Believe it or not September fashion month has been and gone. In its new almost entirely digital format, the spring/summer 2021 collections reminded us just what the fashion industry is made of.
At the beginning of September, the fashion industry – from press to designers to buyers – would have ordinarily been gearing up for a season of shows. Pre-Covid-19 this would entail countless airmiles to New York, London, Milan and Paris, hundreds of fashion shows and presentations, a whole host of parties, dinners and general fashion fabulousness.
Given the government guidelines concerning social distancing, it meant that this format, which has gone unchanged for decades, would cease to exist this season. Inevitably, this was a big blow to the industry considering the enormity of these shows from a brand point of view. For designers, the collections they exhibit twice a year in February and September are paramount for brand awareness, for buyers to pick up their work and have come to be the bread and butter on which the entire fashion industry feasts.
Even in my short tenure as a fashion week attendee, the idea that I wouldn’t see models strut up and down a catwalk was incredibly disappointing. The shows have come to mean so much more than just seven minutes of being squashed next to your peers on a hard bench with booming music and the long strides of models pacing before you; it’s where important conversations arise, ideas are born, inspirations for the season ahead are founded, and we are reminded how lucky you are to be part of something so special.
We had a taster of what the new digital format might look like earlier the year in June when the British Fashion Council put on its first digital-only gender-neutral fashion week for what would historically have been men’s fashion week, but the big players in the game – the names we most associate with fashion, such as Prada, Dior, Chanel et al – did not partake, instead saving their energy for the main event: September fashion week.
I was dubious. Nothing, absolutely nothing, beats the few seconds before a catwalk show – when the lights go down and the stream of gossiping desists, bums are shuffled into their final resting place and we wait with bated breath for the music to start, for the first foot to hit the catwalk. It’s palpable, electrifying, an energy that can only be experienced in real life. So, how were these brands going to engage with and captivate a hungry audience without a physical presence?
What transpired over the month of September was more than I could have imagined. Designers, under the pressure to dig deep for their creativity, delivered some of their best work; shows that were more memorable even than their physical ones and encouraged important conversations around consumption, representation and global politics. Fashion houses not only adapted to this new way of working and indeed exhibiting their creations but excelled in it. And considering these are some of the most creatively brilliant minds of our generation, should I have been that surprised?
Miuccia Prada and Raf Simmons debuted their first joint collection, which was a mash up of their respective worlds making a sporty yet refined aesthetic. Models (with their names emblazoned on digital screens behind them) made their way around a plush yellow carpeted room-cum-catwalk with puffed out Prada logos and cut outs knitwear. Post show we were treated to an intimate conversation between the two powerhouses, where they declared: “New is not relevant anymore.” And we were learnt of their morning routines – for Miuccia, hot water; for Raf coffee followed by coke zero.
Moschino, who we have come to expect some of the most creative shows from, reconsidered what a show meant entirely. Jeremy Scott, fashion’s funny man and Moschino’s creative director put together a show made entirely from puppets. “Models” carried on Scott’s fantastical aesthetic watched on by marionette versions of fashion’s most esteemed guests (the little tête-à-tête between Anna Wintour and Hamish Bowles had me crying with laughter).
Chanel still took over the Grand Palais (it really couldn’t be any other way) with a slimmed down physical front row and the collection was utterly joyful. There was no rocket, no supermarket, no mini Paris set-up (granted, there was a giant Chanel sign), but more importantly there were clothes that made you smile as they crossed your screen. Bright, playful fashion that was a celebration of getting dressed.
Balenciaga, who last season pre-empted the state of the world with an apocolytpic-esque show, presented a SS21 collection via a music video to ’80s track by Corey Hart, ‘I wear my sunglasses at night’ – because is there anything more fashion than that? Models dressed in the house’s now signature exaggerated shoulders stormed the streets of Paris at night in clothes that were the more glamorous versions of what we have had on rotation for the past six months: track suits, oversized shirts, slides and hoodies.
Loewe gave us a “show on the wall”, which quite literally included a do it yourself wallpaper set of the season’s signature print complete with glue and a brush to put up in your own home. In a box that was as big as my sofa, I unravelled life-size images of Jonathan Anderson’s collection and was able to appreciate the intricacies of his design in a way I could never on a model passing me by.
And that’s only the beginning.
There are parts of fashion month I have so desperately missed, seeing friends, catching up with peers, whispering of industry moves and the swish of a dress in real life. And I would be lying if I said physical shows are not necessary any more – they absolutely are – but what this season has taught us is that when pushed to our absolute limits we are better, more inventive, more creative, brilliant and more inspiring than we have ever been, and that is worth celebrating.
Images: Courtesy of brands