“Discussing the Future of Fashion” Alan Friedman by Aybuke Barkcin

Dear Shaded Viewers,

Fashion has a strategic importance in Italy’s economy as it is the second most important sector in the country, with over 60,000 companies and 2 million employees working in the industry. It brings an estimate of 95 billion dollars of revenue per year and makes Italy the second biggest exporter of fashion in the world, as well as giving an immense value to the city of Milan.

But the industry should not only be talked in numbers but should also be recognised as a soft power for Italy, as it exports the Italian Dream and enhances the Italian Lifestyle all around the world.

As one of the hardest hit countries due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Italy is flourishing again as it takes over the first ever Digital Milan Fashion Week. To discuss the effects of the pandemic, prominent American journalist Alan Friedman hosted a series of video conferences with the various figures of Italian fashion called “Discussing the Future”. Here are the key points from the discussions on what we can expect from the future of fashion…

Made in Italy: Italy’s leading brands have come together to support one of the country’s most valuable treasures… the artisans. Due to the pandemic and the economic slow-down, there were grand emphasises on protecting small entrepreneurs and artisans who built the famous Made in Italy merchandise mark. The interviews also touched upon the importance of educating and training the new generations of artisans to continue the Italian-know-how of making products. It was said by Serge Brunschwig (CEO of Fendi) that it was crucial to generate a desire amongst the young people, to push them in learning the knowledge passed down from generation to generation.

Sustainability: Another grand topic that was present in the discussions was the matter of sustainability, which gained momentum due to the pandemic. According to Patrizio Bertelli (Co-founder and Co-CEO of Prada), although Covid-19 wouldn’t radically change the consumption habits,  the tools will; as brands will turn to re-cycled packaging, upcycled fabrics, re-use of textiles etc. He and other leaders expect brands to shift towards more sustainable practices and accept sustainability as part of their values. As Andrea Illy (Chairman of IllyCafe) expressed in the discussions, in the past luxury was about pleasure and hedonism, but now luxury is beginning to adopt an ethical meaning as well.

Quality over Quantity: The fast paced side of the industry has always been a topic of debate; whether 4 collections are needed every year, along with pre-fall and pre-spring, drops, collaborations… For the future of fashion, the leading figures in the industry believe slow fashion will be embraced once again, with increasing importance on the quality of products. We are already seeing this season’s designers present less collections, therefore in a post-Covid system, according to Diego Della Valle (Chairman of Tod’s), “…we have to be agile. So, less product, fewer projects, better storytelling and products that can have a longer life span,”.

Digitalisation: Digitalisation has been a point of interest for brands for many years as it not only presents a channel to sell their products straight to the consumers, but also a platform to reach new people, enhance their stories and strengthen their connection with their community. The breakout of Covid-19 has pushed brands to work in new capacities as shopping shifted towards online. According to Maurizio Capobianco (Vice President of Salesforce), there has been 47% growth in buying apparel and 33% growth in luxury through e-commerce during the pandemic. With the growing economic activity online and the help of artificial intelligence; brands are expected to increase their focus on creating more personalised experiences and further enhancing their one-on-one dialogues with their consumers.

Future of Young Designers: One of the important aspects of fashion weeks is discovering new talent. It has been extremely challenging for young designers to survive Covid-19, as their major cash-flow which came through wholesales took a large hit. As Alan Friedman asked industry leaders about the future of young designers, it was expressed that the ‘product’ still remains the key focus for consumers, therefore for young brands the products and creativity should continue to be at the centre of their businesses. Furthermore, despite the pandemic, young designers should continue to communicate their stories and products with their consumers through social media platforms. Additionally, according to Sabrina Scarpellini (Co-Founder and Fashion Director of Massimo Bonini Showroom) young designers should be allowed to do less and to do slow in the industry. They should direct their focus on making “fewer collections and better timing” as putting out too many products at once may decrease their chances for success.

Future of Retail: For the future of retailers, the discussions mostly focused on what the industry had already known; that retailers should be present online, create unique shopping experiences, remain open minded and have a wide selection of diverse brands in their shops. But an aspect Stefano Martinetto (Co-Founder and CEO of Tomorrow London Ltd) observed was specifically about how independent retailers are under the risk of losing their connections with big brands due to the pandemic. He stated that they should create an opportunity from this disadvantage of not having big brands, by including independent designers in their stores and working towards strengthening communication within their local communities.

Future of Buyers: With travelling restrictions still in place for many countries, buyers are facing various difficulties as they cannot touch fabrics, feel the quality of products, understand the right shade of colors and listen to the story of brands… but instead have to work through digital platforms to understand and order the products. The buyer, as mentioned by Beppe Angiolini (President of the Chamber of Buyers), has become virtual. But he insists that the past experiences and memories of products will prove helpful when working virtually. He also believes that interests have changed, stating that “the uncontrolled consumerism in certain fashion seasons will never be repeated again. So, everything will be re-sized, everything will be more human in my opinion.” The pandemic may also see the traditional showrooms change, as suggested by Stefano Martinetto, the new way should be experimental showrooms with installations and curators present.

Hybrid Model: As many leaders have mentioned, fashion will see the continuation of the hybrid model, as brands will be both physically and digitally present for consumers. According to Maurizio Capobianco, based on a research they made with the Gen-Z generation, it was found that Gen-Z consumers still want to go to the stores but they want to find unique experiences. Therefore, the pandemic did not create a profound shift over the importance of stores but it has further enhanced the role of e-commerce. Another hybrid model that was mentioned in the discussions is the runway. Future fashion weeks may see some designers pursuing physical shows while others choose to do virtual ones, to cut down on costs and reach more consumers.

Notes: In my humble opinion, the discussions were very informative, relevant and successful. Alan Friedman was very precise in leading the interviews and they were a pleasure to watch. It’s very important today to listen and learn how the leading figures in our industry respond to the changes. However, I wished certain subjects were discussed further, one being Black Lives Matter and what kind of policies the leaders of the industry are implementing to support designers of color and to include them within their companies.

Furthermore, a point that upset me was realising that only a few female leaders were in the discussions. In an industry where majority of the focus relies on selling products to women, it is disappointing to see the lack of female creative directors and female leaders in companies overall.

Lastly, it would have been interesting to hear the opinions of the interviewees about the pre-Covid fashion system and whether they saw any mistakes in the way they pursued their businesses that the pandemic helped them realise or reflect. It has been acknowledged by many of fashion’s prominent figures that the system had not been working properly for a long time and the pandemic only brought the mistakes further onto the surface. There is an excellent article in NYTimes which addresses the fashion system pre-Covid, if you would like to read: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/08/06/magazine/fashion-sweatpants.html

But overall, it is refreshing to see different figures in fashion come together and initiate changes in the business. Let’s hope that post-Covid fashion system will be more sustainable, inclusive, creative and inviting to new designers for the future.

Link to Videos for “Discussing the Future”: https://milanofashionweek.cameramoda.it/en/Playlists/?v=video20358#slide0

Aybuke Barkcin

Aybüke Barkçin is an art director, photographer, curator and writer that looks at fashion through the lens of political and societal dynamics. She completed her master's Creative Direction in POLIMODA, Italy and has a background in International Relations and Graphic Design. Her work can be found in her website: https://www.aybukebarkcin.com/