By Jennifer Liu
Scrolling through my stories, I noticed recurrent events on several fashion influencers’ accounts. From German blogger Leonie Hanne (@leoniehanne) to philanthropist Heart Evangelista (@iamheart) and socialite Willabelle Ong (@willamazing), the fashion world is welcoming another of its fashion week season, albeit virtually. Despite the precarious pandemic situation, it seems that major fashion houses are dedicated to showcasing their hard work of the year in any possible way.
Lights, flashes, and cameras. The world of haute couture has always mesmerized the common public with its otherworldly supermodels and price tags that are beyond the reach of the plebe. But the fashion industry is also a harsh one; houses of haute couture must live up to their name. In fact, to be considered an “haute couture house” by the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, brands must own an atelier in Paris with at least fifteen working employees, and more importantly, showcase at least two shows of 35 looks yearly. The bi-annual fashion shows are not a mere matter of feasibility, but a matter of pride and tradition.
While some brands like Saint Laurent and Pitti Immagine chose to play it safe by canceling or postponing, others are more adamant about showcasing their collections despite a worldwide pandemic, an economic recession, and ongoing social protests.
Dior, one of the long-standing maisons, paves the way by hosting an audience-free show in Lecce, Italy this past summer. The Dior Cruise 2021 collection directed and pre-filmed by Maria Grazia Chiuri and accessible on YouTube, hails from south-eastern Italy and brings its rich Mediterranean influence (i.e. dusty beiges and flowing tulles) under the virtual spotlight. September was also graced by Dior’s Spring-Summer 2021 show, live in Paris, the unveiling of which was celebrated by all fashion junkies around the globe through the show’s streaming on TikTok.
As another fashion powerhouse, Chanel did not hesitate to go bold either. Virginie Viard, the newly appointed creative director, paid this year’s SS21 collection as a special homage to past directors, including Karl Lagerfeld and the legendary Coco Chanel. Viard confided to Forbes that, while she had these icons in mind, she did not let them prevent her from being creative, stating that “ [she] was thinking about them who make us dream so much. But without wanting to replicate. Without falling into a vintage
citation”. The collection consisted of colourful articles that lightly reminisced about the 80s down the runway. Accommodating the special circumstances of COVID-19, Chanel’s ready-to-wear collection was also streamed online this October, with an exception of certain guests physically attending the event at the Palais de Paris.
So, what has the world benefited from this ordeal? For starters, there has been a surge in virtual fashion models. Although the applied imaging technologies had appeared previously, the fashion industry had only been able to recognize its potential in light of COVID-19. Christian Guernelli, creative director of a digital modeling agency, confided his experience to the Los Angeles Times. Through his 3D renderings, virtual fashion models can replicate the fluid movement and textures that used to belong solely to human models. Guernelli then sends his virtual pieces to international clients conveniently at no cost of manufacturing and transportation. He was even able to set up his virtual studio, Unhueman, right in his home in collaboration with an office in Paris. In fact, his first collection has already been unveiled at the Mercedes-Benz fashion week in Moscow this past September.
Virtual fashion shows have not only offered excellent alternatives to abide by the physical distancing measures, but also extended to other issues, albeit less prominent, of the fashion industry. While traveling is off the charts for most, the current situation has also shown some positive side effects, offering a potentially greener format of fashion week, with reduced air travel and product waste from production. Additionally, the greater accessibility of haute couture collections also works in favor of the brands’ reputation, maximizing the common creativity and enjoyment of such masterpieces.
All in all, the fashion industry may have been impacted, but it is far from beaten. With aims to preserve its long-lasting traditions, the current pandemic has even pushed designers to come up with alternatives that might stay in place even after the world has recovered from the virus. Greater accessibility to haute couture shows, which have been known to be exclusively reserved for audiences of the elite-class, is particularly appreciated by fashion enthusiasts of the public. With all the clever innovations born out of the difficult situation, it should be interesting to see what the fashion community has to offer in the future.