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Omicron Puts Fashion Week in Flux

The latest wave of Covid-19 has pushed Ann Demeulemeester, Brunello Cucinelli and Giorgio Armani to cancel shows. For others, however, the show must go on.
Backstage at Christian Dior's Croisière 2021 show.
Backstage at Christian Dior's Croisière 2021 show.

As Omicron infections surge across fashion’s global capitals, brands face a now-familiar dilemma: should they steam ahead with in-person fashion week show plans amid rising health and safety concerns? For a growing number of designers, the answer is no.

On Wednesday, the menswear trade show Pitti Uomo announced that Ann Demeulemeester, whose recently relaunched brand was due to be the headline special guest next week, would show in June instead. Intended as a “festival of fashion, music, entertainment and sociality where people and their interactions would be an integral part of the show,” the event proved too difficult to pull off in the middle of another coronavirus wave, organisers said.

“In the course of the last few weeks we have tried to adapt the project to the modified environmental conditions while guaranteeing the maximum safety for all the people involved in the production,” Lapo Cianchi, head of communication and special events at Pitti Immagine, wrote in a letter to press. “But the project gradually became depleted and it was no longer possible to maintain its original spirit.”

The decision followed that of Giorgio Armani, which earlier this week cancelled its menswear and haute couture shows that were scheduled to take place across Milan and Paris this month. In December, the British Fashion Council said it would skip its January London Fashion Week event, citing uncertainties around the course of the pandemic. A physical-digital hybrid London Fashion Week is still expected to take place in February.

Yet others say the show must go on: the groups that organise fashion week — The Council of Fashion Designers of America in New York, the Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana in Milan and the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode in Paris — this week confirmed January events will go ahead. That leaves it up to individual brands to decide whether to participate in the menswear January shows and Haute Couture Week in Paris at the end of the month.

Those decisions must be made against a background of uncertainty. While some experts say the latest Covid-19 wave may have peaked in London, cases are still on the rise in many parts of the world, and government restrictions on events and travel are in flux. And while few brands have outright cancelled their fashion week plans, Armani’s move is ominous: in early 2020, the brand was the first major label to cancel its show in response to the coronavirus crisis.

For many in the industry, including press, buyers and creatives, international travel is now complicated, costly, and, in some cases, totally out of the question. New York-based creative consultant Joseph Keefer tweeted on Tuesday he was in the process of cancelling showroom space in Paris.

“Looks like Paris is done [and] dusted for any North American brands, retailers, reps,” Keefer wrote. “Word the last two days is the heavy hitters are all holding off ongoing.”

Some brands are changing plans, rather than abandoning them entirely. Brunello Cucinelli exited Pitti Uomo but will go ahead with its planned showroom presentation during Milan Fashion Week Men’s on Jan. 13, extending the event over three days to accommodate reduced numbers at appointments. A medical team will be on site to provide guests with Covid swabs, the brand said.

Others, including Dior, Y/Project and Zegna, are still planning to forge ahead with in-person presentations this month, heightening safety protocols to protect staff and show go-ers. In New York, Carolina Herrera is currently preparing for an in-person show during New York Fashion Week in February, providing on-site testing and requiring proof of vaccination from attendees.

“We are adapting our plans in real-time to ensure the health and safety of our community while continuing to protect the industry’s ability to proceed with our collective business,” said Leslie Russo, president of IMG’s fashion events and properties, which works with the CFDA to produce New York Fashion Week.

But even if brands still go ahead with shows and presentations, for many others in the industry, this season will still be far from business as usual. Rising cases and tighter travel restrictions will hinder press, buyers, models and other creatives from travelling internationally. Mytheresa’s buying team won’t be attending the menswear or couture shows this season, according to the retailer. Similarly, Hearst Magazines said New York-based journalists and executives won’t be travelling for the January shows.

“For now, we are being cautious,” a Hearst spokesperson said.

Keefer, founder of New York-based consulting firm KFR Studio, which also looks after wholesale operations for emerging labels, cancelled plans for a Paris-based showroom after learning that major British and American retailers were no longer travelling to the city.

“We decided that it was in the best interest of our brands to cancel and not have any risks of exposure,” he told BoF, noting that brands will still go ahead with in-person appointments in New York alongside virtual appointments for international clients. “We did a lot of texting and calls to kind of feel it out. And our feedback from that was: it’s not viable, it’s not worth the investment.”

At Zegna, some previously booked models and collaborators are unable to travel to Milan, where the brand is based, and have had to be replaced. But moving forward with staging the event — the first show since the label rebranded — is not in question, said artistic director Alessandro Sartori.

“The only thing that might change is the number of people invited,” he said, adding that he expects in-person guests will primarily be locals. As a result, like many of its peers, the brand is conceiving its event with a digital audience in mind.

“Since the pandemic, it’s more important for brands to take into account guests who aren’t physically present,” Sartori said. “If you are watching at your desk you will have an immersive experience, too.”

Additional reporting by Robert Williams and Alexandra Mondalek.

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