Can Instagram Really Replace Fashion Week? Tommy Hilfiger, Browns Fashion & Sergio Rossi Sound Off

With physical fashion weeks on hold due to the pandemic, brands are accelerating their digital capacities and turning to virtual platforms such as Instagram and You Tube to communicate with their consumers.

On Wednesday, Instagram released its own proprietary guide on how to host a digital fashion show on the platform. The initiative, spearheaded by the company’s Fashion Partnerships director Eva Chen, featured information on best practices — from livestreaming shows to posting backstage films to harnessing the power of influencers to promote content.

According to a study by trend forecaster Heuritech, Instagram has seen a 70% increase in traffic since the start of widespread confinement. With London, Paris and Milan fashion weeks going digital next month for the men’s and resort shows — and brands such as Saint Laurent eschewing the traditional 2020 schedule altogether — the digital stakes have never been higher.

But the big question remains: Can Instagram and other platforms really replicate the fashion week experience?

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FN posed this question to a cross-section of top fashion industry players — brands, retailers, PR consultants, analysts and innovators. Here’s what Tommy Hilfiger, Browns Fashion and Sergio Rossi had to say about fashion’s digital revolution.

THE RUNWAY RULE BREAKER: Tommy Hilfiger

With shoppable livestreams and Instagram Story filters, Tommy Hilfiger’s TommyNow runway experiences already fuse the physical with the virtual. The brand has its own innovation center in Amsterdam — where it’s currently experimenting with avatars and hologram technology to push the concept to the next level.

Tommy Hilfiger, founder and designer: “Anticipating and meeting consumer demands has always been our top priority, and TommyNow allowed us to do exactly that. The democratization of fashion goes beyond fashion week. It extends to everything we do. As we head towards a new normal, we’re constantly looking at how to take this philosophy to new heights and follow a much more dynamic timeline rather than the traditional fashion show calendar.”

Big Changes: “We are living in a new world, where many rules that traditionally governed the fashion industry no longer apply. We must rethink the boxes and labels that divide our calendar, audiences and brand identities. Should the industry still operate in a seasonal format? Should we separate men’s and women’s collections at all? Everything is going to change, and now is the perfect time to challenge the status quo.”

The Consumer Rules: “We have and will always put the consumer first. With the world drastically changing every day, we are listening to their evolving needs now more than ever. When we present our next collections — whenever and in whatever form that may be — it will always be in a way that best resonates for the times we’re living in, across the most premium, accessible platforms.”

Daniel Grieder, CEO Tommy Hilfiger: “Our start-up mentality drives us to continuously innovate with the latest technology to present, engage with and sell to consumers in unprecedented ways. 3D technology opens the door for creating and sharing fully digital, see-now, buy-now collections that have not been physically manufactured. By putting avatar models on the catwalk in 3D garments and set design, this technology could allow us to completely digitize the end-to-end show experience — affording a faster, more sustainable and inventive runway. Innovation has been a core pillar our brand DNA since the beginning. We have always looked ahead at how technology can transform our business, not just in the future but today. Our ongoing strategy is to digitize our end-to-end value chain, from planning to design to sell-through all the way to the end consumer.”

The Research: “To continue making strides in these areas, we created our Product Innovation Center in Amsterdam, the Netherlands — the first of its kind in Europe. This dedicated hub embodies the pioneering spirit at the heart of our brand. It facilitates experimentation with cutting-edge technology that pushes boundaries both in our actual product and its virtual presentation.”

Naomi Campbell , runway, tracksuit, sneakers, on the catwalkTommy Hilfiger show, Runway, Fall Winter 2020, London Fashion Week, UK - 16 Feb 2020
Naomi Campbell on the catwalk at the Tommy Hilfiger show.
CREDIT: Shutterstock

THE VISIONARY RETAILER: Browns Fashion

Having launched its first brick-and-mortar store in the 1970s, Browns Fashion is now at the forefront of both digital and physical retail.

Ida Petersson, director of men’s and womenswear buying: “My hope is that we will find a happy medium between virtual and ‘in real life’ experiences. The cultural exchange is so important, and personally I feel without face-to-face interaction some of the personality will get lost. However, increased downtime for buyers, designers and editors will mean more time to be creative and focus on the day-to-day business.”

Shifting Priorities: “For buying specifically, giving us a healthy work/life balance will allow the industry to retain talent for longer. In recent years, I’ve seen entire layers of buyers “retire” and move to other parts of the industry or completely removing themselves for new careers due to the fast pace and the implications that has had on people’s health and family life. Losing all of that knowledge is detrimental as it leaves a gap in experience that is more important than ever in uncertain times.”

The Debate: “Virtual experiences can be amazing and in some instances, they don’t have the same associated costs, so as a forum for showcasing your collection this could be a really positive way to address economic pressures. For a lot of new generation designers, however, there is still a real issue with not being able to touch and feel the garments or see the fit up close as these are the things that will determine the success of a garment and can easily be misinterpreted if you’re not physically present. As technical innovation is pushed forward, I’m excited to see what will come out of this. However the downside is that it will be more difficult than ever for young designers to showcase their collections for wholesale without the access that some of the more established brands have, whether that be access to tech or industry contacts.”

Next Steps: “The reliance here on multibrand showrooms will now be more important than ever, as they can provide a platform that gives a greater digital experience. My hopes are that showroom owners will see the long term benefits of building relationships with them and help support the industry. Initiatives like BFC’s gender neutral, open-to-all June platform is an amazing example of how the industry can support talent and help alleviate the reliance on retail partner wholesale alone.”

THE DIGITAL DISRUPTOR: Sergio Rossi

The brand used Instagram during lockdown to disseminate its charity Shoes Make a Difference campaign.

Riccardo Sciutto, CEO: “During the lockdown moment, Instagram engagement was very accelerated and we used the platform to run our charity campaign throughout the quarantine. But it is not enough. Innovation is important but more so humanity and personal contact so we want to try to find a balance between the two.”

The September Plan: I want to still do a small physical presentation in September, but also an exclusive virtual showroom for those to can’t attend in person. But I won’t do that via Instagram. It’s amazing but you have millions of people who all see the same thing. I want keep some things secret, showing them only to a select group. Behind the scenes mystery is an important aspect of luxury.

Personal Touch: We will follow up the showroom with Zoom calls with myself and the Sergio Rossi design team for between one and five people at a time. I also want to integrate 3D augmented reality technology into the virtual showroom to show product that has not even been made, so I can ask people what they would like to see in the collection before I have even produced the samples. Now is the moment to do things that have never been done before.”

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