Revitalising fashion week requires reaching beyond the realm of haute couture, as the pre-pandemic status quo proves off trend for the Spring/Summer ‘22 Season. From designers and talent to tourism and hospitality, businesses in the world’s most prominent cities await the return of the action-packed, lucrative itineraries with which it associates. However, the pandemic forced the industry to look hard at the optics of how fashion week’s presented themselves: from ethos to the environment. In turn, designers around the world made great strides in becoming more inclusive in their marketing and sustainability. While jet-setting and cab-hailing became a distant memory to the front-rower’s, the digital innovation in which couture submerged did not come without its own carbon cost. With dynamic lockdown lifting trajectories, the catwalk becomes a tightrope balancing creative expression with social and environmental objectives.
Before the world seemed to stop, the pre-pandemic status quo of fashion week proved contentious. Beyond the excessive, theatrical moments caught on camera of season’s passed, the backstage antics left much to be desired. From the pile up of single use makeup palettes to slews of plastic water bottles, there was an understanding the bar had to be raised for even fashion weeks to continue being fashionable. But addressing the crisis was essential for an industry that brings in $900 million / year in job growth and tax revenue for the Big Apple alone.
After initial plagues of doom for a surrendered SS21, designers returned to the drawing board, harnessing the creativity that led them into the industry … under newfound constraints. Fashion week seemingly ‘cracked the code’ through the likes of Moschino’s Puppet Show and Kate Moss’s NFT shares. Fashion, tech and economy found a new symbiosis through runways straight to your inbox and via Bitcoin avant-garde.
via Vogue Runway
Brands from Chanel to Dolce ‘dropped’ their pre-recorded shows, representing the most socially inclusive fashion weeks of all time. Fashion fanatics from Milan to Mumbai tuned in for their favourite designers. Copenhagen Fashion Week even launched ‘Small Talks, Big Conversations,’ harnessing the opportunity of global outreach to host provocative industry chats. Brands and their consumers alike became more involved than ever before.
A well received, newfound depth was accompanied by the likes of Gucci’s virtual hoodie auctioning for £19,000 as a non-fungible token. Supermodels advertised shares on the Bitcoin market. To the tech-naive, I for one assumed: no real material, no real production, no carbon footprint = this is the future of fashion.
Not so quick.
The solution has proved itself not as crystal clear as the canals in Venice after a few months breaking habits. The costs to our environment of the virtual fixes are attributable to the same fossil fuels we harp upon the aviation dependent fashion week circuit for exasperating. Though not traceable through passport stamps and shipping containers of couture, the expanding servers needed to power the digital realm come at a price.
The servers and crypto mining required to power the likes of awe striking, intangible collections relies predominantly upon very tangible fossil fuels. The expanding network required to power the 3-D realities of gaming app, Roblox’s virtual installation, competes with the terawatt hours powering the whole of Argentina for a year. Even before the surge in non-fungibles, the United Nations predicted the information and technology sector to be responsible for utilising the same amount of fossil fuels to power itself as the aviation sector. So in ridiculing the jet-setting, one can equally challenge the true ecological impact in their homebound simulation.
From GDP to Vogue Archives and even Clubhouse, how does evidence from the evolution of fashion week tally up? Do the two mediums break even? If you divide the number of terawatt hours by the extended number of viewers, where does fashion week’s footprint stand? We don’t have enough data to determine this yet.
As Milan fashion week looms upon us from 18-22 June in compliance with local restrictions, the new normal must strive to encapsulate the best of both worlds more efficiently. The system swinging from one end of the pendulum to the other has to strike a balance. A happy medium engaging the most participants, their unique voices, and creative expressions proves an energy-dependent dilemma.
With men’s shows set to follow suit in Paris and London later this month, until Copenhagen Fashion Week rolls out the green carpet come August, all eyes are on SS22.
The clean and green cannot be associated with either a physical or virtual reality. Nonetheless, time will tell how designers and fashion council’s alike take advantage of what has been learnt from a year of problem solving. From the touch of fabrics to stimulating digital conversations, inching closer to the catwalk in New York, Paris, London, Milan, and Copenhagen proves to be a pivotal moment for the earth, fashion and beyond.
“The Future of Fashion Week”
Isabel Froemming is a contributing fashion sustainability writer, model, and activist based in London. Her research focuses on transparent supply chains and gender equity in Indonesia. Isabel ran communications for Copenhagen Fashion Week for SS21 and prior to that acted as an editorial associate at sustainable e-tailer Rêve en Vert.