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How Impactful Were the Digital Fashion Week Shows, Really?

Despite efforts made to adapt real-life runway shows and collection presentations for the Men’s, Resort and Couture 2020-2021 season, many failed to have the same impact on brands’ marketing reach.
Digital fashion week content from Loewe, Prada and Dior | Source: Instagram (L-R) @loewe; @prada; @dior
By
  • Alexandra Mondalek
BoF PROFESSIONAL

NEW YORK, United States — The verdict is in: digital fashion shows are a flop, at least on social media. 

Of more than a dozen major luxury brands that released content tied to men's fashion week in Milan and Paris, or to their resort collections, none came close to making the same splash on Instagram as the corresponding shows did last year, according to tracking firm Tribe Dynamics. On average, digital shows, videos and presentations generated less than one-third as much online engagement. The all-digital London Fashion Week, which mainly featured smaller brands, also saw a steep drop in buzz, with 55 percent less social media engagement than in January, according to Launchmetrics, another tracker of online activity.  

Few expected the industry to immediately hit on the right formula for online shows, a marketing experiment forced on the industry when the pandemic put an end to public gatherings. Efforts ranged from Dior’s video presentation of its Autumn/Winter 2020 couture collection through a mythical, surrealist forest featuring 37 looks, to Louis Vuitton’s animated film “The Adventures of Zoooom with his friends by Virgil Abloh.” Hermès’ livestream gave viewers a behind-the-scenes look at its airy menswear collection as if the models and team were preparing backstage just before the collection hit the runway, while Loewe sent a crafty #Showinabox to editors and influencers around the world. A few brands, including Etro, Dolce & Gabbana and Jacquemus, even staged conventional shows in front of small, mostly socially distanced audiences.

Whether a brand opted for an adapted-for-digital runway format, a collection film, or some other unconventional format, the online engagement was relatively muted compared to the same period the year prior. Hermès, for example, earned roughly 28 percent of its earned media value, according to Tribe Dynamics data, during the weeks surrounding its latest menswear show compared to a year earlier. Ditto Valentino, whose couture collection — which was widely praised online —  helped the brand reach roughly 57 percent of its online engagement according to EMV in July this year compared to its Autumn/Winter 2019 Couture collection. To be sure, the Valentino couture show this season did perform better than the overall season average, indicating that a compelling presentation can still make an impact, even if it's limited to the digital world. It's worth noting that the brands may see more engagement as the posts live online and more consumers find it. Hermès and Valentino did not respond to BoF's request for comment. 

The lacklustre response is likely to strengthen the push to resume live shows before an audience in September and beyond. It also raises questions about the purpose of these shows. It seems that brands wrestled with whether to create digital presentations that catered to the industry — namely press and buyers who might want an up-close, detailed look at a collection that they might get on a re-see appointment — or those that catered to consumers and prioritised going viral online. In both cases, online fashion obsessives failed to drive engagement higher, whether due to the lack of industry-wide cohesion, fewer influencer partnerships, or relatively diminished interest in something like fashion amid a global pandemic and recession.

"As a viewer trying to absorb it all, the days felt like an emotional roller coaster where the rare live fashion show — outdoors with mask-wearing guests — could feel simultaneously admirable and reckless, even when watched on a screen," wrote Robin Givhan in the Washington Post about the flurry of digital live stream shows and presentations. 

"We cannot go back to the business as it existed before including fashion shows, because they were already bloated and boring," said casting director James Scully, who believes the majority of the digital shows failed to innovate despite the creative and logistical constraints. "People trying to go back to that feels tone deaf and not modern, and what impressed me the most were the people that actually took the time during [Covid-19] to sit and think about where are we now, what we can do." He cited Jonathan Anderson's Loewe format as among the most resonant, despite not having widespread consumer engagement online.

“You have these weird, soulless [digital] fashion shows with no one there ... It really makes you wonder who is really engaging with these: is it customers or just people who want entertainment?” Scully added.

Even collections that received critical acclaim struggled to make an impression with consumers online. 

Take Prada, which presented its digital fashion show on July 14. Critics largely lauded the event, which was structured as a five-in-one film from fashion heavyweights including Willy Vanderperre and Juergen Teller — not to mention, it was Miuccia Prada's last solo show before co-designer Raf Simons steps into the forefront. Despite the circumstances, the Milanese powerhouse brand earned $5.2 million in earned media value from July 6 to July 19, a roughly 60 percent decrease from the impact of its June 2019 menswear show, which took place in Shanghai. 

In a statement to BoF, a Prada spokesperson said that while all of the menswear shows this season made a smaller impact on social media compared to the Spring/Summer menswear shows last year, Prada out-earned other luxury brands in the space. The brand also said that it reached quadruple-digit growth in terms of engagement on Chinese social networks compared to the performance of the previous Fall/Winter 2020 Men’s show, and double-digit growth in visits to the Prada website this season compared to the Fall/Winter 2020 Men’s show.

One explanation for the decrease in digital marketing pizzazz might be attributed to a decrease in influencer marketing. The buzz generated around a fashion show comes not only from the brand itself, but from industry tastemakers, celebrities and influencers who partner with them to promote a runway event or presentation. Typically, influencer posts perform much better than brand posts in any context, said a spokesperson for influencer marketing agency Obviously. If fewer influencers were invited to participate in a brand’s live stream  — whether due to marketing budget cuts or because everyone has front row access to a digital collection — the brand’s digital reach in turn may have suffered. 
For those influencers who did partner with brands during digital fashion week, there was some notable, albeit relative, success. For example, Caroline Daur, who has 2.4 million Instagram followers and partnered with brands like Valentino, Prada and Loewe in the last few weeks, had a “very impactful” post in partnership with Dior, earning a 2.28 percent engagement rate, compared to her average 1 percent engagement rate and Dior’s 0.2 percent average engagement rate, according to Obviously data. 

It's worth noting that even for the brands that opted for in-person, intimate runway shows at Instagram-friendly locations with influencers in attendance (namely Etro and Jacquemus), their earned media value was also a fraction of what it has been in the past, though above average compared to other brands that opted for strictly digital events. At Etro, this season's live runway show earned the brand just over 40 percent of what the same show last year earned (this, despite attention paid to which influencers attended.) Jacquemus, for its part, received roughly half of its earned media value for this season's wheat field excursion than the comparable period last year. 

As the Spring/Summer 2021 ready-to-wear shows loom, brands must again consider how to approach the format, given that the coronavirus pandemic continues to restrict travel and production across the world. 
“Whilst the physical experience will remain a major part of the industry, the true success will be found in how brands merge the two worlds to create impactful, share-worthy moments both on and offline,” Launchmetrics Chief Executive Michael Jais told BoF in an email. “To that note, it’s important that brands consider how they will package and distribute their digital assets, to provide the media, influencers as well as other voices, with the right content to reach the right consumer, at the right moment ... The problem to solve today is not one of digitisation but amplification, as any brand activity is reliant on amplification to be successful, and digital transformation is key in this process.”

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