There is no other reaction other than: they’re doing WHAT and they’re doing it WHEN? The news causing the spit take is an announcement from the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode (FHCM), France’s governing fashion organization, that it’s planning to move ahead with Paris Fashion Week at the end of this September.
The coronavirus already wiped out the men’s and haute couture fashion weeks planned for the summer. The smart money would have been on the same happening to September’s big-ticket Paris Fashion Week, which requires many attendees to fly in from other countries, sit side-by-side, and then spread out around the city. That didn’t have to be a bad thing: the pause, it was said, could give designers and brands the opportunity to take a deep breath and reimagine a fashion system they saw as deeply broken. “When you try to explain how fashion works to people not in fashion, it’s impossible,” Dries Van Noten told The New York Times after he and a group of others in the industry wrote an open letter outlining a slate of desired changes. “Nobody can understand it.” Others brands, like Gucci, have already announced intentions to jump off the traditional calendar.
These pleas to reinvent the fashion system clearly did not reach the FHCM. Or as Rhude’s Rhuigi Villaseñor, who presented at Paris Fashion Week in January and was planning on doing so again before the pandemic, put it to me: “It’s quite French for them to not care about people dying, right?”
The FHCM wrote in its release that it will follow all “recommendations of public authorities,” but details around what the resulting shows will actually look like are very fuzzy. In addition to Gucci, other brands have already committed to changing the way they show, or leaving the calendar entirely. Earlier this week, Dior announced plans to physically show its cruise collection in July—without any crowd present. (The concept of a physical show exclusively shown online is being branded as “phygital,” because the fashion system can’t make tweaks without trying to stick it with a catchy word or phrase. Remember “see now, buy now”?) Dunhill will only be part of the week’s “digital calendar,” and plans to “present an evocative film,” according to Mark Weston, the brand’s creative director. Matthew Williams’s Alyx confirmed to GQ it will participate, while Dior, Burberry, Chanel, and Fendi have all voiced support for getting back to physical shows, according to Business of Fashion. “In Paris in September, we hope to be able at least to have some audience, if not a full room,” Pietro Beccari, Dior’s CEO, told BoF. (Ami, Bode, OAMC, and Loewe all either declined to say whether they would participate or did not respond to a request for comment.)
PFW is forging ahead but some brands are still taking this time to completely reimagine what a fashion show looks like. Villaseñor, for instance, is planning on releasing a film showcasing his new collection in July. The collection is much smaller than previous showings, for one, and Villaseñor focused on repurposing fabrics and excess leathers that were floating around his design studio. Comfort is also a major priority for the collection—a direct result of the designer, along with most everyone else, spending the last handful of months at home. More than any of that, Villaseñor said, he’s thinking broadly about how the system does (or doesn’t) work: “I just don’t think [the current system] makes sense. For the first time we’re actually going to have enough shelf life to sell something for the actual season it’s meant for.” Villaseñor isn’t sure whether or not these changes will stick post-coronavirus, but he’s certainly considering it.
Despite all the groaning emitting from fashion houses about the current system, there is a reason Paris Fashion Week is so steadfast in moving forward. People who work in the industry—like buyers, editors, and stylists—will tell you how important it is to see clothes in person and how they move on a model, to feel and touch a garment before putting it in your store or magazine. Even the fanciest, highest-production video can’t replicate that experience. “Even if the current situation has led to a great deal of innovation in online projects,” Pascal Morand, the executive president of the FHCM told BoF, “nothing can replace the physical event.”