BY FEMKE VAN BRUINESSEN
Due to Covid-19, it was announced in March that Haute Couture fall 2020 was cancelled. However, a new shape of couture week quickly took place with brands announcing digital alternatives. In an age where the fashion calendar is up for debate and where the presence of sustainability in the industry is growing, it is important to look at what this digital couture week could mean for the future of the industry.
One of the first things to note is that people did not travel to Paris for Fall couture this year and there was no building of extravagant stages like some brands are known for. The productions of this digital couture week were incredibly local and relatively small, since of course travel and large groups were not allowed. This local and smaller production is a lot more sustainable than a show where people have to fly out, a set has to be built and where generally a lot of money, time and materials are put into an event of roughly fifteen minutes.
However, it is worth mentioning that the production of a fashion film can also be immensely unsustainable. Even though fashion films are nothing new, this week showed that brands can do a fashion film instead of a full-on show. This is promising since it could be more sustainable than a show, depending on the choices made in production.
A question arises though, namely, is it not worth it to use materials unsustainably in the name of art? As unsustainable as, for instance, Chanel’s couture shows are, the setting is absolutely breath-taking. The settings, the concepts, the themes and the productions are really well-thought-out and most of the time very beautiful. However, it is also very much possible to create beautiful art in a sustainable way, as it was seen this past digital couture week.
Both Iris van Herpen and Maison Rabih Kayrouz only did one look for this couture week. Iris van Herpen released a video titled ‘Transmotion’ showing one black and white dress. The video and the dress were both made in Amsterdam. It was a small and local production resulting in only one dress, but this was enough for fans of the haute couture brand.
Similarly, Maison Rabih Kayrouz released only one dress and a film as well. His dress, an orange piece made entirely out of cord, ribbon and a zipper, was devoid of fabric. The video nodded towards the two places he works in: his atelier in Paris, where the dress was made, and his atelier in Beirut, where the dress was designed.
Both of these brands made only one dress and a film accompanying it, but that was enough to make a statement. Many other brands also created less looks than usual, and it will be interesting to see if, in the future, brands will be creating less looks as opposed to the usual 20, 30 or sometimes 70. This digital couture week has proven that you can make a statement with less looks, and that having an enormous collection is unnecessary.
Some brands like Schiaparelli and Ralph & Russo released sketches instead of looks. Schiaparelli released only sketches and Ralph & Russo released sketches and a few looks, some modelled by a CGI model and some actual finished pieces modelled by actual human models. This idea of releasing sketches instead of looks is interesting, but will it be accepted in the future? When the world goes to the post-pandemic “normal”, a designer releasing some finished looks and some sketches could be met with a lot of critique. Currently, it is incredible, but in the future releasing part sketches, part finished looks could be seen as an excuse or as lazy.
All in all, the digital couture week showed brands doing less looks than usual, only one look or sketches instead of several looks. Fashion shows were replaced by fashion films and the fashion industry was forced to work in a smaller and more local way. This digital couture week has proven that there is a way to present couture outside of the format known before: it is not necessary to stick to ‘the fashion show in Paris’ format.
The question of course is if brands will dive into these options even when the fashion show format will be possible again. The fashion industry and its designers could take the pandemic and having been forced to work online and locally as an opportunity to question the formats, planning and structures seen as 'the norm' in the industry. This past digital couture week has shown us that there are many options, and if designers do decide to change the way they work, they could for sure come up with new and innovative methods. After all, designers are paid to create.