Can fashion weeks successfully go digital? Malaysian industry insiders weigh in

In a Covid-19 age, fashion weeks have to embrace change. It is just a matter of how and when, according to (from left) Andrew Tan, Bon Zainal and Melinda Looi.

Having to adhere to physical distancing, fashion weeks are attempting to go fully online. Shanghai Fashion Week was one of the firsts that switched to an entirely digital format. It took place in March.

This was followed by China Fashion Week in Beijing, early this month. Style capitals like London and Milan have announced that they will go ahead with their fashion weeks too – albeit without an audience.

But can such a format be successful? Fashion weeks after all, are characterised by the glitz and glamour of front row audiences. What is a runway show if not for its large crowds or exclusivity of a guest list?

Andrew Tan, the founder of Kuala Lumpur Fashion Week, says that people are used to quick content. He thinks digital-only events will be boring, explaining that it is the energy of an in-person runway show that helps capture interest.

“When you attend a fashion event live – there are so many distractions. With the energy of the people and music, that’s when fashion comes alive! Who wants to watch a show (on screen) with models going back and forth for half an hour or even 15 minutes?” he notes.

Read more: Milan follows in London's footsteps, gears up for first all-digital fashion week

President of the Malaysian Independent Designers Association (Moda), Melinda Looi, agrees. She believes that digital shows would not have the same impact as live shows, which can be more immersive for the audience with music and special stage setups.

“We don’t have a choice at the moment, but to try to accept the ‘new normal’ way of presenting a collection, ” she however, admits. “Time for the fashion industry to switch to digital, surely.”

'Forced to adopt a different way of operating'

That said, live-stream fashion weeks are not entirely new. Digital Fashion Week, a fashion event inaugurated in 2012 (last held in Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand), offered both an online and offline platform for designers to present their collections.

In the past, major fashion houses have also live streamed their shows at fashion weeks. The intention was to give a chance to those unable to attend (whatever the reason may be) a peek at the new collections.

“The industry has been offering a digital platform to fashion weeks, but the uptake has always been slow. Then, boom – the pandemic happened. We are now forced to adopt a different way of operating, ” comments Bon Zainal, regarding how fashion in the Covid-19 age has changed.

Read more: Is Animal Crossing’s virtual world now the new fashion week?

Bon is the co-chairman of Malaysia Fashion Week, as well as the president of the Bumiputera Designers Association. He says everyone is pretty much going through a “trial and error” period right now.

“It is not a matter of whether we want to or not. Everyone needs to adapt. Malaysia Fashion Week is still in discussions about how to go virtual. We will also come up with a plan for matching designers with buyers during the event, via online means, ” he says.

“Designers in Malaysia are all going digital for e-commerce, but to do a show online, this will definitely be something we all need to learn. Moda will be looking into this in near future, ” adds Looi.

Tan states: “We have no expectations at the moment. Since it has been a very disruptive year, we are very open to innovative and disruptive ideas to bring Malaysian fashion brands and designers to an even bigger audience.”

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