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Should Brands Cancel Fashion Shows?

Omicron has thrown a wrench in Fashion Month, leaving brands to weigh their options for handling an increasingly familiar conundrum.
Fendi's Spring/Summer 2021 show during the Milan Fashion Week.
Fendi's Spring/Summer 2021 show during the Milan Fashion Week. (Getty Images.)

Once again, fashion month is here, with menswear and haute couture shows scheduled to kick off next week and continue throughout January. And, once again, the new season has coincided with a surge in coronavirus infections across Europe and the US, leaving the industry to grapple with whether it’s safe enough, or worth it, to carry on.

Governments in Italy and France have given the Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana in Milan and the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode (FHCM) in Paris the green light to go ahead with in-person shows, providing they comply with national coronavirus regulations, such as reduced guest capacity, social distancing, mask-wearing and requirements for up-to-date vaccine passports for attendees. The British Fashion Council (BFC) announced in December it would not stage men’s fashion week in January due to Covid-19 uncertainties, but the body is still planning for in-person events for the women’s shows in February, as is the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) in New York.

In practice, it’s being left up to individual brands to make the call on whether to go ahead with fashion week plans or not.

Some brands have already made the decision to cancel, move or scale down fashion week plans. Ann Demeulemeester, which was due to stage an event during menswear trade show Pitti Uomo in Florence next week, has postponed the show until June. Giorgio Armani pulled two menswear shows and its couture show from the January line-up in Milan and Paris. Brunello Cucinelli decided to shelve its Pitti Uomo plans, while still going ahead with a planned presentation during men’s fashion week in Milan. Meanwhile, the charity fashion dinner hosted by the FHCM and Sidaction that traditionally closes Haute Couture Week in January has been postponed to July.


Should more follow their lead?

The decision raises a financial and reputational conundrum. Shows can be valuable, but they are costly, and right now brands need to decide whether they are comfortable with the risks posed by rising infection rates.

For those showing in January, the argument for cancelling is stronger as cases are expected to continue to rise. However, if Omicron peaks by the end of the month, following the pattern it did in South Africa, cases may be on a sharp decline both in Europe and in New York — where hundreds of thousands of people have already tested positive — by mid-February when the women’s shows begin.

It’s still a risk, though. Right now, production on many of these shows is only getting started. If a brand backs out now, they could save themselves a lot of money. If they move forward and things take a bad turn, they could lose just as much.

The question every brand needs to ask is how valuable a physical show is to the development of their business. Is it worth it to show knowing that fewer people will be able to attend, and that heightened safety protocols may cause overall costs to increase?

Many brands committed to an in-person showcase have implemented additional measures to keep people safe. For instance, Brunello Cucinelli has extended its planned showroom presentation on Jan. 13 to take place over three days instead of two, to allow reduced numbers at appointments. A medical team will be on site to provide guests with rapid Covid tests, the brand said.

Designers are also using what they learned earlier in the pandemic to create hybrid experiences. At Zegna, director Alessandro Sartori said he conceived his Jan. 14 show with digital viewers 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.”


Some may decide to take their shows entirely digital, despite the fact that past efforts have broadly fallen flat, failing to deliver the same marketing impact of an in-person presentation. Others may show off-calendar, on their own time, as several did earlier on in the pandemic. However, nearly two years later, the heavy-hitters that led the pack on that front — Saint Laurent, Balenciaga and Gucci — are back on schedule.

Ultimately, brands need to be prepared to be flexible and get comfortable with making hard calls late in the game.

Giorgio Armani, the first major fashion brand to cancel a show back in February 2020, when the pandemic was just beginning to unfold in Europe, pivoted at the time to a livestreamed event from an empty venue. This time around the brand is still figuring out how best to reveal the upcoming men’s and couture collections it was supposed to show this January. A video production may not be possible given the tight turnaround, the brand said, so it’s also exploring a new co-ed show option during its main collections in February.

The key takeaway for brands heading into the new season is to prepare for the unexpected.



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Compiled by Joan Kennedy.

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