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It has been over a year since the entire world found themselves locked up indoors due to a global pandemic – COVID-19. Life, as we had known it pre-2020 has never been the same. We have had to adjust our lives and get accustomed to our “new normal” which consists of wearing a mask every time we are outside (trying to co-ordinate that blue surgical mask with your outfit is a nightmare), getting used to the idea of a curfew in our adulthood, loungewear as the new couture and endless Zoom meetings. 

Front row at Balmain RTW Spring 2021

The social scene has, of course, been incredibly affected by the global pandemic. The COVID-19 prologue in the fashion world was filled with many uncertainties of what will happen to the worldwide fashion calendar. To much surprise, the Spring/Summer shows went ahead as planned; the models were on the runways and the influencers and celebrities were seated front row taking it all in. But as the weeks went by and the COVID-19 cases and numbers rose rapidly, the Autumn/Winter shows were in jeopardy of not being able to proceed as normal. While some chose to withdraw their collections, others, most notably Giorgio Armani, opted to live stream the show without a physical audience. 

Giogio Armani Digital Showcase

As the digital industry revolutionizes continuously, COVID-19 kick-started a new movement; the introduction of Digital Fashion Week. Fashion has set the trends for centuries and in 2020, fashion had to follow one global trend that was on the up and up; digital interaction. The pandemic has pushed the fashion industry to explore new avenues to showcase designers’ collections while continuing to reach buyers and consumers through digital; giving them the same experience they had been so accustomed to through streaming live on their websites and Instagram lives simultaneously.

Patrick McDowell’s Helsinki Fashion Week Presentation

Fast forward to 2021 and the global influencer community became even more prominent in pushing forward a new take on Fashion Week with campaigns rolling out and showcasing the adaptation of the “new normal” in a world currently in the middle of a pandemic. In February, several fashion houses such as Celine, Off-White, and Versace opted to drop out of Fashion Week and showcase their collections at a later stage. According to Donatella Versace, “being a digital event has its advantages. One of them is the possibility of connecting with your audience whenever you think is the right moment.”

Brands such as Prada also took the digital route

On the local front, the pandemic impact has been devastating for our crawling fashion and textile industry. “This hybrid combination of both a digital and live fashion experience allows us to navigate the complexities of trading and doing business effectively whilst simultaneously being highly mindful of the safety aspects associated with the pandemic,” SAFW director, Lucilla Booyzen told news24. “It has been a superhuman challenge for these businesses to stay afloat and retain jobs in the absence of any trade or cash flows. This opportunity to showcase their collections in preparation for summer is vital,” she added. 

Mmsuso Maxwell SS21 – Image: SA Fashion Week

Whilst most fashion houses kept to their usual strategies and upped the ante with their invite drops to digital content creators and fashion influencers, for Paris Fashion Week AW 2021 Women’s Collection, Loewe took on a very creative approach that made a significant mark on how fashion houses can still utilize digital content creators to drive impactful campaigns as a prelude to the release of their new collections in place of the absence of physical fashion shows.

Image: Loewe

JW Anderson took a direction that showcased what fashion can do visually & viscerally. In a means to continue his printed-matter lockdown show alternatives, he came up with a Loewe newspaper, which was also used as a trail of the first chapter of Danielle Steele’s new novel, The Affair. The newspaper had one huge headline “The Loewe Show Has Been Cancelled” and included images of the Loewe AW21 collection and was distributed to a million readers including readers of The New York TimesLe Monde, and Le Figaro.

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Image: Loewe

Digital Fashion Week and the approach that fashion houses and Creative Directors have taken brought forth the chance to embrace the fun and euphoria of fashion again. In continuing with the digital take on fashion presentations, South African born Thebe Magugu unveiled a short film to showcase his Fall/Winter 2021 collection. BANYOLOYI A BOSIGO, a film exploring African spirituality during Paris Fashion Week, received acclaim from fashion media royalty such as CRFashionBook, Dazed, Paper and British Vogue.

Thebe Magugu’s F/W Paris Fashion Week Digital Film

What does the future of the digitalization of Fashion Week look like? 

The digitalization of fashion week could potentially be a huge benefactor for new and upcoming designers. Whilst traditional shows have exclusive guestlists filled with fashion critics, buyers, fashion influencers, and celebrities, live streaming opens up brands and designers to a whole new audience that is substantially larger. The Armani digital show garnered over 160 000 views on their official YouTube channel and through the use of innovations in technology, digital fashion shows have shown they have the potential to appeal to a much wider audience, opening up the world of high fashion to more than just the fashion insiders and fashion elite.

Image: Gucci

With no certainty of the world ever going back to what it was pre-COVID, would it be safe to say that the future is brighter for technology and future to collide and create a new design era of fashion interface that is not just limited to fashion shows? With no end to the pandemic in sight, the rise of digital fashion weeks has the potential of becoming even more immersive and remains an integral part of fashion shows across the globe as the digital discipline evolves.

Image: Getty Images
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