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For much of its existence, the fashion industry has marched to the beat of its own drum. It would sell bathing suits in November and wool coats in May; make fall clothes available in July and run spring shows in September — though the actual collections wouldn’t hit stores till January. Pre-fall would take place in December but become shoppable only five months later, usually just as temperatures started to rise.

In recent seasons, the cycle has got even faster, its pace so relentless some designers have begun bucking against it, quitting standardised fashion week schedules, as in the recent case of Gucci and Saint Laurent, or combining women’s and men’s lines together — see Gucci again, but also Versace, Calvin Klein, Kenzo and Coach.

Gucci Fall/Winter 2020

Now, COVID-19 has forced the drumbeat to stop altogether. From fabric mills to warehouses, manufacturers and retailers, nearly every aspect of the sector has gone into a hibernation of sorts, pressing pause on the way we consume fashion. But this hiatus hasn’t been all negative. Rather, it’s made many in the sector stand still for a minute, take a breather and think about what fashion’s future will look like post-pandemic — starting with its calendar.

In May, a letter fronted by Belgian designer Dries Van Noten and signed by hundreds of fashion-related businesses and designers,  including Thom Browne, Tory Burch, Erdem Moralioglu and Gabriela Hearst, urged the industry to use the disruption to reconfigure the seasons. ‘Put the Autumn/Winter season back in winter and Spring/Summer season back in summer,’ it proposed, while also calling for industry-wide increased supply chain accountability and focus on sustainability.

Dries Van Noten Fall/Winter 2020

That same month, 64 industry heavyweights released the Rewiring Fashion proposal in collaboration with media platform Business of Fashion. The petition asked for fashion calendar shifts similar to those put forward by Van Noten, but also suggested a complete elimination of traditional fashion weeks in favour of ‘no rules’ events centred on direct customer engagement.

Statement from Rewiring Fashion

The Council of Fashion Designers of America and the British Fashion Council also issued their own statement, encouraging designers to no longer formally present Cruise lines at all, focusing on two main collections each year instead. Pre-collections ‘not necessarily sufficiently fashion forward to warrant a show’, the statement read, should be presented only in showrooms. Although still in their early stages, these initiatives show that traditions are being reassessed, by big and small players alike.

‘A calendar is practical for us to think ahead, plan and better manage production, buying and merchandising,’ says fashion stylist Veronica Li. ‘But I do think the calendar for the future might shift more towards sustainability rather than short-lived seasonal trends. Right now it’s about rethinking what the purpose of fashion shows is, slowing down, revisiting how fashion was done in the past, and, for designers, finding ways to stay engaged on their own terms.’

That might mean continuing with the current format, doing away with it completely or inventing a whole new schedule, together or alone. In a nutshell: making things as flexible as possible. ‘The standard fashion month calendar has a structure that works for some brands, but not necessarily for all companies,’ says Justine Lee, a fashion writer, stylist and consultant. ‘While Gucci and Saint Laurent have already said they’ll no longer adhere to the fashion week schedule, and will be showcasing their collections when they’re ready, other labels, like Chanel, thrive in the current structure. I think after this pandemic, brands will have a clearer picture of what kind of structure works for them and their audience, and perhaps find alternative ways to present their designs.’

Younger designers in particular might be more prone to experiment with new ways of showing. For the past two years, for instance, Kerby Jean-Raymond’s Pyer Moss has only shown once a year. Similarly, before the pandemic hit, Tomo Koizumi and Batsheva Hay decided to only show once for 2020. ‘Emerging designers might focus more on drops, or other ways of conceiving how their work is scattered throughout the year,’ says fashion writer and editor Zaneta Cheng. ‘Although I still think seasonal, real-life showcases — whatever format they take — will remain a mainstay.’

Left: Pyer Moss 2020. Right: Tomo Koizumi 2020

One of the main goals of presenting a collection, Cheng explains, is to create an emotional connection between consumers and the clothes they’re seeing. ‘The experiential aspect is too important for physical shows to simply disappear,’ she says. ‘Which is also why I don’t think we’ll ever see a complete switch to digital runways, despite what we’ve witnessed this year.’

Lee agrees. ‘Bi-annual presentations need to take place in order for buyers, brands and journalists to see what will be appearing in stores in the months to come. Whether they’ll be labelled Spring/Summer or Fall/Winter is another discussion. I think the way forward should be shows or collections that include trans-seasonal styles to cater to a wide range of climates.’

Ingrid Chen, general manager for marketing and communications at Joyce, believes the physical and digital experiences will become more closely integrated as fashion resets its calendar. ‘While digital shows allow more accessibility to the customer, physical shows can truly display the designer’s expression for the fashion week audience,’ she says. ‘We’re excited to see how brands will use the strengths of both experiences.’

Like Lee and Cheng, Chen also believes fashion weeks will remain valuable as a global framework for brands to organise production and deliveries. At the same time, she says, ‘The potential decrease in between-season collections and showcases may reduce the impulse for newness and increase the preparation time for different collections, which can have positive impacts from sustainability and quality to pricing and consumer experience.’

Simply put, the pandemic might be offering the fashion industry the chance for a fresh start. And while no one can predict what the next few months will hold, the sector could well come out of this with a renewed sense of purpose, and clear vision of fashion’s future.