Runway Redundant?

Runway Redundant?

Fashion shows have, for the longest time played a monumental role in the way the fashion industry works. The concept of fashion week comes from the court of French Emperor Louis XIV, making it an almost 300-year-old tradition. Yet, in recent years, this stalwart of the fashion industry is under siege from the all-encompassing and consuming social media. Designers are skipping runway shows in favour of digital platforms to launch their collection.

In India, Sabyasachi was one of the first fashion houses to completely do away with catwalk and in recent years many other designers have followed suit.  Ridhi Mehra, who hasn’t showcased her designs for the past two seasons tells us, “The launch of your collection on Instagram vis-a-vis a fashion show is an important change which was seen almost 2-3 years ago. All our customers, be it existing or potential, are all on Instagram and it’s a fantastic way to stay connected to the brand or discover its new collections. The right amount of exciting content, pre-buzz and a proactive digital marketing strategy, can really usher the success of a collection.”

Scores of upcoming designers have also chosen to take the social-media route instead of showcasing on a traditional runway. Designer Abhinav Mishra, who started his label in 2017, decided to expand his brand via Instagram first, “I felt social media is like a visual canvas and a story board for my work and saw a rising audience that interacted very strongly with me. From my first campaign collection in 2017 to today, we’ve gone from 6k followers to nearly touching 200k followers on Instagram, solely. Building a campaign on social media over the course of time is a lot more fulfilling than a show, ” states Abhinav.

Others aren’t convinced that social media can substitute catwalk completely. Designer Manish Malhotra believes that fashion shows are an integral part of fashion and aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. At the same time, he agrees that visual storytelling through social media has become an important tool to engage consumers.

There seems to be a consensus that digital media is capable of begetting a structural change in the way fashion industry functions. Varun Bahl, who isn’t ready to let go of catwalk shows just yet, argues that there has been a huge structural shift in presenting a collection on social networking sites. The digital age has got things moving very fast and customers are more aware and want the latest creations at the earliest. “Social media is able to reach out directly to the customers which brings in significant business,” he adds.

In terms of revenue generation, fashion weeks are still far more important than digital platforms. Although the audience outreach of social media makes it an indispensable aid for business. Gaurav Gupta says, “There is a very niche audience that comes to watch an actual fashion show. However, social media is accessed by anyone and everyone—even a teenager sitting at the comfort of her house can explore and engage with our brand and even peruse our collection. This is amazing because even if they are not our target group they would still get initiated to the brand and that will create recall value."

Fashion week has always aimed to cater to an exclusive clientele. But the presence of influencers and bloggers has given anyone with an Internet connection front-row access to these invite-only shows. Designers Pankaj and Nidhi believe that catwalk shows while serving its original purpose have also evolved into a great marketing tool where not just buyers and press attend, but also influencers and bloggers who eventually serve as muses for the brand.

 While nobody wants to write off the runway just yet, it is certainly facing an unprecedented challenge. Which means that the only way fashion week can sustain the threat posed by the digital media is to evolve. Yet the question remains: Into what? And can any form of evolution be possible without digital platforms to act as virtual crutches?

Chitman Kanwar Ahuja

Chitman Kanwar Ahuja is a feature writer at L'Officiel India. She is a silver jewellery hoarder and an aesthete of all arts. You can find her unraveling new stories day in and day out.