Mode Italiana (The National Chamber of Italian Fashion) wrote in a press release about what its alternatives might look like: “We are however working on new digital formats and new ways of encounter, in order to create a new storytelling on the days originally scheduled for the Milan Men’s Fashion week: b2b and b2c platforms for the benefit of brands, luxury companies, and all the other players in the fashion industry. We are aware that great efforts will be made in order to have the new collections ready by June to start an innovative selling campaign.”
And while fashion shows have taken on spectacle status over the past few years, they remain critical for everyone involved in the industry to do their jobs. Fashion week is where both globally recognized and up-and-coming fashion brands go to meet with and sell to buyers from department stores and the cool neighborhood shop on your block. Magazine editors get on planes to discover what to put into pages months down the line. And, on a more superfluous note, but no less soothing to our now-always-frazzled mental states, it’s where Virgil Abloh and Kanye cry-hug and models stomp like malfunctioning robots and Thom Browne dresses people up as suited giraffes and hippos. Brands and fashion weeks are now scrambling to figure out how to replace at least some of what will be lost.
What form the postponed fashion weeks will take is up in the air. The menswear trade show Pitti Uomo is planning for an experience that operates primarily in the safer confines of the world wide web; MFW and PFW might do something similar, especially when it comes to finding a non- or low-contact way for buyers to see collections and put in orders. Another possible alternative might be the live streams that designers and brands have been letting consumers in on for multiple seasons now. That infrastructure may become crucial this summer.
However, finding a way to share and stream a new collection might be the least of designers’ worries. Emily Bode, who presents collections for her brand Bode at Paris Fashion Week, said Friday afternoon that “we assumed [the shows] would be canceled or postponed” for a litany of reasons. The first: that, because of its global scale, the coronavirus pandemic has made it near-impossible to even produce new clothing. “We can’t begin fall production until our factories reopen…and because we can’t start fall production, development of spring is even further behind,” she said.
Not to mention the very real fear that much of the world may still be social distancing come June. “It’s both [of those factors],” Bode said. “I think it’s hard to tell where we will be in even three weeks’ time, so June is entirely too risky.”
Seeing the cancellation or postponement of three major fashion weeks (and it feels all but guaranteed that New York will also cancel its men’s week in the summer) puts a finer point on the dire position fashion brands are in, as well as the ripple effects sure to be felt by everyone involved in the fashion universe. There is a whole global network of not just well-known brands and shops but textile makers, seamstresses, manufacturers and so on who rely on the fashion industry for their livelihoods. Now, some of the most important events for sustaining those in the community are in jeopardy.