Fashion and luxury facing the new era of catwalk shows

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Dec 21, 2022

Christian Dior made a statement with its men’s fashion show in front of the Cairo pyramids in Eygypt last December 3. The show was certainly one to remember as models walked on the sand in front of a thousand guests, with the majestic monuments illuminated in the night as the event’s backdrop. The star brand of the LVMH group, the first luxury house to organize a fashion show in the Giza necropolis, was able to display its omnipotence. Just like Chanel, which hosted a show a few days later in Dakar unveiling its Métiers d’art collection, becoming the first house to present a collection in sub-Saharan Africa. Two recent examples illustrating the increasing spectacularization of fashion events since the end of the Covid crisis.

Dior’s menswear show in front of the pyramids – © Alessandro Garofalo

“There is obviously a desire at the moment to return to the physical dimension, focusing on a very strong experiential aspect. It will be difficult to return to the traditional fashion show,” observes Emanuela Prandelli, who directs the master of management in fashion, experience and design (Mafed) at Milan’s Bocconi University. In addition, there is a change of target audience. In the past, the shows were mainly aimed at professionals, especially retailers and the press. Today, things are different.

“We are witnessing a media event aimed at a much wider audience than the traditional catwalk audience. It’s an investment that speaks directly to the consumer market. The goal is to have an impact in terms of consumer engagement. Bearing in mind that the attention that brands get during Fashion Weeks is much higher than any other time of the year, with an ever stronger impact on the end consumer,” continues the professor. 

According to Launchmetrics, which has developed the “Media Impact Value” indicator that allows brands to measure the monetary value of their media impact, the four women’s ready-to-wear SS23 Fashion Weeks, which took place in Paris, Milan, New York and London, from September to October, broke all records. They generated a total of $938.4 million (931.82 million euros) in MIV, 60% more than the previous season of fall-winter 2022/23.
After two years of a half-stop due to the health crisis, the data analytics specialist found that luxury houses focused mostly during Fashion Weeks “on creating scenic experiences, encapsulating iconic and cultural moments that resonate far beyond industry cycles. We saw an emerging trend of brands leveraging influencers/celebrities on the runway to create such moments.”
He noted how “some shows expressed their creativity through a production of unique shows,” while others took advantage of the novelty effect by scheduling their shows outside of the official calendar or changing cities in a curious game of musical chairs. Fendi presented a second show in September in New York, where Marni also showed its collection. And the latter is flying to Tokyo next season, while Moncler has just announced that it will hold its Genius event in London in February.

Coperni sprayed a dress onto Bella Hadid – © PixelFormula

After two years of pandemic, where houses spent their time talking about a return to authenticity and the need to slow down and produce less, the excitement and frenzy around the first fashion weeks post-Covid is surprising. This last season saw the rise of high impact shows with an unprecedented surge of showcases, where products and collections, sometimes barely visible, seemed to take a back seat. A trend that is clearly destined to continue and become stronger, as the race for an online audience has become a priority.

“Everything has to go viral.”

“Twenty years ago, picking the right runway location and the right model could get you more sales for the season. Today, that’s not enough. You need more and more to attract the eye, and putting on a memorable fashion show has become much more complex. It’s all about standing out. The way of communicating has completely changed”, says the events manager of a luxury house, who notes that today “everything must be viral.” Different strategies have emerged, focusing on location, staging, a unique concept, or the involvement of a particular influencer in the show.
Balenciaga, for example, made its mark with its cohort of models looking like war refugees walking through the mud with their stained and sometimes torn clothes. This time, creative director Demna, had the huge convention center in Villepinte, north of Paris, filled with hundreds of cubic meters of mud, after having his models walk in the snow last season.

In another genre, but just as effective from a media point of view, Alessandro Michele imagined a grandiose double fashion show for Gucci, where the models joined their double at the end of the show, beyond the wall dividing the room in two, giving rise to a third and final lap with 68 pairs of twins holding hands.
He is certainly not the first designer, nor will he be the last to put on a runway show with twins – Jean Paul Gaultier, among others, preceded him. Coincidentally, the same day, Loris Messina and Simone Rizzo had also called on twins to unveil the new collection of their label Sunnei. Unfortunately the Gucci show was scheduled first resulting in Kering’s star label stealing the show and all the brand visibility.

As Prandelli points out, “before, fashion shows were mainly the prerogative of big houses, excluding the smaller players. Today, with digitalization, many more brands have been able to reach a wider audience. There is no need for huge means to be noticed. What counts is the ability to be original and above all to be the first to have the right idea.”

A spray dress, Coperni’s “mega buzz” 

A good example is Coperni, which exploded on social media after its big finale, where a dress was spray painted live onto Bella Hadid, who was wearing nothing but a thong. The spray turned into fabric in contact with her body, creating the brands final look. It didn’t even matter that the performance overshadowed the rest of the collection and was in fact an identical performance to the one imagined twenty years earlier by Alexander McQueen, who also spray painted a dress onto model Shalom Harlow at the end of his summer 1999 show. Thanks to those few final minutes, designers Sébastien Meyer and Arnaud Vaillant became the centre of the entire fashion world, in one fell swoop, generating a phenomenal buzz with an estimated Media Impact Value of $26.3 million in just 48 hours.

Kim Kardashian featured in a film for the Dolce and Gabbana show – ph Dominique Muret

Without spending a fortune, Valentino’s Pierpaolo Piccioli was unexpectedly noticed. On October 2, he took his models out into the street at the end of the show, and joining them, they strolled for a short time in front of the public that had come in large numbers to crowd around the Carreau du Temple, in the Parisian Marais district. Simple, but effective. In the aftermath, the media and social networks celebrated this great “democratic” moment, which allowed the Italian company to reinforce its positioning around the values of inclusiveness.
In the age of instant global communication, the easiest and most effective way for houses to increase their notoriety and, beyond that, their sales, seems to be without question that of associating with an influencer with millions of followers or a celebrity.

Kim Kardashian eats pasta at Dolce & Gabbana

The strategy has been adopted by many brands to ensure a significant media coverage, gaining visibility on a large scale from the many images posted on all types of platforms and social networks. Not to mention the teasers and other videos posted before, during and after the event, creating a constant buzz around the brand over a much longer time than the 15-20 minutes of the actual duration of the show.
This season, we saw among others Paris Hilton at Versace or Kate Moss at Bottega Veneta. Olivier Rousteing, for Balmain, organized as a “festival” in a crowded Jean-Bouin stadium, where he invited 76 year old singer Cher to close his fashion marathon in style, wearing a tight latex suit. 

However, the prize for the most successful partnership, goes to Dolce & Gabbana for teaming up with Kim Kardashian. And what does it matter if two months earlier, during the Haute Couture Week, she featured in the Balenciaga show? For the Italien brand, the queen of American influencers neither walked the runway nor helped with the collection. She simply selected pieces from the archives that the brand would use as inspiration for its summer 2023 looks. She was however omnipresent, appearing in a black and white film projected on a big screen during the show, where she played a diva from the 1950s enjoying a plate of pasta. Throughout the show, the audience was literally glued to Kim Kardashian’s luscious lips as she slurped spaghetti dripping in tomato sauce, as if hypnotized, while the models paraded in the dark… and overall indifference.
“With the rise of phygital, the showcasing of the product during the fashion show is no longer as crucial. All the looks are shown in detail afterwards online, via targeted communication. The fashion show is above all an opportunity for brands to put a key message on stage, relevant to their storytelling and their values. The goal is to create interest around the brand, to push the customer to follow it and to stimulate buying intentions”, summarizes Prandelli. And the impact is not only on the final customer. This increased visibility also serves as a stimulus for retailers. For example, as one industry player told us, Coperni saw buyers flock to its showroom after its high-profile fashion show. 

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