Livestreams, films and gift boxes were the new runway shows this summer, as designers tried to get eyeballs on their new collections without giving anybody Covid-19. Virtual fashion week efforts ranged from Louis Vuitton’s animated “The Adventures of Zoooom with his friends by Virgil Abloh,” to Loewe’s “#Showinabox” package of fabric swatches and paper dolls, to Hermés’ simulated BTS livestream of a fake runway backstage. 

We applaud the creativity and respect for health guidelines. But based on social media (the main place the clothes were consumed), the verdict is in: virtual fashion shows just don’t cut it. 

The flop of London’s Digital Fashion Week — presented as an interactive online magazine — is the best evidence. The event was practically invisible online. WWD reports that some YouTube panels had as few as 20 viewers, while the Instagram Lives were maxing out at 200 or 300 views. According to Business of Fashion, the season received 55% less social media engagement than January’s fashion week.

Paris Fashion Week fared better, with 19.4 million views across platforms. However, the seasons’ total media impact value (fashion data company Launchmetrics’ calculation of “placements and mentions from voices in fashion fashion, luxury and beauty across social media”) was down 30% from 2019, reports WWD. The outlet noted that there were less than 400 tweets about Paris Haute Couture Week this summer, compared to more than 15,000+ from last year.

What worked?

A viral moment will always do the trick, but they’re hard to engineer. Giambattista Valli was had the third highest social engagement for Paris’ couture and jumped 500% in engagement from 2019, thanks to a massive pink tule creation that blew up on Instagram. 

Inspired work will always shine. Dior had the top-ranking social engagement among menswear shows, according to ListenFirst’s rankings via WWD with their behind-the-scenes look at their acclaimed collection, inspired by Ghanaian painter Amoako Boafo.

Creativity paid off for Louis Vuitton: their animated film was critically acclaimed and ranked second in social engagement for mens collections. 

Loewe, in third place for menswear social engagement, makes an argument for a sustained focus on influencers, even if they can’t be in the front row. Their “#Showinabox” appeared on massively followed fashion feeds like Bryanboy and DietPrada, boosting buzz.

One advantage of virtual shows is global reach. While the media impact value of Prada’s digital show was 60% down from 2019, the event saw quadruple growth in engagement on Chinese social media networks compared to the prior year according to Business of Fashion. 

Clearly, no one has found the magic formula. Once again, it’s every designer for themselves as September fashion week, which will be a mix of physical and virtual presentations, approaches. With influencers, international reach and viral moments in mind, everybody should keep experimenting.

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