On the eve of New York Fashion Week, what’s next?
By Vanessa Friedman
Last season, the rising tide of COVID-19 lapped at fashion’s heels as the style set moved from city to city, show to show. In New York, Chinese designers, stuck at home, missed their collection bow; as Milan began, one Italian had died of the virus. By the end of that week, Armani had decided to hold a show with no audience. In Paris, parties were canceled, masks handed out and ushers stood tall with big vats of hand sanitizer. Then, just after everyone scattered for home, the pandemic began.
This season everything has changed. Most of the shows will be digital. Some big names are sitting the whole thing out. Others are doing their own thing, on their own schedule. There’s angst in the air. But fashion is not over. It is simply in flux, grappling with big questions about old systems that for years seemed irreplaceable.
To explore what that could mean, The Times gathered four people in the thick of it all: Tory Burch, of the namesake brand; Virgil Abloh, of Off-White and Louis Vuitton menswear; Gwyneth Paltrow, of Goop; and Antoine Arnault, of LVMH (the largest luxury group in the world).
This conversation has been edited and condensed.
Q: I’ve got to ask: Given all the absentees this season, what is the point of a show any more?
Virgil: Recently we did a menswear show in Shanghai that borrowed from film and theatrical experience to give a positive message. Instead of a traditional runway show that can be very serious, with models with serious gazes on their face, walking down the runway being hangers for clothing, what I did was make it almost like a Thanksgiving Day parade. The models were street-cast, just walking down the streets as if they were conversing with friends, bestowing a feeling that we’re not generally awarded in this time. Underneath the practicality of clothes, my studio has an ambition that the world can be a better place.
Tory: Strangely, before the pandemic, I decided not to show this season. We were opening a store on Mercer Street, and I thought it would be really interesting to go back to where we were when we first launched this company with a store event that lasted the day, and we had everyone stop by. I’m thinking a lot about where I’ve been, and also about the product — simplicity, quality and then showing in a more personal way.
Antoine: For smaller brands, it makes sense to skip a season or two. It’s definitely expensive. And when you realize the price it costs, then once you don’t do it, you’re actually quite relieved. For brands that have the means to produce shows, it’s fantastic to have this creative world live. And it is not only a personal decision. There’s a whole economy around these shows. That should not be underestimated.
Gwyneth: When we started doing G Label on Goop, I did feel the fashion system was a bit hard to access — possibly a little antiquated in terms of the schedule. And I really responded to the streetwear cadence of drops, the buy now, wear now, building up some excitement and pent-up demand around a collection. During the pandemic, we’ve gotten super-scrappy. We’ve slashed every marketing budget, and we have been able to make an impact. When a business is under a bit of pressure, you’re having to get closest to that creative spirit. It’s the upside of social media, which doesn’t always have much of an upside.
Q: Do you think this marks a tipping point in fashion?
Antoine: A lot is going to be decided after the next couple of rounds of shows. Showing is definitely not essential. However, you sometimes need to show what you’re actually creating.
Tory: I think that every company is different. A lot of the schedule was driven by wholesale, and we’re 85% direct to consumer.
Virgil: We’re looking at a watershed moment for the next generation to really take their seat. We know the names of Karl Lagerfeld, Margiela, Yves Saint Laurent — how they revolutionized the industry by switching from couture to ready-to-wear. In my generation, we brought streetwear into the fold, and now we see its effect on the luxury market. I think this is a moment where we can redefine what fashion means.
Gwyneth: There will probably be a separation between the brands that are really well-funded and use those shows as an amazing marketing moment and theater, and smaller brands like mine, which will continue to focus on creating a connection with product through a cultural moment. And I think it’s good. It forces all brands, big and small, to get more creative about how to reach the customer.
Q: Do trends still exist?
Virgil: With social media, I would say that trends are very much alive.
Gwyneth: I have a 16-year-old girl in my house. So yes, trends are very much alive. Though I tend to buy more classic trend-free pieces because I’ve had a few dodgy moments, I think, in my past.
Tory: Haven’t we all! I also love the idea of things that are forever. And I think people are looking at that as well — things they can invest in. I go back to people wanting special things. I really stand by that.
Q: So what does that mean for the glut-of-stuff problem?
Tory: One of the things people don’t talk about enough is overproducing. We are really careful with that — and getting better. When I think about sustainability, I think it’s a given that we all need to make this a top priority. It’s a bit herculean, what we have to do as an industry. But we have to do it. The customer is totally focused on what a brand stands for — particularly younger customers. They deeply care about what brands are doing to make the world a better place.
Virgil: In the last LV collection I debuted the idea of collapsing all my seasons into one. I think it’s important to remove the idea that just because it’s last season, it’s devalued.
Tory: Women are thinking differently about the way they shop. I don’t think they’re thinking, “I want to wear something and not wear it again.” I don’t think it’s modern. So from a season standpoint, we also are looking at it differently. It’s more about deliveries and wearing things when you want to wear them. Ten years ago, people would change their spring closet to their fall closet. That’s obsolete.
Antoine: But there’s also a market reality that we have to understand. I’m not sure if we decide to have only one season for all our brands. That would really change the business.