Fashion

Digital Fashion Week Was Virtual Eye Candy, But The Real Thing Can’t Be Beaten

Released from a physical catwalk, men's fashion week turns to other ways to present the message.
IMAGE Dior, Ermenegildo Zegna, Loewe
ILLUSTRATOR Warren Espejo
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The pandemic is a blight that touches everything, including the building of dreams through the fantasy of a brand-new wardrobe, but trust the creativity of men to find a way. Knowing that smooshing hundreds of people together in a cramped space is a bad idea right now, the gods suspended fashion weeks in London, Milan, and Paris, launching instead digital versions for next season’s clothes.

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Fashion online is not new. It’s been over a decade since Burberry made waves by livestreaming its collection to the world in 2019. Since then, more luxury brands have adopted the format, making the online broadcast a standard in traditional shows. Now, at the appointed time (make sure your Paris-Manila time conversion is correct), anyone can hop on a label’s website and stream the event as it happens across the world.  

For digital fashion week, Dior presents a profile of Ghanaian artist Amoako Boafo, who collaborates with artistic director Kim Jones.

Photo by Dior/ CHRIS CUNNINGHAM.
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Dior's summer 2021 set incorporates Boafo's finger painting technique on its clothes. 

Photo by Dior/ JACKIE NICKERSON.

But this cycle was different. Released from the constraints of presenting to a physical audience in a single location, artistic directors let their imaginations go wild. The static livestream was tweaked, upgraded, and embellished with stylized narrations, designer walkthroughs, show-within-shows, and other visual experiments.

Here’s what some of the biggest names in men’s fashion have done for digital fashion week.

Designers let you know what they really mean.  

For its digital presentation, Dior took a high-minded approach, offering a 10-minute docu-style video, which highlighted Kim Jones’ chosen collaborator for summer 2021, the Ghanaian artist Amoako Boafo.

Dior's styling, colors. and textures mirror Boafo's portraits.

Photo by Dior/ JACKIE NICKERSON.
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In Portrait of an Artist, Boafo introduces us to his works—how his finger painted swirls of brown and blue, yellow and red, convey the plain emotion of his subjects. And then the artistic director made an appearance—dramatically filmed in shadow and from a distance—making clear his connection to Boafo (Jones grew up in Africa) and how the house transposed the art technique onto its clothes.

Photo by Dior/ JACKIE NICKERSON.

Textures, prints, and patterns were the bridge, as in a soft yellow sweater with a Boafo portrait or an ivy-print shirt that was both a Boafo work and an archive Dior dress. The clothes for summer 2021—superb, as usual—appear only in full at the tail-end of the livestream with models floating in and out of the screen (no catwalks here) as if in a dream. If you want to see the new threads, scrub to Act II at minute seven.

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Tod’s offered a classic behind-the-scenes look for its pre-spring 2021 collection with Inside Tod’s Studio. Filmed in the label’s busy workshop, the three-minute video was an opportunity to get to know creative director Walter Chiapponi, who was appointed late last year, and his vision for the brand.

“My perspective is somewhat nostalgic,” he said in a mix of Italian and English, a quirk you wouldn’t pick up if you just read quotes from the show notes. Chiapponi declares “freedom,” “the desire to live,” and “irony” as the overarching direction for next season, and these are reflected in men’s clothes with frivolous touches (and vice-versa—women’s clothes with menswear details). A ’70s inflection in the styling and shapes point to the jet-set lifestyle, which underpins, even more, the optimistic and very Italian message of enjoying life.

Tod's broadcast was shot in its workshop and narrated by artistic director Walter Chiapponi.

Photo by Tod's.
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The pre-spring 2021 men's line recalls the jet-set lifestyle of the ’70s.

Photo by Tod's.

Perhaps, one of the most balanced presentation in this digital experiment was from Ermenegildo Zegna, which merged runway and “a live experience” (a walkthrough) in its almost 16-minute Nature, Man, Machine broadcast.

Instead of a catwalk, models traversed a hill, a garden, and a woodsy area of Oasi Zegna, the natural sanctuary created by its founder, and then entered Lanificio Ermenegildo Zegna, its manufacturing facility situated in the birthplace of the brand. The long march culminated in a stylish formation at the building’s rooftop, where artistic director Alessandro Sartori discussed the finer points of the collection.

As if giving you a private tour, Sartori speaks to the camera, while walking among the models, highlighting the sets that best exemplify his themes: lightness (light colors, easy construction, and soft shoulders) and fluidity with hybrid pieces like outerwear made of shirting fabrics. And then he says, “Ci vediamo presto.” Which is, “See you soon.”

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The catwalk is a box, a pop-up window, or a performance.

Without the need to tailor grand catwalk shows for shiny people sitting in the front row, the 2021 digital presentations explored more ways to replicate that feeling of having a moment while viewing the new clothes.

Loewe recreates the tactile feeling of a physical presentation by placing interactive content in its show-in-a-box.

Photo by Loewe.

Loewe involved a box—a show-in-a-box, to be exact—whose contents reveal the summer 2021 collection in a tactile way. Paper pineapple bags, sunglasses print-outs, color cards, fabric swatches, and more offer a simulacrum of the physical experience of a studio visit. And while this was going on, artistic director Jonathan Anderson orchestrated a 24-hour presentation with performances, how-tos, and even a dinner with the designer himself.

Artistic director Jonathan Anderson explores curves and volumes in Loewe's playful summer 2021 collection.

Photo by Loewe.
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Photo by Loewe.

Gucci followed a similar path with a 12-hour livestream (for resort 2021) fed by surveillance cameras installed at Palazzo Sacchetti in Rome. It was a behind-the-scenes look at a photo shoot and you could watch (spy) on models doing their thing if that’s your thing. The clothes portion of the event was a stylized presentation of the looks, which took the form a Windows 95-ish screen filled with blocky pop-ups. Notably, the clothes were worn by the people who made them.  

Hermès presented the beautiful mess of a campaign shoot with models milling about and taking selfies and harried minders shouting directions off-screen. It had a spontaneous feel but this was probably orchestrated to the last detail (the credits show it was “a live performance”). Artistic director Veronique Nichanian made an appearance, touching up a look, but, of course, we couldn’t understand what she or anyone else was saying because everything was in glorious French.

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The Bits and Pieces of Digital Fashion Week

1Invitations remain...

But they are no longer keys to a locked gate as anyone can view the online show. Nevertheless, the personalized e-vites give us a fuzzy feeling, reminding us of that faraway time (January) when things like these were important.

2| Access is more democratic as most labels have opted out of physical shows.

Because of the pandemic, that small clutch of people—editors, #influencers, buyers, big-money clients—who are accustomed to smelling the new clothes as they sweep past the catwalk are now watching the presentations from home just like you.

Models in the Ermenegildo Zegna livestream walked through the green spaces of Oasi Zegna in Piedmont, Italy.

Photo by Ermenegildo Zegna .

Photo by Ermenegildo Zegna.
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3| You can watch it later.

Because the livestream becomes a video that lives forever on the Internet, you can opt to not watch it live. Maybe you forgot. Maybe the showtime was your sleeping time. Or maybe that night, there were more important things to do like taking care of your house plants. Also, you can skip forward and rewind. 

4| The message is clearer.

With more control over the presentations, designers were able to convey the nuances of their collections even better. Through narration or a walkthrough, you get what’s on the minds of these creative minds because they are saying and showing it.

In a post-show walkthrough, artistic director Alessandro Sartori highlighted fluidity with hybrid pieces.

Photo by Ermenegildo Zegna .

5| It’s great to see more of these elusive artistic directors.

Maybe it was not their choice to be on the livestream (Kim Jones remained in gloomy shadow for his bit), but most of the designers of the brands were on-screen. Instead of just a name on paper or a quick glimpse after a fashion show, you hear their voices, observe how they move, and even see how their mind works.

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6| Fashion is woke.

You can’t accuse it as out of touch when big and small style brands were among the first to produce life-saving PPE and masks for the COVID-19 response. And as seen in digital fashion week, fashion companies continue to exhibit introspection. You see it in the responsible way brands are holding socially distant shows and also in the human stories behind their clothes. Dior highlights a black artist, Zegna returns to nature, and Loewe explores the honesty of tactile shapes. Fashion has always been informed by what is happening now.

Sartori emphasized lightness: light colors, easy construction, and soft shoulders. 

Photo by Ermenegildo Zegna .

7| About the clothes...

They’re great, filled with lightness and softness and levity, which may be a direct reaction to the dourness we’re all feeling right now. If the spiritual function of clothes is to make you feel, then a shirt that looks like rattan armor (Loewe) evokes the opposite of sadness.

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8| But here’s what we also think...

A live show can’t be beaten. You’re seated in the front row among a crush of shiny people (and on your left is a legit celeb). You feel the thrum of music vibrating in your bones. You witness design come to life as clothes move on the runway. For 15 or so minutes, you’re part of this dazzling, growing energy. And then it fizzles out.

It will take a long while for this magic to happen again. Until then, we have our screens.

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