It may be hard to remember, but just a month ago things were looking swell for men’s Fashion Week—which is still technically set to commence in Milan on the 14th. It promised to be the first one approaching some semblance of normal since the onset of COVID-19, a celebration of in-person shows after a challenging two years of stops and starts. But then the Omicron variant started making the rounds, quickly throwing everything into flux and adding a layer of anxiety to what was supposed to be a celebratory victory.
Here’s where we stand today: London’s standalone men’s line-up was cancelled in early December and moved to coincide with the women’s shows in February. In a blow to Milan Fashion Week, Giorgio Armani called off his men’s shows (for both his main line and Emporio Armani label) in addition to his women’s couture show, citing the “worsening epidemiological situation.” This morning, Jonathan Anderson switched his JW Anderson show to a digital format. Brunello Cucinelli, a longtime anchor of the menswear trade show Pitti Uomo, is sitting this one out. Still, late last week Paris Fashion Week’s show schedule was released, and very pointedly features a mix of in-person shows, presentations, and digital events.
One big takeaway is the way the megabrands, notably Dior and Louis Vuitton, continue to be dedicated to splashy IRL events. (As of now, at least: it’s entirely possible that things will continue to change.) Brands of this size devote serious resources to these shows, which allow them to grab our precious attention, which has never been more in demand or harder to earn: the front row VIPs, the flashy production value, and the promise of plenty of buyers and editors in attendance all but guarantee a bankable media moment—and, lately, a season’s worth of social media content.
But today, a one-size-fits-all approach isn’t in everyone’s favor. Already there have been rumblings that things aren’t working, and increasingly they’re coming from inside the fashion world. In the spring of 2020 an open letter went around asking that the industry reconsider its current practices; signatories included Dries Van Noten, Craig Green, and Grace Wales Bonner. They asked, in short, that the whole idea of before be rethought, taking into account sustainability concerns and mitigating the creative and fiscal stress of the retail calendar. Obviously spending up to hundreds of thousands of dollars to show a collection on a jammed schedule wasn’t working for every label, especially smaller or even mid-size ones.
The biggest sign that change is underfoot is that a few of the mega-labels are reconsidering how they participate in the old system. Gucci broke away in spring of 2020, and now shows its collections co-ed style, twice a year, outside of official fashion week events. And over the last few virus-impacted years, it has experimented with other ways of showing, hosting a film festival and a 12-hour livestream, for example. Before its creative director Daniel Lee departed, Bottega Veneta used its own off-calendar shows as a traveling circus of sorts, popping up in Berlin and Detroit. But the brand that’s doing the most out-of-the-box fiddling with Fashion Week expectations might be Balenciaga. Since the pandemic, the label, under the eye of Demna Gvasalia, has mostly stayed off the runway. Instead, it’s created a video game (hinting at future metaverse aspirations?), turned an ersatz red carpet into a meta “runway,” created videos (including one catwalk populated with an army of digital clones), and collaborated with The Simpsons. Now, the designer is seemingly art directing Kim and Kanye’s divorce and rebound relationships and collaborating with the Gap. Which raises the biggest fashion week question of all: why confine yourself to one or two weeks a year, when you can own the entire zeitgeist?