It is unquestionable that COVID-19 will act as a catalyst for change in all facets of industry. For fashion brands, this is a difficult moment with disrupted supply chains, store closures and event cancellations, but there is also opportunity – a chance to build a more sustainable ecosystem with a focus on people and the planet (not just profit) and to connect with consumers in more creative ways. For brands to stay relevant through this time they need to be adaptable, as longevity will only be possible for those who embrace digital transformation and share compelling stories with greater meaning.
Whilst structural changes within business will be necessary at a product and process level in the long-term, it is a brand’s marketing and communications strategy that broadcasts messaging to the wider world and secures customer loyalty and brand relevance in the short term too. As we enter a changed world post-COVID, digitalization of communication will be key.
For DTC and high-street brands whose marketing mix was predominantly digital before the coronavirus pandemic, the pivot away from IRL activations and towards the self-isolating, increasingly online, the population has been easier. Such brands likely also had pre-existing influencer marketing programmes in place so, with carefully adapted tonality in messaging, can continue to reach a broad at-home audience and engage communities in taking action for the greater good.
Where these brands previously had exposure through event dressing there has been an opportunity to pivot through targeted gifting outreach. ITB has already worked with long-standing UK client Reiss to pivot on their traditional VIP dressing strategy to make it fit-for-purpose during COVID -19, switching towards focusing on impressions by gifting key digital-first talent including Vogue Williams, Nadia Anya and Jim Chapman. We’ve already seen success with over 1.9 million impressions and AVE of over £45k.
For luxury brands however, the approach to this time of change must be more considered and strategic. Previously dominant avenues for raising brand awareness such as celebrity dressing, ambassador campaigns, editorial shoots and catwalk shows will need to adapt to navigate the new guidelines in social distancing and reflect the changing consumer mindset and distaste for excess brought about by the global pandemic.
Hollywood’s red carpets have always been a nod to luxury and fantasy. Now they will need to become a communication platform and facilitate the use of fashion to signify social responsibility and allegiance to a cause. The public want to see celebrities giving due consideration to the impact of their sartorial choices and therefore making these decisions with concern for their environmental and cultural impact. With this in mind, the role of a stylist and PR team is more important than ever in crafting that messaging for talent and facilitating relationships with aligned brands. Joaquin Phoenix wearing the same Stella McCartney suit through the 19/20 awards season and Natalie Portman showing up to the 2020 Oscars in a Dior gown embroidered with the names of snubbed female directors were both indicative of the shifts ahead. Whether it’s sourcing vintage and archive pieces, re-wearing previous looks, championing designers of diverse backgrounds or showcasing sustainable fabrics – the red carpet must now be a forum for talking about a greater purpose than just aesthetics.
Strategic partnerships between designers and people of influence has always been an ingrained part of the fashion world and will continue to be so but through a more considered and thoughtful lens. On both sides there is now a need – and a desire – for careful alignment based on values and shared beliefs. Having endured a global pandemic, brands will be looking to align with talent who have stayed strong through the test of public opinion during this time of crisis – those who showed selfless action to support the global community rather than crying in their mansions. Likewise, talent will be looking to signal their awareness of the global trauma we all faced and will choose more wisely to support sustainable brands and designers, especially those who have in their turn shown support for the healthcare industry and communities.
As it stands, the status of the red carpet, fashion week calendar and IRL photographic production for the remainder of 2020 is uncertain. What we can estimate is that the schedule is likely to be reduced in both quantity and scope as health and hygiene considerations are a top priority. As a result, digital transformation will be ever more rapid. The BFC has announced that the upcoming LFW women’s and men’s shows will be combined in one gender-neutral digital platform in June. If New York, Milan and Paris look to follow suit we’ll see a great surge in innovation and creativity. Carine Roitfeld and her son Vladimir have already hosted the first digital only fashion show which streamed live on YouTube on 1st May. The catwalk section of CR Runway with amfAR Fights Covid-19 | Fashion Unites was a beautiful celebration of designers like Zuhair Murad, Alexander Wang, Dundas and more, but the behind-the-scenes content of models doing their own hair and make-up at home (often with pets and children too) showed a softer, relatable side to fashion which is a welcome change of tone in the current climate. As we shift further toward digital experiences in the coming months, those who are able to leverage the human element of talent and influencers will be more impactful than the rest.
Looking at the future of image making, I-D and Vogue Italia have already commissioned editorial shoots which took place via FaceTime and Zoom respectively, with a pared-back, raw aesthetic which is much more in keeping with the somber tone of a global pandemic. Many other brands and media entities are following suit, taking advantage of UGC and Zoom/FaceTime photography to generate new content. If digital innovations are welcomed and experimented with, there is great potential for creativity and an opportunity to shape the future aesthetic of fashion.
The ongoing shift from print to digital in the world of magazines is a key factor that will amplify the speed at which luxury brands adopt digital transformation. Brands were already reducing their advertising spend due to dwindling circulation figures and the impact of COVID-19 has only served to cut those budgets further as well as increase the online audience as people are confined to their homes and consuming digital content. Digital will then increasingly be the de facto marketing channel with brands exploring new formats and verticals to engage their online communities as well as leveraging those talents who are already optimizing content for these platforms. Digital-first influencers are an obvious choice to engage but it’s worth noting that lockdown has led to many celebrities and traditionally behind-the-scenes talents (stylists, make-up artists etc) pivoting to embrace social media even more and become people of influence in the digital space. Strategic casting of talent moving forwards will be able to tap into the audiences of those who have successfully built their platforms through this time.
Across all aspects of the industry there is a lot of hope if we just embrace the opportunity to innovate and explore new avenues of creativity. Fashion – whether on the red carpet or on a mobile screen – can still be beautiful, aspirational and meaningful. While the world as we knew it has gone dark, what emerges is actually a time to shine.