Thursday, June 24, 2021

Fashion Adopts "Phygital" Format

Yesterday, I had blogged about Milan’s Men’s Fashion Week and the measured return of physical shows, of which only 3 of 47 offered 'live' events.

Starting this week Tuesday, France’s fashion houses are tip-toeing back on to the catwalk. But only six of the 72 brands that make up the official Paris fashion calendar are to present 'live' shows – and these include the two big names in the form of Dior and Hermès.

Ever since the coronavirus pandemic blighted the world, fashion shows have been plunged into the digital realm. 

Historically, fashion’s big events have been assigned to major cities in which models showed off the latest creations of top brand names to a ‘live’ audience. Now, they are being redefined for individuals who cannot be there in person. 

Indeed, necessity is not just the mother of invention – but of adaptation to new paradigms. 

And so, what has emerged is not just a fashion show on a screen but a new kind of experience that allows a designer and brand to engage directly with thousands and thousands more than can be packed into a ‘live’ show for a fraction of the cost. 

The precedent was set in March 2020 with the first purely digital fashion week that replaced the traditional kind in Shanghai, China. It was hailed as a great success both in terms of participation and revenue. 

And this format has now been adopted by all the key cities in Europe which organize fashion weeks – embracing the new opportunities enabled by digital transformation. The platform can host exclusive multimedia content from designers, creatives, artists and brand partners that enables collaboration and bringing together fashion, culture and technology. 

Matthew Drinkwater (left), who heads London College of Fashion’s Fashion Innovation Agency notes how digital can more accurately reflect the lack of set boundaries that defined fashion seasons in the past: “Seasonality has been disappearing for some time, and now more than ever, it's time for us to finally say goodbye to that and allow the creative expression from designers to sit within their timeframe or what feels right for their consumers or their audience – not to what the industry dictates it should be”. 

The outcome of this new virtual direction is what is referred to as a “phygital” format. That’s the term for a “high-tech format that blends cinematography, digital technology, and live models”. 

It’s not meant to be a 2-dimensional substitute for the ‘live’ show rendered on video, which Zegna artistic director Alessandro Sartori (right) dismissed as “a fake fashion show.” Instead, he aspires to a new paradigm that combines “real and digital”, which is why he likes the term “phygital”. 

For the viewer, it would be a superior experience: “You can watch it on your device and zoom in on details, accessories – whatever you want. You will see so much more of a garment than you do on a runway”. 

Faced with the necessity of translating fashion to a digital format, the industry marries the pomp and circumstance of a fashion show with the high-speed chill of the internet. At least, it tries to.

It should be a serious endeavor to produce a multimedia experience, rather than just a traditional multi-camera streaming set-up. Meaning, it should capture a ‘live’ creation that is being transmitted digitally. 

Still, I don’t believe the virtual format should replace the other. Methinks, digital and physical must live in tandem and one cannot be a shorthand for the other. 

I’ve seen life through screens: flat. Devoid of feelings, of warmth. Screens have no emotion, full-stop. 

On the other hand, 'live' events, whether fashion shows (or even public speaking events, for that matter) have immediacy. It's the experience we want and really, that makes it very special.

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