The fashion industry is reckoning with itself at every level, from its exclusive practices to the systemic racism built into its model. Seismic changes need to happen behind the scenes to modernize the industry. The business’s most visible touchpoint, the fashion show, is also about to undergo a radical reformation of its own. The pandemic has given raise to this revolution. Even after mankind’s hopes were down this year but the spirit of the fashion designers and the fashion industry didn’t sink and stop them from presenting an incredible fashion show, which also gave us an opportunity to witness all their creativities and innovations from the comforts of our home.
The fashion industry and especially the Indian fashion industry have always been skeptical about adapting new technologies as it has always been a risk in the market. The year 2020 finally bridged the gap between fashion and technology. Here is a list of some virtual fashion show that left us mesmerized; and also an inside about the technological factors that made it possible.
- Bigthinx Company’s take on virtual fashion show:
Ever since Chandralika Hazarika and Shivang Desai wrapped up one of the world’s first fully digital 3D virtual fashion show earlier this month, their phones haven’t stopped ringing. “We used to run after people to explain our work, now it’s the other way round,” laughs Hazarika, who founded Bigthinx, a Bengaluru-based tech start up, with Desai in October.
The co-founders, both in their 30s, have created a software that offers creates 3D avatars of models and garments, which are then rendered and animated, based on actual product designs and measurements. The success of the fashion show, which was organized by Fashinnovation, a New York-based conference on innovation in the fashion industry and had lifelike models walking on the virtual runway, has given them more confidence in their product. “Before this, not many people were aware of this technology, especially designers in India. But COVID-19 has changed things,” says Desai, a serial entrepreneur.
The virus crisis is pushing brands, big and small, across the world to engage and experiment with immersive technologies. The fashion industry, which is responsible for 10% of annual global carbon emissions, more than international flights and maritime shipping combined, is finally beginning to accept the virtual concepts of clothing, catwalks and trial rooms to stay relevant in a world where consumers, especially millennials and post-millennials, are conscious about sustainability.
“Many designers in India thought they wouldn’t touch technology for the next 10 years but now everybody is realizing that online is the way to go if you want to stay relevant. Customers are going to think twice before walking into a trial room. And young consumers, especially Gen Zers, have become more mindful about where their clothes are coming from,” says Hazarika.
Bigthinx’s business model also plugs into e-commerce sites of retailers so shoppers can explore a range of garment sizes on their avatar before purchasing, all from the comfort of their home with the help of their phone camera. “There’s no privacy invasion here. It’s just body measurements the app takes,” insists Desai, adding that they are currently working on a “virtual touch and feel” feature. The company has over 30 clients in the pipeline from across the world.
Hazarika agrees that the acceptance has increased among the people in fashion industry but the complete “online switch” will take time. “We are talking about unlearning decades of practices, so it will take some years to see designers embrace technology at such a large scale. Especially for legacy, high-end brands, for whom pivoting is not so easy. But yes, covid has helped start the conversation.”
- Hanifa by Anifa Mvuemba:
Fashion Designer Anifa Mvuemba, founder of fashion label Hanifa, was looking forward to holding her first runway show at New York Fashion Week this year. But when the coronavirus torpedoed those plans, she came up with a new way to unveil her latest designs to the world.
In May, she held her virtual fashion show, streamed over Instagram Live, in which each garment appeared in 3D against a black backdrop, as if worn by invisible models strutting across a catwalk, the garment hugging every curve. Tens of thousands of Hanifa’s quarter of a million followers tuned in. The high-tech show was just the most recent manifestation of Mvuemba’s push to chart her own path in the fashion industry. Mvuemba family immigrated to the United States from the Democratic Republic of Congo when she was a toddler; Mvuemba was inspired by her homeland when she designed her current line, called Pink Label Congo. One backless mini dress is done in blue, yellow, and red—the colours of the Congo flag. A denim jumpsuit contains ruching and ruffling details that are commonly used by Congolese seamstresses. And the show’s stunning finale is a floor-length, asymmetrical silk dress that portrays the Congo River, blue skies, and rolling hills covered in grass. Like all of Mvuemba’s designs, these come in size 0 to 20, and are priced between $50 and $499. “I have black women in mind when I design,” she explains. “I create silhouettes that work for our bodies and complexions.”
The Instagram show was striking and also slightly eerie, since the garments looked like they were being worn by a parade of ghosts. But without the distraction of a backdrop or of live humans wearing the outfits, it was easier to take in every detail of the clothing.
Mvuemba had been tinkering with the idea for a 3D fashion show months before the pandemic arrived as she was intrigued by the realistic 3D animation that began appearing in movies and was curious about how she could apply this to fashion. Three years ago, she hired a developer who works with CAD and animation software to help her with her design work. It was easier said than done. She had to take each of the garments she had designed for her Pink Label Congo collection and transform them into a 3D image, which then had to be fitted onto the body of an avatar. And it turns out, you have to be just as precise about the fit of the garments when an avatar is wearing them as you are with a real model. Mvuemba says that if the garment wasn’t perfectly tailored to the avatar, it would slide off while in motion. “It was incredibly painstaking,” she says.
Mvuemba’s 3D fashion show allowed her to quickly make a splash in the media. “I wanted it to happen in real time, so that viewers could experience it the way they would at a real fashion show,” Mvuemba says. “If you were there, you were there.” When it came to her fans, many thought the show was ground breaking and thrilling to watch, but some had hesitations. Some pointed out that Mvuemba is among a small group of designers that almost exclusively use black models. Transitioning to 3D shows might make her less inclined to tap these models in the future. While she notes it’s a “valid concern,” she says she’ll never “exclusively use technology to replace people. I like working with real models too much.”
- Fashion Designer Stephin Lalan:
Chennai too had its own virtual fashion show. The six-minute 18-second video is the brainchild of jewellery designer Raji Anand, fashion designer Stephin Lalan and stylist Sunil Karthik.
“It took us a week to complete this video,” says Raji. It features 12 models, including Paloma Rao, Aishvarrya Suresh, Sameea Bangera and Gayathri Reddy — and has been shot entirely in the models’ homes.
“We kept social distancing in mind and coordinated everything. Each of the models shot their sequence at home and sent it to us. We put them together,” explains Raji. Outfits by Stephin and jewellery by Raji were dispatched to the models. Hair, make-up, and choreography was explained over the phone and through notes.
Raji says it was a challenging task to quickly put together the outfits and jewelry.
“I don’t have pieces in bulk. I had to make the jewelry. They are strong pieces and comprise statement handcuffs, neckpieces, and large finger rings. They had to match with Stephin’s creations that are solid, neutral, flowy garments with no prints.”
She adds “When we thought of this video, we assumed it would be easy. But the day it released (Saturday, May 30) we were so tired!”
As it turned out, the virtual show was more “exhausting” for the organisers than a physical live show. “In a live show you are there, you can tell the hair and makeup artist what you want, the clothes are ironed and on the rack, and you can see everything, there is no element of surprise,” says Raji, adding, “But here, we had to deal with 12 individuals separately, answer their queries, check their videos, some had too much breeze, some had low light, follow up with them, and then bring it all together.”
- Pakistan Fashion Week:
Catwalk Care a Pakistani fashion show organizing company also decided to held a virtual show. Top designers like Khaadi, Maheen Karim, Amir Adnan, Nida Azwer, Huma Adnan, Shamaeel Ansari, and models came together to execute the show. Their concept were similar to Stephin Lana’s concept, the show video was shot in the model’s house, makeup and hairstylist artists were instructed by the designer through a video call. This virtual fashion show was an initiative taken by Frieha Altaf the CEO of Catwalk Care to dedicate the show to the frontliners and help them by raising the funds through the show.
- Rahul Mishra:
Designer Rahul Mishra showcased his breathtaking A/W2020 collection at the virtual Pairs Haute Couture week. Many may question the need for luxury and couture at the moment, but Rahul Mishra’s 2020 A/W presentation answers that question in the most ingenious way possible.
The designer pays homage to his craft community by creating a collection that metaphorically represents their spirit. The world-wide lockdown led to complete silence in most ateliers, leaving the artisans not just out of a job, but also out of hope. Mishra took this as an opportunity to celebrate the unsung heroes of his brand, who live and breathe their craft.
You see the couturier talk about the changing times we are currently living in, and how the pandemic has forced us to slow down and smell the flower, quite literally. He drew his inspiration from the botanical world we are surrounded by, the luscious gardens, balmy skies, and the fluttering butterflies that give back more to nature than they take, just like the artisans.
To Mishra, it wasn’t just about safeguarding his craftsmen financially; it was about giving the community a sustainable environment during these dark times.
Of course, the challenge to create a couture line amidst social distancing isn’t an easy task, but the designer managed to weave magic even under these circumstances.
In times like these, when resources are minimal, and the luxury of a fully functional unit is a distant dream, you ought to improvise. Archived fabrics and embroidery pieces were scavenged and repurposed, fewer embroiders physically working in the studio, design meetings were held via video calls, and with the adaptation of the new normal, his labor of love was ready for the world to view.
If you’ve viewed Rahul Mishra’s collection in the past, traces of nature have always been a part of his body of work. This time around was no different; the painstakingly crafted couture gowns portrayed a garden of hope. A myriad of colors blended, representing the symphony of nature and how it all coexists. 3D appliqued butterflies, birds, and flowers, skillfully etched on dainty tulle creating a dreamy foliage pattern. The silhouettes were clean, non-fussy, and allowed the surface ornamentations to take center stage.
Caped gowns, flowing dresses, separates, tube gowns, and pocketed empire line ensembles with threaded, sequined, and appliqued forest cast an enchanting spell that you will remain in, even after the film ends.
The fashion show was shot in an open wide spacious empty room and open garden which depicted the free spirit of the collection. The soothing breeze in the beautiful open garden allowed the 3D butterfly motifs to move, which added a lively feel to the show.
- Paris Fashion Week:
The fashion capital is ready to host the world virtually through this new-and-improved online transition. The access no longer remains sacred in the hands of the fashion insiders; the new format allows the world to escape the regularity (even if it’s for 30 short minutes) and get lost in the mystical world created by master couturiers.
Rock-solid backing from internet giants like YouTube, Google and Instagram, combining their power with the governing body of fashion in France to make this virtual adaptation a smooth one.
As much as we miss the good-old ways in fashion, the current transformation subtracts the alarming amount of carbon foot-print and abuse of resources, as you witnessed in the past, during the traditional fashion weeks. Influencers, media, models and a large number of fashion cliques are flown across the globe to give them front-row access to something they can now see from the comfort of their homes with the rest of the world.
While there’s a definite upside to this new-normal situation, but with the cancellation of elaborate presentation, the fashion army that serves as the spinal cord of fashion weeks has now been out for a job for quite some time. Everybody knows the models, the head stylist, creative directors and the bosses of the glam squads, but what about the people who get the jobs done for them? The battalion of helpers who zip up the models in their voluminous couture, the technicians who create enchanting sets, large groups of buddying make-up and hairstylists who assists on these shows, hoping to make a place in the industry.
Digital fashion shows/films are a hoot, but they can never replace the encapsulating ambiance created by the many sartorial warriors who are now sitting this one out.
Since there was no pressure of exhibiting a collection to a live seated audience, couturiers cashed in this opportunity. They allowed their imaginations to run free in their pre-taped films, which they telecasted during the presentation. From Dior’s mystical garden to Chanel recreating opulent noir, there was no dearth of inspiration.
Drawing inspiration from Mademoiselle Coco Chanel’s intriguing life, Virginie Viard’s Chanel haute couture show was set in Paris’s Grand Palais. Extracting elements from Coco’s days at a convent, the biographical reference reflected in the painstakingly made monochromatic garments.
Viard poetically presented components of Chanel’s nostalgia through razor-sharp cuts, choices of fabric, surface-ornamentation, and the color palette. Although she gave the world a peek into an era of Coco Chanel’s life, she also managed to make a statement of the period that will charter for the couture house in the coming years by infusing her modern and wearable aesthetic.
Maria Grazia Churi collaborated with Italian filmmaker Mateo Garrone and created a surrealist film for her 2020 couture showcase. Unlike most of her flawless work, the movie received flak for the lack of diversity in its casting, considering the current socio-political climate of the world. The movie paid homage to post World War II era in France when Parisian designers created silhouettes for miniature dolls (1/3rd the size of an actual female), and 60 of these extraordinary mannequins were displayed at the Lourve.
These miniature fashion creations went on to tour the world, earning revenue for the post-war relief of the country. Churi chose a part of history that somewhat mirrors with the current situation due to the Pandemic.
The fashion industry has recently suffered in the past few months, and unemployment has been on the rise. By amalgamating the two, she gave her couturiers and artisans a beacon of hope. The diaphanous gowns on doll-sized figures attested to the master craftsmanship they are known for. Embellished tulle, delicate chiffon, dainty lace wove the perfect mystical tale.
Celebration of fashion is in the mere essence of Giambattista Valli, it’s opulent, magnanimous, with a blooming spirit depicted through volume. In true Valli style, the presentation has supermodel Joan Smalls dressed in museum-worthy couture pieces, each roaring with the designer’s creative marvel.
How do you retain your signature maximalist style while developing a collection during an economic shakedown in the middle of a pandemic? The answer is hidden in Valli’s undiluted love for his craft that cannot be constrained, or it will not be the same.
The larger-than-life gowns in shades of rose pink, scarlet, ivory and black, consuming the entire breadth of a room with its countless layers, engineered to elude an effortless cascading effect. Ginormous bows etched on short dresses, appearing like presents that one will never want to unravel. Giambattista’s couture show commemorated the undefeated spirit of fashion capital with the sheer grandeur it represents.
London based couturiers Tamara Ralph and Michael Russo’s couture concept derived out of long brainstorming sessions on Zoom, that resulted in a much larger digital vision than they imagined. It coined the existence of a virtual avatar Hauli (in Swahili it means power and strength) created through Artificial Intelligence with the help of a Korean developer.
In an attempt to experiment outside their comfort zone, the designers developed a muse that was a powerful, beautiful black woman, a modern-day icon that represents the fashion of today. Eight out of their 53 couture pieces were shot on Hauli with the seven wonders of the world in the background.
She looked nothing less than divine as she posed in powder pink, fringed gown across Taj Mahal. The Great Wall of China, Chichén Itzá in Mexico, Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer and the lost city of Machu Picchu are the other wonders that Hauli visited.
- Fashion Insiders Views on this dynamic change:
CAITLIN BURKE, STYLE, AND CONTENT DIRECTOR AT MODA OPERANDI: “My favorite thing about fashion week is the newness—new ideas, new styling inspiration, new faces, and new product. I love seeing the collections presented as one cohesive vision from the designer for the season ahead. I think virtual platforms will be able to capture a portion of that, which I’m looking forward to, but I do think a bit of that in-person magic—the anticipation, the music, the mood of the room, the sound of an epic dress swishing past you as you try to take it all in—will be a bit lost. That being said, I think there are a lot of upsides as well—I won’t miss rushing to and from Ubers, getting caught in a downpour while wearing my best ensemble, or the marathon of late-night drinks and early morning appointments. My under-eye bags will be much less visible virtually!”
ALYSSA COSCARELLI, FREELANCE WRITER, INFLUENCER, AND CONSULTANT: “September fashion week usually feels like summer camp. I get to see my friends near and far—fellow influencers, writers, and photographers from all corners of the globe, almost all day, every day, for a more-than-weeklong stretch. From catching up shoulder-to-shoulder in the tightly packed rows of runway-show seating to evening drinks that go late into the night even though your first show is at 9:00 AM the next day, I’ll sorely miss the social aspect of fashion week. I’ll also miss the experiential aspect (Sandy Liang lining models up in a packed Congee Village, Coach taking over Hudson Yards at golden hour, Mansur Gavriel’s ever-Instagrammable setups, Rihanna making waves at Barclays Center…). Fond memories are always made in good company, but now these festivities feel like a thing of the past. And maybe it’s better this way. Fashion week was a symbol of what a never-ending, completely unsustainable hamster wheel fashion could sometimes feel like, and I hope new formats can push the industry to create more democratized iterations of traditionally restrictive and exclusionary events. This season is a welcome pause for us all to reconsider the way the industry operates. We can use the time to reflect and reinvent—I know I am.”
JULIE GILHART, PRESIDENT, TOMORROW CONSULTING AND CDO, TOMORROW LTD.: “I’ll miss the energy. I am trained to ‘feel’ fashion versus just look at it. Both are necessary in making good business and creative decisions for the future. I’ll also just miss engaging with people in the atmosphere of ‘sharing a show’ with your colleagues and the creatives involved. This is the part that is difficult to translate online. Being able to touch the clothes, see how they move and fall, understand the details and complexity in the construction, is not completely possible online.
“I won’t miss the travel, which is hard, expensive, and adds to my carbon footprint! I have for a long time now been concerned about the over-the-top production and spending involved in putting together a show, which is wasteful. This is one of the many points that got me interested in sustainability in fashion over 15 years ago. I also won’t miss the fashion week schedule. Fashion weeks are many times too full on shows, presentations, events, meetings, etc., that it can feel very unsustainable.”
SANDY LIANG, DESIGNER: “I’ll miss seeing friends and family at the show. I don’t bring up work almost ever at home, so until the day of the show, my family has no idea what I’ve been working on the past few months. I’ll miss the feeling of relief right after the show and sharing that with the team—including all the models, casting, stylists, hair and makeup, production, etc. I’ll miss that nervous but giddy feeling while everyone is backstage in hair and makeup before the show.
“I won’t miss all the time it takes to prep, which takes away from my sketching or working time. My ideal day at the studio is when I don’t have any meetings and I can just design all day—which prepping for a show does not allow for! I won’t miss the last-minute changes. I won’t miss all the extra emails!”
TELSHA ANDERSON, OWNER/BUYER T.A. NEW YORK: “I’ll definitely miss the mingling aspect of the shows, but there’s an exciting element surrounding virtual fashion shows and the market week appointments. I can’t wait to see how designers and showrooms reallocate their resources from the front row to the production. They have the opportunity to push their creativity to the next level, offering an experience that is visually appealing and enticing, no matter the location (which will most likely be my living room this season).“During market week, my favorite part of the day is catching up with Karina from Haus Agency or the group from Paper Mache Tiger, walking through each collection and experiencing the fabric, so I’ll also miss reconnecting with the showroom representatives in person. However, it might serve as a great opportunity to connect personally with designers, which is sometimes missed at physical shows.”
Post-millennials will be among the first to adapt to newer technologies, says Smita Som, assistant professor (knitwear design) at NIFT. “They are digital natives and think much more about sustainable fashion, so they will be quick to learn.” Against the backdrop of COVID-19, fashion in the future will be about upcycling. “There will be a lot of DIY, repair-and-wear trends. Virtual trial rooms will be very real soon and the use of artificial intelligence for design will increase,” she says. “And yes, tactility might just become a premium experience.”
This year the paparazzi, front row line up, backstage madness, busy schedule, and the after-parties were definitely missed. But also the fact the Virtual fashion shows are sustainable, they definitely are the future of the fashion industry but it still has a long way to go. This change has a lot of challenges of its own but also is a great step towards sustainability. Cutting down on the sampling production and going digital will surely save time and money for the designers. Virtual fashion space online does provide a thrilling challenge for the fashion industry. Science fiction and video games have long been a vehicle to build a utopia, hinging on the idea that beyond our physical realities we can build something better. Can virtual fashion do the same?
Article By: Saba Shaikh