Vogue Italia’s April 2020 cover did not show a beautifully photographed model. It was a blank canvas with nothing, but a blanket suspended in time and space that could say more than any concatenation of images, titles, ideas and phrases. This total emptiness meant pain, strength and hope.
White was the color of health workers who risked their lives. White was the shadow of people’s suffering. White as silence and a pause for reflection. He also spoke of encouragement, providing a sense of calm, helping to ease our emotional upheavals as the world fell.
Through this strange printed issue, the haute couture bible reminded us that we were all in the same boat. All markets and sectors have been shaken, including the luxury industry. Bursting with sophistication, it began to pay a heavy economic price.
In 2020, the fashion industry had its worst year on record, as confirmed by The State of Fashion 2021 report published last December by The Business of Fashion and McKinsey & Company. Sales declined and supply chains were disrupted. According to the McKinsey Global Fashion Index, fashion companies suffered a staggering 90% drop in profits after rising 4% in 2019. âThe impact of the pandemic on the fashion and luxury industry has been extreme, âsays Paolo Pasini, professor of IT / Digital Management at SDA Bocconi.
However, the industry has responded to economic paralysis with overlapping creative approaches to style and artistry. His vocabulary has changed and some new features have been introduced.
But as Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw once said: âWe don’t stop acting because we get older, we get old because we stop acting. In a time of pain and discomfort, the fashion world has become a playful arena for healing.
Many fashion houses have adopted gamification, a marketing technique inspired by classic video game methods. They created a brand new virtual world by partnering with gaming platforms. It was an alternative and innovative way to cultivate an engagement with their audiences that goes beyond brand loyalty. The mod was a powerful attractor, especially for younger generations looking for exclusive content and a branded experience. Gamers represent a growing market. And a game designer is now part of the staff of many fashion houses.
Over the past year, Gucci has experienced several world games. Recently, he launched a surreal garden experience designed as a virtual counterpart to the Gucci Garden Archetypes, a new esoteric exhibition in Florence celebrating the Italian house.
The virtual event is available to Roblox users. As visitors enter the Gucci Garden experience, they shed their avatars and take on the appearance of a neutral, asexual model. It’s like going back to the very first day of his life. This is the opportunity to start from scratch with a tabula rasa. The tailor’s mannequins wander the sections of the garden, and everyone reacts differently. Slowly, they begin to build their own identity. Each experience is a complexity of memory, personal impulses, group identity, decision making. At the end of the journey, each model is just one person: a unique human being.
Last December, Balenciaga released its Fall Winter 2021 collection in the form of a record-breaking cross-platform video game called Afterworld: The Age of Tomorrow. Players travel through a futuristic world, passing avatars dressed in the fashion house’s clothes, including old-fashioned NASA space jackets. With great endurance, they climb a mountain. Once the summit is reached, they witness the sunrise. The game ends with deep breathing exercises: inhaling and exhaling mindfully. The message is to experience our inner being with the delicate atmosphere of Earth. With each breath, we communicate with nature.
Without a doubt, the pandemic has been nature’s wake-up call to move to a more sustainable future. During the confinement, the major players ignited the debate by raising awareness of the importance of reorienting themselves towards new economic models and modes of production. The fashion industry is one of the most polluting: it is responsible for 10% of global carbon dioxide emissions each year.
Giorgio Armani signaled the changes: production had to be slowed down, the multiplication of events and pre-collections cut off. The idea of ââslow fashion has a certain charm and was a thought born out of emotional reaction last year. But how realistic is that?
âMore than slow, we need less and more relevance,â says Prof. Stefania Saviolo, founder of the MAFED Master in Fashion, Experience and Design Management at SDA Bocconi, Milan. âThe pandemic was a wake-up call, in particular, for strengthening the social dimension of sustainable development. Luxury had already started to work on the environmental impact through voluntary initiatives. The situation revealed what is going on behind the scenes in terms of working conditions within the supply chain not only in the Far East but also in European markets.
Brands that respect their employees and the planet appeal to consumers. Over the past year, the struggling industry has invested heavily in communication and digital solutions, such as e-commerce, social commerce (s-commerce), mobile applications and other types of related applications. analysis, AI, etc. Augmented reality is used to improve the shopping experience of customers. Communication strategies have become more fluid and continuous throughout the year. In eight months, the share of online fashion sales has nearly doubled from 16% to 29% globally, a leap equal to six years of growth. While s-commerce, based on the social interaction between customers discussing objects of desire through a wide range of platforms, has created digital identities in virtual meeting places.
But are all of these now essential digital features the miracle cure? And what are the pros and cons of this implementation of the web society and digital revolution?
âBenefits: We have entered the CTC economy – consumer to consumer markets – where we can find any product, brand, review, information online,â says Saviolo. âIn the past, fashion was almost secret: fashion shows and parties were reserved for the lucky few. Digital also helps to track and trace products in the supply chain. About the downsides: digital is cold. It is not yet human and requires a strong requalification of people in the industry.
Aggressive digitization has created a kind of democratization of access to content. But did it really help increase the number of potential customers? Doesn’t it have a short term effect?
âThere is a lot of noise there and the brands have turned into broadcasters. They have stories, plots, characters. They make films. They are always on stage 24/7, âexplains Saviolo. âOn the one hand, it created more interest in certain brands but not necessarily a strong interest in buying. Conversion is always difficult where competition increases in all markets, categories and channels and resources are scarce.
Covid-19 had a disruptive effect on the identity of Primary Fashion Weeks, which in response experimented with a kaleidoscopic array of digital offerings to showcase the collections via live streams, 3D presentations, video catwalks, and films shown on television.
‘NON-SHOWS’ STRIKES A DEAL
Prada, the first to produce face masks, ushered in a new era of online fashion shows last July during Milan’s first Digital Fashion Week. Journalists, buyers, stylists, influencers and fans of the iconic Milanese fashion house would squint at a computer screen in different corners of the globe to watch the minimalist collection via a series of five short films titled Multiple Views SS21-The Show That Never Happened.
The non-emissions theme was hot last year, with a more focused and inclusive fashion the new reality – another opportunity in the era of the pandemic. The fashion houses showed traits perhaps never seen before, like cuteness. Attendance and exposure have grown exponentially online. Going from a maximum of 700 guests to a classic parade, it was possible to have tens of millions of users logged in simultaneously. The Dior silhouettes, created by Maria Grazia Chiuri for the Salento digital show filmed on the beautiful and yet bare piazza of Lecce, charmed more than 16 million visitors.
In another show, Dior has proven its sustainability by planting 164 trees serving as scenography. Many brands have opted for environmentally friendly solutions. For example, Gucci and Burberry have created carbon neutral fashion shows.
In her book The Branded Supply Chain, Stefania Saviolo writes that just as not all jacket size fits all, the concept of sustainability differs between brands. âEco-friendly brands that put the planet first must thrive and make a relevant value proposition beyond pure sustainability,â she says. At the same time, traditional business models that were not born sustainably must find their way by starting a journey that cannot achieve full transparency but embraces a cause that makes sense for their brand and positioning. “
Covid-19 has rewritten the future of major Italian and European brands “by increasing more local customers,” says Saviolo. “Second, through ‘phygital’ retail – less wholesale – develop a more responsive, demand-driven supply chain, as companies need to maximize their revenues at a premium.”
The top performing brands were âall brands engaging their local customers and showing care and concern for the situation,â says Saviolo.
RESILIENCE IS THE KEY
Resilience has reached the top of the pile for 101 Italian fashion and luxury companies. They have been the subject of research published by SDA Bocconi which explored their capacity for absorption and reaction. âWhat has emerged is strong digital resilience,â Pasini says. âThey will continue to invest in ICT / digital. In some cases, they have expressed the intention to increase the allocated budgets by 10% or more.
Fashion weeks are now adopting a hybrid operating model by bringing back live shows. Do we still know how to dress? Can we feel joy?
âThe biggest challenge for the future is finding the right combination of online experience and human contact,â says Pasini. Yeah, we’re in the âphygitalâ era. But nothing heals like this extract of physical contact soothing our tangled nerves.