Omicron challenges the fashion world: to parade or postpone?

The season of fashion events opens with many doubts: brands have to decide whether to show off despite the infections.

dior backstage - Omicron challenges the fashion world: to parade or postpone?
Workers with masks in the backstage of the Christian Dior Croisière 2021 fashion show (Photo: Business of Fashion)

English variant, South African, then the dreaded Delta and now Omicron: the Covid variant that is marching at a fast pace with a speed of contagion that seems to outclass the previous ones.

Even if the symptoms of the latter variant would seem less serious, health concern is rising due to the increasingly frequent infections that are rampant in Europe and in the world despite the administration of vaccines and third doses. At this rate, the consequences on the fashion sector are inevitable: the production of the collections undergoes constant slowdowns due to the absence of workers who have tested positive or in quarantine, not to mention the logistical difficulties associated with travel.

And Omicron wreaks havoc in a particularly important moment for the fashion world: when fashion shows are organized and fairs are planned. Which automatically raises the question: what will the industry do now ? It will stop again, as it was at the time of the first appearance of the Coronavirus? Will it rely entirely on the tools offered by digital? Will brands dare or prefer to be cautious in a difficult time like this?

The answer of the 101st edition of Pitti Uomo seems clear and we could summarize it in words "full speed ahead".
To the sound of hashtag #safewithpitti (to underline the extreme importance given to anti-contagion security measures) the curtain on men's fashion has risen and, until tomorrow 13 January, the Fortezza da Basso in Florence will host the men's fall / winter 2022-23 collections of almost 600 brand.

We want to be precise: 540 brands, of which 151 arriving from abroad, physically present in the Fortezza but also on the digital platform Pitti Connect (except 37 that participate only digitally).
Why is it important to point this out? If it is true that we are not yet at the level of the pre-Covid numbers, it is still double compared to the demonstration last July. A sign that underlines the recovery in the sector glimpsed at the end of 2021: after a 2020 that marked a decline of 19,5%, in the last year the menswear returned to the positive area with a jump ofexport by 16,4% from January to July 2021.

The Florentine appointment with men's fashion therefore exists and resists, despite a great absence that has certainly aroused great amazement.
We are talking about Brunello Cucinelli, a true symbol of the fair, who for precautionary reasons and in order not to put employees and staff at risk has chosen not to be present at the event and to skip the physical presentation at the Florentine show.

“We believe it is a decision that is the fruit of a healthy awareness of the current moment that Italy and the whole world are experiencing. We also believe that it is a choice made with a sense of responsibility towards that path undertaken in recent months that we all hope will lead us as soon as possible to a normality of life and human relationships ”.

pitti immagine uomo 101 - Omicron challenges the fashion world: to parade or postpone?
“Reflections” is the theme of Pitti Uomo 101: we start from the idea of ​​looking in the mirror to obtain new points of view. (Photo: Pitti Uomo)

These are the words of the Umbrian entrepreneur, very similar to those of the Home Ann Demeulemeester (acquired in 2021 by Claudio Antonioli), brand Special guest of this edition of Pitti, which speaks of a decision "Suffered but indispensable" and chooses to postpone its event to the next edition in June 2022.

And what about the fashion shows?
At the gates of the Milan Fashion Week dedicated to humans (expected from 14 to 18 January), the Covid situation is worrying and leads some brands to change their program. 

The first name to do so is high-sounding. This is Giorgio Armani, who announced the cancellation of the Emporio Armani and Giorgio Armani men's shows dedicated to autumn-winter 2022/2023, as well as the Parisian appointment with the haute couture.

Although in addition to King George few (for now) stylists have made a U-turn to avoid contagions, the designer's decision casts a somewhat disturbing shadow on the fashion scene. In fact, Armani was the first major brand to make the (at the time disruptive) decision to cancel its show at the beginning of 2020 when the pandemic was starting to scare. Perfect consistency or bad omen?

According to Armani, although the show remains a fundamental and irreplaceable moment, the protection of the health and safety of collaborators and the public is once again a priority and must be put first.
Certainly a painful decision, but one that has already attracted proselytes. Let's talk about the JW Anderson fashion house, which finds a middle ground and opts for one fashion show in digital format - also to circumvent the logistical and travel difficulties caused by the new Omicron variant.
The show (debut of the brand in the Milanese calendar) will be broadcast in preview on the channels of the National Chamber of Italian Fashion on Sunday 16 January at 0re 20.00.

Although the current Decree Law allows both fashion shows and activities in the presence of guests (such as events and presentations of various kinds), the president of Camera Moda Carlo Capasa reacted to these program changes and cancellations by remaining alert to the situation of infections and reiterating the importance of respecting all safety standards:

"It's possible - says Capasa - that in the coming days the calendar may foresee some changes, in the maximum collaboration with the brands participating in our fashion weeks and with the utmost attention to the complex health situation that our country is experiencing.
Some events that today it will not be possible to realize as originally imagined,
they may be canceled or postponed. "

armani fashion show - Omicron challenges the fashion world: to parade or postpone?
Giorgio Armani parades with a model at the end of the S / S 20 fashion show (Photo: Ansa)

In this scenario of cancellations and slippage of plans, it is up to the individual brands to decide how to move. But what they are facing can be a very difficult choice indeed. 

There is a crossroads ahead of them: while it is true that shows can be invaluable for generating interest and making people talk about themselves, they are also very expensive and at a time like this, brands have to decide if they feel comfortable taking on this expense also with the risks caused by the increase in infections.

Given that we are now in a phase in which infections are expected to increase, the dilemma is particularly acute for those brands that were planning to show this month, but, if Omicron reaches its peak by the end of the month (following the trend it has had in South Africa), cases could be in sharp decline both in Europe and in New York (where hundreds of thousands of people have already tested positive) by mid-February - when the women's fashion shows begin .

The risk is there and it is not a small one. The organization of the shows right now is only in the early stages and if a brand chooses to retire now it could save a lot of money; at the same time, by choosing instead to continue as per initial plans, the risk is to lose as many earnings should the contagion situation worsen.

The question to ask is: how precious is a physical show for the development of one's business? Is it worth organizing it even in the face of fewer participants and despite the increase in overall costs caused by security protocols?

To understand how to answer these questions, designers are capitalizing on what they learned earlier in the past two years of the pandemic: the importance of hybrid experiences.
An event can have the same power even when viewed from the sofa at home. A concept that until recently was unthinkable and that certainly does not erase the charm and sumptuousness of the shows in attendance, but that has taken up space with digital, leading stylists to imagine new communication methods.

digital fashion show - Omicron challenges the fashion world: to parade or postpone?
The guests of the Balmain S / S 21 fashion show participate remotely, on screens arranged in the front row. (Photo: Balmain)

Some may decide to continue on this path and make their digital programs ever more varied and artistic, even accepting the risk of not having the same marketing impact as an in-person presentation. Others can take the opportunity to get out of the rigid calendars of the fashion world and propose a more spontaneous, natural rhythm - a choice already made previously by Saint Laurent, Balenciaga and Gucci, which, however, it must be said, have already returned to the ranks of the classic dates in charge.

It will be a tough choice for brands, which must be ready for total flexibility and above all not to be afraid of going against the tide.