Interview with Serge CARREIRA (Fashion and luxury specialist & lecturer at Sciences Po Paris)
By Thomas Zylberman (Stylist & Trends Expert at CARLIN CREATIVE TREND BUREAU)
Thomas Zylberman: Serge, that’s nice to meet you again! While in Paris, Fashion Week SS21 ended on October 6, can we say that we really experienced a “phygital” Fashion Week?
Serge Carreira: We can obviously say without any doubt. There have indeed been a variety of formats, both physical and digital. The variations of these digital presentations also differed according to the brands. It has been observed that physical events have evolved to adopt the new health rules. Digital proposals could be video-captured shows as well as visual narratives. This allowed everyone to find a mode of expression suited to their message and their values.
T.Z: We saw physical shows relayed in image capture, “real-fake” shows shooted in a studio, and 100% digital proposals. Can we thus affirm that there were three main formats for presenting the collections or is this too restrictive?
S.C: The formats of presentations or meetings have taken innovative forms, even for a certain number of houses that were traditionally accustomed to parade. The digital interaction could, at times, be different by not seeking to capture the physical event on video. These films were meant to express something different, a creative message or an inspiration.
T.Z: With these different formats, has the Fashion Week audience changed? Since the shows are traditionally reserved for the press and influencers, were they more geared towards the general public this season? Was Fashion Week this year aimed at customers rather than the media?
S.C: This is an evolution that has taken place for several years. In fact, Fashion Week was already a digital event with the advent of social media. These have led houses to reach out more directly to their audience and their communities.
The parades have become more and more event-driven while having an impact in the digital world. The context is, however, different as a number of houses are forced to generate content in the absence of a physical event. This certainly brings questions, but it opens up new possibilities. If, through digital devices, Fashion Week was less strictly professional, it would still largely remain so. The presentations of the houses had an echo both with the press and with buyers.
T.Z: In this context of phygitalization, what’s the place of Paris among the other fashion capitals? Has it retained its dominant position?
S.C: The strength of Paris remains because it attracts and brings together some of the most creative brands from around the world. It is all of these brands that make Paris so attractive and powerful. Parisian attractiveness remains. We can take as proof the list of the new entrants in the calendars of Fashion Weeks of last July and September.
T.Z: Wasn’t this atypical Fashion Week beneficial for smaller designers, to cope with the impossible tug of war with the big houses’ shows?
Marine Serre YouTube
S.C: Emerging brands have been able to take advantage of these Fashion Weeks and these new devices to make themselves better known. The performance of the YouTube channels of these houses was exceptional. They have benefited from greater visibility in terms of the schedule. This is, in particular, the case for presentation labels. This format also helped to stimulate more curiosity than usual.
T.Z: Do we get the impression that the main houses (Dior, Chanel, Louis Vuitton) performed just like before the pandemic, “business as usual”?
S.C: All the houses have adapted to the circumstances. For the big ones in particular, they have adapted to the new context. Moreover, they were not the only ones to make shows. Many emerging brands have chosen physical events or catwalks. They have also benefited from spinoffs that are often more significant than usual.
T.Z: It seems that for some designers, it was sort of a committed act to make a “real” event?
S.C: It is, indeed, a commitment. It expresses a willingness to speak up with a creative and positive message. Fashion is about emotion. And the show remains a way of expressing visions, values and a universe.
T.Z: Ahead of Paris Fashion Week, a lot of designers spoke out about the unsustainable pace of the fashion industry. What is your view on the evolution of the calendar? The number of presentations?
S.C: As such, the proliferation of collections that has been criticized for some time is not correlated with Fashion Week. There are two Fashion Weeks per year and per sector. In theory, therefore, there may only be two collections per year. If houses are doing more, it is for other reasons, notably under pressure from distributors. Some choose to show elsewhere, in China for example, but that does not mean that there are fewer presentations. Again, this is a question of distribution and sales.During the first confinement, there was a period of astonishment. This allowed for in-depth, constructive and necessary reflection on the evolution of our system. But we could note the absence of a real voice from a key player in the industry, distribution, while it pushed to produce more collections, earlier and earlier and sell them off, almost immediately delivered.
T.Z: What do you think about houses like Jacquemus, which are really attached to catwalks but positioned outside the official calendar, outside seasonal timing? Does it allow more visibility, to emerge more quickly when you are a small house?
S.C: There isn’t really a single model. Some designers may be ready to present a show immediately, others need time and an introductory phase before they can express a message, via a presentation. The show format is a kind of framework for our industry, it allows us to share an emotional dimension. But each brand journey is very unique. Some houses, during their development, may find other means of expression that will suit them better than a traditional show.
T.Z: When some brands present their collections before everyone else, isn’t that a way to grab the buyers budget?
S.C: This industry can only function as a community. “Every man for himself” has his limits. There is a high risk for disappearing when you are not strong in a spilt-up system. Believing that one is smarter than everyone else is dangerous in this industry. If purchasing schedules change, there could always be some that move further.
T.Z: Have we really put “Show Now – Buy Now” to rest?
S.C: The question is not whether this is a good or a bad concept. It depends on the types of labels. However, this cannot be a model for a “real” house of creation. The “Show Now – Buy Now” means that it is not the designer but the sales managers who determine the creative choices of the house.
T.Z: You are familiar with London fashion, do you have any visibility on the progress of their Fashion Week? It seems that some brands like Mary Katrantzou or the Richard Quinn phenomenon have passed their turn this season?
S.C: As elsewhere, it is the medium-sized houses that are suffering the most in the current context. Several houses benefit from aid and support mechanisms. London has opted for an almost exclusively digital format. Only a few actors have chosen to present in physics.
TZ: We could have had the impression that Paris Fashion Week took sometimes a societal position in these times of pandemic, while in Milan, we could observe a much more lighter vision of femininity, as if it nothing was happening?
S.C: There have been different views on both sides of the Alps, but always linked to the current context. The positions taken by the designers are varied. And it doesn’t just depend on the location. Perhaps a more “preoccupied” gaze dominated in Paris, although the “escape” theme was also strong.
TZ: Between certain festive, joyful presentations, almost breaking with the mood of the moment and others which seemed more preoccupied, can we say that there are those who clearly decided that fashion is there to make people dream and some others more pragmatic, more reasoned?
S.C: There is not a one and only message. What is essential is that the tone matches the identity of the house. Each of them was able to absorb the context and express it in its own way: the festive option at Isabel Marant or Balmain is not a lack of compassion but rather an optimistic vision of the future. This energy is well and truly rooted in the current context. On the other hand, at Hermès, it was not austerity that was expressed but rather a celebration of something timeless.
T.Z: I have the feeling that this season, there were fewer cross-sectional drivers, great trends that we usually find among everyone; but rather collections carried by the essence of the house, the designer’s vision, a more personal expression?
S.C: While so much seems murky, uncertain, there is an essentialist need for houses. This is the opportunity, more than ever, to express its purpose, its style, its quintessence. The speech had to be relevant and fair. Novelty for novelty was of no interest. The aim is to rework the style of the house, adapting it to the present, in order to connect the house to this complex period.
T.Z: Is this a good time for the emergence of new designers, new talents?
S.C: Despite the economic context and the crisis, I remain convinced that this is a time of possibilities. The platforms mentioned earlier have allowed more confidential creators who are usually more visible. It is a context in which there is a desire for something new, to confront to more relevant visions. And it is the younger generation who also know how to formulate them.
Charles de Vilmorin
T.Z: Well, it seems that we hopefully can see a widening of possibilities…Thank you again, Serge Carreira for these enriching highlights!