In fashion, the show must go online

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As the industry gears up for its first phygital ‘season’ in India, here is what has kept fashion week organisers busy

As we anticipate the first ever fully digital fashion weeks in India this month, it is perhaps the right time to travel back in, well, time. The very idea of fashion week, when the event started in New Delhi with the Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI) and then title sponsor Lakmé, was to bring industry professionals in one place and give our designers a strong, business-oriented platform to showcase their collections. Every single person and service needed to put on a show would be made available to designers at one venue. This would also make it easier for the press to see and report on the designers’ collections. But most importantly, fashion buyers both local and international would be able to place orders in the comfort of one venue. Even designers who weren’t part of the show calendar would have stalls to exhibit their collections. And this was good.

Today, the fashion business has utterly changed, especially and uniquely due to social media. But the format of our fashion weeks remained pretty close to the original till the Covid-19 pandemic struck and made it impossible for the FDCI or IMG-Reliance to host physical events.

A Pankaj and Nidhi creation at LFW  

In response, both came up with digital strategies that focus on providing more relevant services so that designers are able to show their collections to a global audience. They set up virtual showcases and showrooms to allow designers to sell directly to customers as well as to buyers. “When we did the first digital showroom a few months ago, it made many designers realise the importance of having their own websites,” says FDCI chairman Sunil Sethi. In Mumbai, Head of Lifestyle Businesses at IMG-Reliance Jaspreet Chandok says that Lakmé Fashion Week (LFW) has been building up its online presence and outreach for over five years now. “The pandemic only accelerated the process of migrating to a fully digital platform.” While the FDCI participation fee has been decreased by 50% according to Sethi, LFW has not decreased theirs, claiming that it is going into the making and maintaining of the digital showcase and showrooms, which are actually expensive exercises.

In fashion, the show must go online

Digital intervention

On ground, both FDCI and IMG-Reliance offered participants safe and sanitised spaces where they could produce the content for their online showcases. IMG did this at the swanky St Regis in Mumbai, where a sterilised ‘bubble’ was created, and anyone who entered it had to be quarantined for a week in advance. Designers themselves had to direct their shoots over video conferencing. FDCI’s spacious office in Delhi’s Okhla area was converted into a similar studio space, with strict protocols and social distancing measures in place.

The second and more important support both organisers have provided are their digital retail platforms, where designers can sell directly to customers and interact with buyers and merchandisers from all across the world. “We are not taking a cut from our designers to provide this service,” says Sethi. FDCI has promised a whole three months of this. In LFW’s case, Chandok promises that viewers will be able to shop the looks as they appear on screen in real time. “And the digital showroom will remain active even beyond the dates of the fashion week,” he adds.

Backstage at LFW

Rethinking fashion weeks

For you and me, reader, this means a new experience of fashion week. In focusing on migrating their respective shows online, both the FDCI and IMG-Reliance have turned a hurdle into an opportunity, and evolved in their roles as organisers to business regulators in a sense. This first digital ‘season’ will also — as anything done for the first time in India tends to do — throw up unique and interesting learnings. Immediately, I can tell you about one possible positive side effect: less ‘celebrity’ coverage and more focus on the collections, even though some designers may bring in the odd Bollywood star or two. Fingers crossed they don’t. Toes also.

The green-screens set up by the FDCI may transport us to fantastical venues created by cutting-edge CGI, and at LFW we may have “the option of choosing your own seats and views” as Chandok puts it. The FDCI has even roped in cloud management app, Prêtture, to handle their Digital Showroom. By bringing in experts, both organisers have done their utmost to ensure that the show does, indeed, go online.

Now, take this route to its logical conclusion and you, like me, will end up with the same questions: if this works, and works well, do we even need fashion week? Is it now time for organisers to re-think their roles and take the next step in defining the future of fashion weeks and fashion retail in India, just like they did all those years ago? The answers will depend on what is coming, and what we learn from it.

FDCI’s Lotus Make-Up India Fashion Week Spring Summer ‘21 is on from October 14 to 18. Details: @fdciofficial on Instagram.

IMG-Reliance’s Lakme Fashion Week is on from October 21 to 25. Details: @lakmefashionwk on Instagram

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