Just over a month before what are sure to be a strange set of European fashion weeks, Louis Vuitton was busy making a splash on the other side of the world, where men’s Artistic Director Virgil Abloh, unable to travel due to Covid-19 restrictions, nonetheless managed to remotely stage a fashion show for 1,500 guests in the West Bund district of Shanghai.
In its creative message, the show brought playful, childlike wonder to the designer’s on-going reimagining of Vuitton’s travel heritage as a vessel for globalism and inclusivity. But under the hood, its mechanics offered a business-savvy template for how to stage a successful fashion show in a world reshaped by globalisation, the internet and Covid-19.
From industry-centric to consumer-centric
Vuitton’s decision to show off-piste and off-schedule, following the cancellation of June’s traditional men’s fashion week in Paris, marks a significant step towards a consumer-first approach. Major fashion shows, once exclusively trade events, have for years doubled as digital marketing spectacles. But both shifting the physical location of its latest men’s show to Shanghai, far from the luxury industry’s home base in Europe, and staging the event outside of the industry’s traditional calendar, were significant moves for the brand.
To be sure, Shanghai has been free from community transmission of Covid-19 for several months now, making it a relatively safe pace to stage a big fashion show. But even more critical is China’s status as the primary engine of global luxury demand.
Chinese consumption made up 90 percent of global luxury growth last year, according to Bain. And signs that the country’s luxury consumers are shopping again suggests that a significant portion of Chinese demand was simply deferred — and not destroyed — by the first wave of the virus. Chinese men also drive a much larger slice of luxury sales than their Western counterparts, making the market particularly important to Abloh.
Vuitton is certainly not the first to stage an off-schedule show in China. But of the 1,500 guests at the Shanghai event, half were clients. And the show, Abloh’s first since the brand’s decision to switch to a seasonless model, featured plenty of looks from the Autumn-Winter 2020 collection that’s currently in stores, along with items from Spring-Summer 2021.
Localised activations versus centralised fashion weeks
The idea of staging local shows in key markets predates the pandemic. Now, the crisis is accelerating interest in the strategy. With top Chinese clients unable to travel to Europe due to Covid-19, Vuitton’s Shanghai event effectively brought the show to them. But a localised approach comes with advantages that go far beyond outmanoeuvring coronavirus.
Traditional fashion show strategies rely on trickle down from one-size-fits-all events held in industry hubs like Paris to activate markets with unique cultural dynamics on the other side of the world. But when shoppers from Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America collectively account for the majority of luxury sales, do Eurocentric fashion shows still make sense?
Vuitton appears to be betting on a different approach: multiple events staged for local markets with localised tactics, such as Abloh’s decision to have Chinese superstar actor-singer-dancer Kris Wu close the Shanghai show. Indeed, the brand is already set to stage a version of its Shanghai men’s event in Japan, another critical market, on September 2nd.
Digital amplification on powerful Chinese platforms
Digital-only fashion shows don’t work. The power of the format depends deeply on the live gathering of the “right” people to help conjure and transmit the cultural and emotional value that turns mere dresses into powerful objects of desire. Along with clients, Vuitton invited editors, influencers, celebrities and art students to its Shanghai event. But exploiting a fashion show’s full potential as a consumer marketing spectacle requires robust digital amplification.
Vuitton’s Shanghai livestream clocked up more than 85 million real-time views. Of course, the brand is hardly the first to livestream a show. But these numbers could never have been achieved without the staggering reach of China’s major social media platforms. The livestream got 68 million views on Weibo, 18 million on Douyin and eight million on Tencent, while only 3.3 million people watched on Instagram, 1.6 million on Twitter and 335,000 on Facebook, underscoring the power of partnering with China’s technology giants.
The unbundling of fashion week
What does Vuitton’s approach mean for traditional fashion weeks?
On Thursday, the Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana released a provisional schedule of shows for Milan fashion week, which includes Raf Simons’ official debut at Prada. In Paris, the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode, too, has promised a September fashion week that is expected to include highlights like Matthew Williams’ debut at Givenchy.
But with virus cases rising again in both France and Italy, there is significant uncertainty about what these fashion weeks will actually look like and who will attend.
If more megabrands break from the standard playbook and adopt the template outlined by Vuitton’s Shanghai show, staging localised, digitally amplified consumer-first events outside the industry calendar, there could be big implications for fashion week as we know it.
Disclosure: LVMH is part of a group of investors who, together, hold a minority interest in The Business of Fashion. All investors have signed shareholder’s documentation guaranteeing BoF’s complete editorial independence.
THE NEWS IN BRIEF
FASHION, BUSINESS AND THE ECONOMY
Milan Fashion Week releases schedule with 28 physical shows. The Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana has released a provisional calendar made up of more than 50 events, 28 of which are physical shows. Among the live events will be Raf Simons and Miuccia Prada’s much anticipated debut as co-creative directors of Prada as well as shows from Fendi, Versace, Marni and Salvatore Ferragamo. Other participants, like Missoni and GCDS, will host digital events.
Brooks Brothers to be acquired for $325 million. Barneys owner Authentic Brands Group and mall owner Simon Property Group have agreed on a venture to buy the troubled suitor. The proposed acquisition of America’s oldest apparel company, which requires bankruptcy court approval, comes with the condition of keeping 125 of its 200 Brooks Brothers stores open.
Tapestry beats quarterly sales estimates. The Coach owner's net sales fell 53 percent to $714.8 million, beating analyst forecasts of $663.4 million. Tapestry’s performance was helped by a recovery in China and rising online orders for Coach handbags as shoppers stayed indoors. However, the group still reported a net loss of $293.8 million, compared with a profit of $148.9 million a year earlier.
Richemont to ask shareholders for conditional share capital increase. The Swiss luxury group seeks to further preserve cash during the pandemic, having already halved its dividend. At its annual general meeting on September 9, Richemont said it would request permission from shareholders to create new shares that can be exchanged for warrants after three years. The warrants can then later be turned into new stocks.
Shandong Ruyi reported to be resisting lycra sale in favour of IPO. The Chinese apparel group is looking to publicly float the textile business following its weak financial performance. The indebted Shandong Ruyi Technology Group borrowed about $1 billion to take control of The Lycra Company from US conglomerate Koch Industries for a total of $2.6 billion in 2019. Despite attempts to find potential buyers, at the request of creditors, Ruyi said it prefers to hold on to the company.
THE BUSINESS OF BEAUTY
Glossier lays off all retail staff. The news comes as the beauty retailer announced plans to keep doors closed for all of 2020 after the US government reduced federal pandemic unemployment compensation from $400 to $600 per week. Glossier first furloughed workers in June but will offer staff in New York and Los Angeles stores three months of severance and healthcare coverage until October.
Lauren Conrad debuts a surprise beauty brand. The former “The Hills” star has announced her namesake line comprising recyclable packaging and vegan-friendly ingredients. Lauren Conrad Beauty has so far launched eyeliners and lipsticks made with clean, ethically sourced ingredients, and is also set to launch skincare soon.
Leslie Wexner subpoenaed in connection with Jeffrey Epstein disputes. The L Brands Founder and former Victoria’s Secret Chief Executive has been called to court for questioning by Alan Dershowitz as part of his legal dispute with Virginia Guiffre, who alleged that she was a victim of a sex trafficking ring led by Epstein. Wexner already stepped down from his position at L Brands due to his close relationship with Epstein, who used to be his financial advisor.
CaSandra Diggs named new CFDA president. Diggs, who most recently held the position of chief administrative and financial officer at The Council of Fashion Designers of America, has been promoted, making her the first Black president of the organisation. The CFDA veteran, who joined the company in 2001, will report to Chief Executive Steven Kolb and the board of directors.
Julie Fuller appointed new chief human resources officer of PVH. Fuller, who is currently the vice president of global talent and organisational effectiveness at Nike, joins Calvin Klein’s parent company effective January 1. Dave Kozel, executive vice president and the current chief human resources officer, is set to transition out the role by the end of 2020 but will act as an advisor through 2021.
MEDIA AND TECHNOLOGY
Zalando sees strong demand and fewer returns. The German e-commerce giant said it saw revenue rise 27 percent to €2.03 billion ($2.38 billion) and the number of active customers grew a record 20 percent to 34.1 million, with a rising number of first-time buyers and male customers. Europe’s largest pure play fashion e-tailer said its strong performance is also due to the marketing services it has started to offer brands under its partner programme.
Asos boosts sales and profit outlook on strong demand. The British online fashion retailer forecast a pre-tax profit in the region of $170 to $196 million for its 2019-20 year and promised to repay the money it claimed under the British government’s coronavirus furlough scheme. The news comes after it was reported that Asos received £247 million in new equity in April to shore up its finances.
Simon Property Group reportedly transforming some stores into Amazon fulfilment centres. The two companies were in talks before the pandemic about converting retail space that was formerly occupied by J.C. Penney and Sears Holdings Corp., but are now also exploring the possibility of buying out occupied space from the two retailers, according to people familiar with the matter.
Compiled by Daphne Milner.
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