The pandemic broke fashion’s spell: less is now more

The pandemic changed our lives, and also the way we relate to fashion. The image here, by artist Beppe Conti, is entitled “ Hope:” a nurse carrying light and leading us towards the end of this tunnel (Artwork by Beppe Conti)

Excessive consumerism blinded us with “needed” material abundance until the COVID-19 pandemic broke the spell. Living in a consumerist culture, we were likely unaware of all we have in our wardrobes at home. I came to understand this during the lockdown, a time when I only shopped my closet, picking solely sweatpants, leggings, and other loungewear. And I was not alone in that. 

 

The simple taste in dress was restful in a time we were feeling the worrisome atmosphere of a war.

As Italy emerges from the lockdown, I realize that I have too much stuff. So maybe I won’t be buying more as I start to see the value in the clothing I already own. 

This weekend I am going to spring clean my wardrobe. I will take an inventory of the garments I have. It will help me create a fresh, new, upcycled look. And even though boutiques and the department stores have reopened, I am certain I will find how little I need to buy. I have no immediate desire to shop, but I know I will long for that again.

For a while, I will continue to wear what I discovered: casual clothing. I like it a lot and comfort is king. During the lockdown, brands and social channels that drew attention to loungewear could get a natural boost from the trend.

But the time will come when I get dressed up again, though it may on a slightly more economical scale than usual, given the current difficult economic situation. The pandemic affects our purchasing power.

Slow Fashion diventerà lo spirito della moda, ora che si vuole ripartire in maniera sostenibile. Giorgio Armani è in prima linea nella diffusione del movimento (Slow Fashion, art work di Beppe Conti. Artwork by Beppe Conti).


As well, the pandemic disrupted businesses. The lockdown has left clothes stores with weeks of unsold goods on their hands and now is the time for the fashion industry to rethink how it can become more sustainable. 

The fashion industry will change on several levels. Fashion has always reflected the Zeitgeist, the spirit of the time, in society.

A few weeks ago, Mr. Giorgio Armani told me that our way of dressing will be altered by COVID-19. “Our way of dressing will change because it is inevitable,” he said. “The approach will differ depending on the brands and the audience they are targeting, so I think it is premature to talk about that.”

Fashion will be more sustainable and more accordant with nature. Fashion will allow the universe to run harmoniously. It will be tuned to nature finely.

“I believe the fashion world should draw lessons from this experience and review or rethink priorities,” Mr. Armani told me. “I always thought that the excessive pressure on designers to produce and show more and more collections and special capsules per year responded more to the fashion industry’s need rather than to real customer requests as the retail shops are saturated by oversupply and overproduction.”

Giorgio Armani, iconico rappresentante del Made in Italy, ha capito l’importanza della Slow Fashion e della sostenibilità (Photo: Julian Broad)


The legendary Milanese fashion designer added that “this shocking, scary experience teaches us an obvious lesson: the importance of saving, making (a garment) with less, and making it better. The fashion industry will have to pay more respect to the environment and be more attentive to the quality of our clothes as well.”

In the most perilous weeks of COVID-19, Mr. Armani was the first in his field to move quickly toward the direction of real life, turning all of his Italian production plants into sites for making single-use medical overalls and isolation gowns for healthcare workers. That production continues today even as his creative work, the Giorgio Armani’s fashion collections, has restarted. 

His flagship stores have reopened worldwide with 10 percent of proceeds from sales earmarked for donation to charities operating in their respective cities.

When stores, restaurants, bars, and other public venues reopened in Italy on May 18, the now-iconic giant image by Venetian artist Franco Rivolli showing a female doctor with wings on her back cradling Italy became the subject of a mural in the Brera Design District of Milan. Giorgio Armani's words of encouragement, “To restart safely we still need her” (the doctor), appear next to the artist's drawing.

The pandemic changed our lives, and also the way we relate to fashion. The image here, by artist Beppe Conti, is entitled “ Hope:” a nurse carrying light and leading us towards the end of this tunnel (Artwork by Beppe Conti)


In the early critical days of the coronavirus outbreak, Mr. Armani donated about $2.2 million (2 million euros) to hospitals in Milan, Bergamo, Piacenza, Rome, and Versilia, as well as to the Italian civil protection agency, which was coordinating the country’s response to the health crisis. Weeks later, through ads placed in Italian daily newspapers, he sent a thank you letter to the doctors, nurses, and paramedics, the real heroes in the fight against coronavirus.

Giorgio Armani is ringing in the change that is certain to come. It is time to re-experiment again. The pandemic has been a wakeup call for the fashion industry, showing it needs to reset to a more sustainable model. The sector is responsible for 10 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions every year.

Fashion is currently a metaphorical blank canvas waiting to be drawn upon. It can be filled with new shapes, ideas, and thoughts. At the moment, designers are in the brainstorming phase for their next collections. They felt the pause button and are working on a strategy to reconnect both with their businesses and also with our finite planet, building more well-thought-out and sustainable relationships.

Editor-in-chief of American Vogue Anna Wintour said that the COVID-19 pandemic will change the fashion industry forever. “There’s no way we’re going back to the way things were,” she said. Wintour noted that designers and brands will need to pivot and have "more of an emphasis on sustainability.” The “waste" and "excess" will no longer be tolerated.

“The virus made brands and consumers realize how fast fashion costs the earth,” says Emanuele Farneti, director of Vogue Italia. “We expect new models to express respect and functionality, just like what happened after the Great Depression in 1929 or after WWII when women favored practical clothing - they dressed chic but with few frills and Coco Chanel knew something about it. We will buy less and upcycle the clothes we already have. Kate Middleton does that too.”

I always loved to mix and match my pieces with pieces from my mother’s or my grandmother’s closets. I believe women will turn more to their mothers’ and grandmothers’ wardrobes, and not only because of the sentimental connection. The quality of old garments is superb and vintage style elements beautifully harmonize with a contemporary expression, a result that has intelligent sobriety of forms, new nuances of minimalism, and soothing colors.

Hopefully, we will buy more consciously. Now that lockdown restrictions have been lifted “we buy something exciting that gives us joy, something durable,” says Stefano Fenili, partner of Bain & Company, a consultancy firm specialized in fashion. “For sure, everybody is much more cost-conscious. There has been a general impoverishment and this inevitably has repercussions on shopping.”

A large poster of the famous wall painting by Franco Rivolli, representing a healthcare worker with angel wings cradling Italy, has been exhibited in Via Broletto, Milan, since the 18th of May. Giorgio Armani wanted it there, and completed it with a personal message (Courtesy of Giorgio Armani)


But it is also true that we are better off buying a few quality garments than a whole slew of cheap ones. We won’t need as many clothes and our life will be simpler.

Also the in-store purchase experience has changed. “We are paying more attention to the hygienic conditions in the stores,” says Mr. Fenili. “Being obsessed with sanitation, we carefully evaluate the health procedures and decide whether to trust them or not. We cannot touch garments. Do we feel safe trying on a dress now knowing someone tried it on before? One wonders if that person has been wearing a mask and gloves.”  Hopefully, before too long, we will go back to a more human and more relaxing shopping experience.

These days, fashion businesses need a robust online presence. E-commerce is the key to this new chapter.

Camera Nazionale Della Moda Italiana, which organizes the Milan Fashion Week, has unveiled plans to merge its women’s and men’s wear shows into a digital form. The first Milano Digital Fashion Week will run from July 14-17 in a virtual event that will include interviews, podcasts, designer diaries, webinars, and digital showrooms. It will welcome both industry insiders and fashion consumers. Brands will present their Spring/Summer 2021 men’s collections and their Spring/Summer 2021 men’s and women’s pre-collections. The event is the initial and collective response to changing scenarios in the industry.
The big names and new generation of designers will bond with one another to support the Italian fashion industry in this challenging moment. 

 

The Milano Digital Fashion Week can be watched live on the digital channels of Camera Nazionale Della Moda Italiana (cameramoda.it; Instagram; Twitter; Facebook; Linkedin; Weibo; Youtube).

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