LONDON, United Kingdom — Exactly what will happen during the upcoming series of fashion weeks finally came into sharper focus this week, after months of prevarication brought on by the pandemic and the ensuing economic crisis. But even though the organising bodies of the “big four” fashion weeks in New York, London, Milan and Paris have all revealed their schedules, exact plans are still changing from one day to the next, as a significant spike in cases in the UK, France and Italy — and ongoing Covid-19 restrictions in New York state — have made clear the pandemic is far from over and governments are on high alert to prevent a second spike that could lead to further nationwide lockdowns.

In many ways, this is a “do or die” season for many fashion brands, especially those smaller labels that rely on connecting with wholesale buyers and magazine editors to reach customers. They are doing all they can to attract attention and secure the orders they need to survive. For big brands, who may be better insulated from the crisis, there’s still plenty at stake: squeezing mileage out of fashion shows, long critical to their marketing strategies, is perhaps even more important this cycle as budgets for traditional advertising campaigns have been slashed. So, after the entire industry was brought to a virtual standstill earlier this year, brands big and small are keen to tap fashion week to help get their businesses back on track.

And yet, due to rising Covid-19 cases numbers (and budgets cuts), most of the industry’s top editors and buyers have decided not to travel away from their home cities to attend fashion month this season. So, it seems fashion weeks will be local affairs, largely composed of private appointments, online videos and live digital broadcasts of physical shows.

In New York, where fashion week will shrink from 6 days to 4 days, designer Jason Wu will open the week by staging one of the city’s only real in-person “shows” (which will also be broadcast live), sponsored by the homeware company Lowe’s, and Christian Siriano will conclude the festivities with an outdoor show in Connecticut. Most other designers are doing private appointments or online videos, and many of New York’s biggest names, including Marc Jacobs and Oscar de la Renta, are missing from the schedule altogether, while others like Tory Burch and Michael Kors are planning their own events, on their own timeline.

Burberry will raise the curtain on London Fashion Week, staging a physical “performance” with no in-person attendees that will be live-streamed online. Upstart designer Paria Farzaneh is planning an outdoor, socially-distanced event in Amersham, about an hour outside London, but most of her peers are inviting editors and buyers to view collections privately or simply to watch their online films.

The British Fashion Council says that the city’s few physical fashion week events will fall under the UK government’s coronavirus guidelines for performances, and not gatherings, so they are therefore not expected to be impacted by the tightening of restrictions which will limit social interactions in England to no more than six people from two households beginning Monday.

In Milan, Prada is digitally broadcasting Raf Simons and Miuccia Prada’s highly anticipated debut as co-creative directors, though the brand will host physical viewing parties around the world. This one is the most anticipated moment of the Milan season, but there will be no audience there to experience it together and in person. Previously, Mrs Prada’s heir apparent Lorenzo Bertelli told BoF the company was exploring both physical and online options, but it seems they have settled on the more responsible digital path. Giorgio Armani will also stage two shows without live audiences, and broadcast to social media and, for the first time, live on Italian television during a primetime slot on the La7 channel on Saturday, September 26.

And Paris, the granddaddy of all the fashion weeks, is set to be unlike anything the industry has seen with many notable brands, from Celine to Comme des Garçons to Off-White sitting out the proceedings altogether, while Matthew Williams’ big debut at Givenchy has been shrunk down to a small presentation. But many major French brands, from Chanel to Louis Vuitton, are still courting influencers and celebrities to attend physical shows and seem comfortable with the increasingly poor optics of staging large-scale fashion events while a deadly virus continues to spread in the community. France reported a daily record of almost 10,000 new cases on Thursday alone. Who knows what things will look like a few weeks from now when Paris Fashion Week begins, and what new restrictions may be put in place, but for now the attitude appears to be: the shows must go on.

One thing’s for sure, appointments and digital videos do not a fashion week make. This New York Times page re-capping the Haute Couture fashion weeks held digitally in Paris in July offers a virtual time capsule of the video content that stood in for fashion shows in the Summer of 2020. But the sheer number of video thumbnails on this page underscores a mounting problem for many brands, especially those without access to millions of fans on social media: how to stand out? After all, how many fashion videos can one watch?

If the pandemic is unlikely to be vanquished anytime soon, experimentation is essential to finding a new format for presenting fashion that works, because the results from the summer are not particularly awe-inspiring. Most of the destination sites built by the major fashion councils miss the point that most of the engagement will happen in social channels, giving an advantage to those mega-brands that have the financial heft to acquire followers.

Virgil Abloh racked up more than 100 million views for his 34 minute Louis Vuitton menswear show staged in Shanghai in front of a live audience of 1500 people in early August, leveraging the massive reach of Chinese social media platforms. But not every brand can call in one of the country’s biggest stars, Kris Wu, to serve as a show-stopping draw for millions of Chinese netizens. A thrilling 6-minute video released this week by Saint Laurent’s Anthony Vaccarello showed how one can create a fashion film that captures interest and attention, with computer graphics and Hollywood-style production values, and create a digital fashion moment.

The much talked-about Gen-Z app TikTok, now a pawn in the growing geopolitical tensions between China and the United States, is also entering the fray this season. Yesterday the company announced it was staging a version of fashion month for its more than 800 million active users worldwide.

“With the majority of people still quarantined at home, and limiting their social engagements, brands have had to quickly pivot to discover new ways to connect with their customers while also bringing creative streetwear and runway to fans,” the company said in a press release announcing the event. “That’s where TikTok comes in.”

The company is working with brands like Louis Vuitton, Saint Laurent and JW Anderson to bring their shows to life on the quirky platform known for its videos of funny memes and dancing duos.

But if the fashion weeks to come are basically online video festivals, we will lose as an industry. What fashion week offered that cannot be replaced by these new online formats is the physical forum that brings the fashion industry together for a collective conversation and moment of connection, providing the pathways for many of the interactions that make this industry tick.

So, for now, where it is possible to do so safely, it is still important to get out as an industry and meet with designers in person for socially distanced private appointments to see their work, and also to reconnect with each other as a community. It is the best option we have for the moment. It will surely be a season unlike any other, but we must make the most of it.

THE NEWS IN BRIEF

FASHION, BUSINESS AND THE ECONOMY

Tiffany & Co. Fifth Avenue Store | Source: Shutterstock

LVMH is calling off its Tiffany mega-deal. LVMH cited “recent developments” and a request from the French government to delay the deal due to the US government’s planned tariffs on a range of French goods as the reason for not closing what was meant to be luxury’s biggest-ever acquisition. Tiffany is suing the luxury conglomerate, and hoping to legally compel it to see the deal through. LVMH said it plans to countersue.

Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons to debut first collection as co-creative directors digitally. Simons’ first show with Prada will be made available through small screening events at venues in cities including Shanghai, New York, Seoul, and Tokyo on September 24 at 2pm CET. Prada will also send out kits for people viewing the show at home, the brand said, as a growing number of coronavirus cases dissuade guests from attending fashion weeks in person this autumn.

Century 21 files for bankruptcy. The American retailer announced that it would “wind down” its American retail operations. The move comes after Century 21 reported losses of $175 million that stemmed from overdue insurance payments as well as losses experienced during the pandemic. “We now have no viable alternative but to begin the closure of our beloved family business because our insurers… have turned their backs on us at this most critical time,” said Century 21 co-CEO Raymond Gindi in the press release.

LVMH and Nicholas Kirkwood to part ways. The split is due to be completed by the end of the year, LVMH said in a statement, confirming that Nicholas Kirkwood will take back control of the company in what it described as a “mutual and amicable” decision. Until now, LVMH had only ever sold two brands: Christian Lacroix in 2005, and Donna Karan International in 2016. In recent years, rival Kering has been cleaning up its portfolio, unravelling partnerships with smaller brands it has struggled to scale.

J.C. Penney nears rescue deal with Simon Property Group and Brookfield. If the deal falls apart, J.C. Penney will be on course for liquidation, risking roughly 70,000 jobs. The two mall owners have teamed up on a restructuring agreement that would see J.C. Penney operate roughly 650 stores, down from 840. J.C. Penney is also in discussions with lenders for more than $1.5 billion to fund its emergence from bankruptcy proceedings.

Neiman Marcus bankruptcy ends. The group won court permission on Friday to leave behind the debts and drama that pushed it into bankruptcy, just a day after its harshest critic was arrested on federal charges stemming from the case. A bankruptcy judge has approved the transfer of ownership to creditors as long as about $4 billion of Neiman’s $5.5 billion in debt is cancelled. The luxury department store is still expected to be in business after the procedures are complete.

Everlane raises $85 million. The direct-to-consumer brand known for its promise of radical transparency has come under fire this year after allegations of union busting and anti-Black behaviour, but a new cash infusion led by LVMH-linked L Catterton is a stabilising endorsement. The new round of investment comes at a tumultuous time for Everlane, which has been hard-hit from the economic fallout of the pandemic and is working to repair its image.

Kering-owned Swiss watch brands cut staff by 25 percent. Patrick Pruniaux, chief executive of Swiss watch brands Ulysse Nardin and Girard Perregaux, said the economic fallout of Covid-19 will have a knock-on effect on the industry over the next several years. The two brands’ sales have seen a sharp decline and their losses intensified in the first half of 2020, forcing Kering to book asset impairment losses of €201 million ($238 million) for the watch brands.

Burberry plans ethical luxury investment. The planned bond sale comes as the socially responsible debt market grows and the UK company starts to get over the worst effects of the coronavirus crisis. Burberry, which came under public scrutiny in 2018 after it emerged it was burning unsold goods, has in recent years put emphasis on corporate social responsibility by turning to sustainable cotton farming and use of deadstock materials in a bid to attract ethically minded consumers.

Bolstered by lockdown measures, Lululemon beats earnings estimates. A shift to remote working and at-home exercise around the globe due to lockdowns has increased demand for comfortable athletic clothing. Net revenue increased 2.1 percent to $902.9 million in the second quarter ended August 2, compared with forecasts of $842.5 million. The company reported a net income of $86.8 million, down from $124.99 million a year earlier.

American Eagle posts smaller-than-expected loss as loungewear demand surges. The retailer’s total revenue fell 15 percent to $883.5 million in the three months ended August 1, beating expectations of $847.8 million. American Eagle released a new activewear line in July, which helped second-quarter online sales more than double, but still reported a net loss of $13.8 million compared with a profit of $64.98 million a year earlier.

Primark profit could top forecast after robust post-lockdown trading. In July, parent company Associated British Foods forecast a full-year adjusted operating profit for Primark in a range of £300 to £350 million ($396 to $462 million), down from £913 million the previous year. Primark, which was hit particularly hard by the pandemic due to its lack of e-commerce, has reopened all its stores since lockdowns were eased, and trading during the fourth quarter has been strong.

Under Armour to lay off 600 employees globally. The sportswear maker expects to incur $235 million in charges, including up to $135 million for contract termination and has increased its restructuring costs for the year by $75 million,  putting it in the range of $550 million and $600 million. The company said it expects the majority of restructuring charges to take place by the end of the year.

New Look faces administration risk if restructuring blocked. The UK high-street retailer has asked landlords to agree to new turnover-based leases at 402 stores to help see it through the crisis. It has also agreed on a recapitalisation — including a debt -or-equity swap — with its banks that would reduce senior debt from about £550 million ($711 million) to £100 million. However, the agreement is conditional on New Look securing the support of its landlords.

THE BUSINESS OF BEAUTY

A Sephora store | Source: Shutterstock

Martin Brok appointed Sephora’s new president and CEO. Brok, who has previously served as Starbucks Inc.’s president of Europe, Middle East and Africa, has been named president and chief executive of the LVMH-owned beauty brand, effective September 14. Brok will succeed Chris de Lapuente, who led the beauty retailer for 10 years. De Lapuente will remain a member of LVMH’s executive committee and will take on additional responsibilities at the group.

Interparfums outlook hits market forecasts. The French perfume maker reported a first-half operating profit down 73 percent year-on-year at €10.4 million ($12.10 million). Interparfums forecast on Tuesday annual sales of close to €300 million, up from previous forecasts of  €299.7 million. The group has adjusted its expenses as marketing and advertising campaigns were pushed back to the second half of 2020 and 2021.

Glossier names the recipients of its Black-owned beauty grant. The initiative, which received almost 10,000 applications, has extended funding to 16 brands ranging from clean beauty to hair extensions. The grant is divided into three categories: $50,000 per business for those in the growth stage, $30,000 for early-stage brands, and $10,000 for companies who are still preparing to launch.

PEOPLE

Pietro Beccari,Kim Jones and Karl Lagerfeld attend the Dior Homme Menswear
Spring/Summer 2019 show | Source: Getty Images

Kim Jones succeeds Karl Lagerfeld as artistic director of Fendi womenswear. The British designer is following in the footsteps of fashion’s most celebrated designers, becoming artistic director for womenswear at the Rome-based label while keeping his job as designer of Dior Homme. Jones will work alongside Silvia Venturini Fendi, who will return to focusing on accessories and menswear collections.

Katie Grand’s next venture is The Perfect Magazine. Only a week after exiting LOVE, the magazine she founded and helmed for 11 years, Grand is working with the same core team — with the initial addition of fashion influencer Bryanboy — to launch yet another print publication. “I want to work with people differently. And brands want to work differently, too. It’s impossible now to have a nice fashion shoot with a famous model,” Grand told BoF Editor-at-Large Tim Blanks.

StockX co-Founder Josh Luber exits. The online sneaker resale platform’s most visible founder is leaving to launch another start-up, a year after the company hired former Stubhub and eBay executive Scott Cutler as chief executive. Since Cutler joined StockX, Luber has focused on new business lines including trading cards and launching brand new products on the site sold at changeable prices. Luber will continue to be a significant shareholder in the business.

Louis Vuitton’s Nicolas Di Felice named artistic director of Courrèges. Di Felice, who previously served as the senior womenswear designer at Louis Vuitton, has been named artistic director at legacy French brand (which is owned by Artémis, the family investment vehicle of the Pinaults). Di Felice is slated to present his first collection in March 2021 and will report to Adrien Da Maia, chief executive of Courrèges.

Chris Benz exits J.Crew. The womenswear designer first worked at J.Crew right out of Parsons School of Design before launching his namesake label and also leading Bill Blass. He first joined J.Crew during the company’s yearlong search for a CEO. Benz is leaving the challenged brand just as it emerges from bankruptcy protection. J. Crew said it anticipates revenues to be down 36 percent year-over-year in 2020.

MEDIA AND TECHNOLOGY 

TikTok to debut its own version of digital fashion month. The social media platform has released a four-week schedule of virtual shows and after-parties in a bid to establish itself as a go-to fashion destination. Among the brands that will be showing collections on TikTok are Saint Laurent and JW Anderson, while popular creators Wisdom Kaye and Ariam are scheduled to host virtual styling lessons.

Simone Oliver appointed editor-in-chief of Refinery29. Oliver, who is currently part of Facebook and Instagram’s partnerships team, has been named editor-in-chief of Refinery29. Oliver, who was previously served as the digital director at Allure magazine for a year and the digital fashion editor of The New York Times Styles section., She will oversee Refinery29’s globally, global output, working with Executive Editor Connie Wang and Senior Vice President of Editorial Content Strategy and Development Julie Alvin.

Man Repeller drops the “man,” rebrands to Repeller. The name change indicates that the company is moving away from its fashion blog roots. “Being a ‘Man Repeller’ was defined as empowering yourself by deflecting the male gaze when this site began 10 years ago, but today discovering yourself… feels far more multidimensional,” the site’s rebranding post reads. The move follows founder Leandra Medine’s exit in early June after accusations of discrimination against Black employees.

Compiled by Daphne Milner.

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