10. September 2020

Digital Fashion Week: An opportunity or in emergency only?

The EU Circular Action Plan includes textiles as one of its high-pressure subjects. The European Commission is eager to support innovation in associated industries (primarily fashion) to achieve authority in sustainable textiles. This goal comprises new business models and therewith also digitisation. But is fashion ready for long-term change?

A Comment by Nicole Stein and Diane Pernet


From stylised funeral tributes for a family member who perished while the filmmaker was in confinement on the other side of the world to the outrageous kitsch excesses of an imperial catwalk – the entries for the renowned fashion film festival ASVOFF12 varied more than ever. ASVOFF12 (which is organised by Diane Pernet) takes place October 6-8 on FNL Network and proves: fashion is wide awake and trying to embrace digital tools in a new world. 

These explorations cover a broad spectrum including an AI-inspired animated features by NDA Paris, diaristic musings from director Jacob Mendel Brown, a gender identity-focused film by Jordan Blad, fashion student films, Zoom talks with industry leaders, like Gossip Girls costume designer Eric Daman, Roger Avary, Oscar award-winning screenplay co-writer of Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, as well as French fashion designer Marine Serre and film producer Cori Coppola, among others. The idea of reinventing fashion experience through film, video chat and deep tech is not new, the urgency for its acceptance on an industry-overarching scale is. 

While fashion is not going anywhere, it definitely has to change fundamentally to maintain its socio-economic relevance. Sales dropped over 30 percent already in March this year, leaving brands and fashion designers panicking as how to react. 


Putting something online does not make it a digital experience

The lack of standardised digital education as well as digital contingency plans is obvious in the variety of formats used to cope with Covid-19 and lockdown and/or social-distancing regulations around Fashion Weeks and fashion associated events last season – and even more in their success and acceptance. 

The virtual graduation show of the Royal Academy of Antwerp asked industry ‘icons’ to play Blind Dates as a fun way to animate the already extremely successful virtual graduation catwalk. By comparison London Fashion Week, the first weeks of the digital fashion shows fell short of expectations, mostly because the digital execution did not work. 

The lack of preparedness was mirrored in a sub-par user experience on their website. From bugs to page speed: their site was unmanageable. When things got corrected down the line, their web design remained creative but difficult to use. Best-practices from other industries have unfortunately been neglected, resulting in an irritating experience for users and thus, far from the usual feel Fashion Weeks tend and aim to evoke. 

The digital fashion week in Milan this July jumped on the same bandwagon of aesthetics trumping usability and presented an equally flawed digital fashion week. However, highlights from Milan comprised a fashion film by SHOWstudio’s Nick Knight filmed at Cinecitta for Valentino showcasing the applicability of fashion film in digital formats

GUCCI on the other hand, addressed the popularity of work-in-progress videos on Social Media (like Instagram and TikTok) with a 12 hours of look book preparation. While the format idea was extremely successful in being recognised as innovative, data on view duration and frequency have to be consulted in assessing the input-output ratio for the Italian brand.

Paris Fashion Week was by far the most successful with a homepage that was user friendly and had timed digital special events divided into sections of designers’ videos, a magazine section, an “event” section. In addition to the above sections there were also panel discussions, concerts, and Sphere a virtual showroom for young designers done in partnership with Le New Black, an online fashion trade show. This division into thematic sections facilitated the experience of singular events and mirrored the actual physical fashion week process in an adequately digital adaption.


Digitisation supports transparency, inclusion and eco-friendly change

Digital formats were definitely challenging for many of the fashion capitals but have proven to be a necessary extension of the „old“ ways. The formats further allow for an inclusion of talented designers and brands away from the physical hotspots in the Western world. Opening up the industry for talent beyond borders can be facilitated by interactive digital experiences. 

Fashion designer Osman Yousefzada’s participation in the digital Fashion Week London featured a visit to Bangladesh where the women that made the clothes imagined who was wearing them. Digital Fashion Weeks can also be used for that: enhancing transparency and sharing the spotlight with people who would or could never physically attend. 

Considering the fashion industry’s highly negative environmental impact, cutting down on travelling during Fashion Week months is crucial and should become the golden standard as the first tiny step to diminish CO2 emissions afterwards. 

Some big names publicly stepped back from the growth-driven fashion cycle and jet set lifestyle of recent years, allowing for hope of a new world in fashion. Saint Laurent for example chose to show out of season and at their own schedule. GUCCI joined these efforts, deciding to cut down on collections and also show whenever they are ready – much like frontrunner Azzedine did in the past. Yet, and much to the despair of small brands and designers, giants like LVMH and Chanel want to go back to things as they were

Supposedly a lack of immediate conversion spurs these decisions. Breaking an industry regime is easier in theory – especially when dealing with a billion-dollar industry. Digitising fashion and achieving equally great results in terms of revenue takes time and requires education on what tools are available and suitable for the targeted purpose. 

Digital Fashion Weeks are clearly a chance for the industry – be it in terms of sustainability, inclusion or profitability. The fashion industry needs to work together, work on standards and show it learnt something in the past month – more than uploading pretty videos or animations.  


The Polis Blog serves as a platform at the disposal of Polis180’s & OpenTTN’s members. Published comments express solely the authors’ opinions and shall not be confounded with the opinions of the editors or of Polis180.

Image via unsplash


Nicole is an entrepreneur and research fellow at Wuppertal-Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy and research associate at IE Applied – Tel Aviv University. Her work focuses on the interplay of sustainability and digitisation, especially focusing on new business models and AI-supported activities. She is part of the Digital Transformation and Cyber Security programme at Polis180.


Diane Pernet is a legendary fashion critic and video journalist based in Paris. Pernet was one of the first fashion journalists to embrace the power of the internet through her column on online editions of Elle.com, Vogue.fr and her own site. She is the founder and curator of the world’s first fashion film festival dedicated to fashion, style and beauty.


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