Future fashion

Will the way we dress, shop and design ever be the same again?

It’s often felt like 2020 has been the year that wasn’t. Our diaries – glaringly empty or mocking us with their scratched-out engagements – have proved the point. Ironically, however, it was only as we hit pause on ‘real life’ that we had the freedom to press fast-forward and get to a place of genuine, positive change. 

In fashion, these changes have been swift and fundamental. The COVID-19 pandemic and Black Lives Matter protests left the industry’s clunkiest mechanics and most troubling corners exposed. We knew already that business as usual wasn’t working, but it took this moment of reckoning to implement the necessary steps to address that. Suddenly, seismic shifts that could have taken years were happening in just weeks. But what’s next? And where does the industry go now? 

It’s at the swishiest, swankiest, most showy end of the fashion spectrum that change has been obvious – nowhere more so than with fashion weeks. Thanks to social distancing guidelines, designers – scheduled to show at couture, men’s or present their SS21 collections – had to adapt. Fast. They achieved this by migrating their IRL runways to remote presentations that ran the gamut from digital shows to live streams and mini documentaries.  

The catwalk show as we know it will, of course, return. But will we be seeing less of them? It’s likely; 2020 has ushered in a slowdown, as we all set about re-evaluating the difference between ‘want’ and ‘need’. ‘More, more, more’ culture felt at odds with the stillness of lockdown. Why did we have all this stuff? Designers too have recognised that the relentless churning out of collections had to stop. In May, Gucci’s creative director Alessandro Michele released a statement saying that he was vowing to cut down from five shows a year to two ‘seasonless’ collections.  

‘I have designed for a lot of big brands both global and British over the last 20 years. The increase in options, collections and drops is crazy!’ says Katherine Gethings, a freelance design consultant who works as design manager for TOG member Golden Empire, which owns a 900-person-strong factory north of Shanghai. ‘It puts so much pressure on design teams and the buyers that it almost becomes like a machine – churning out product for the sake of having it, not because there is a genuine requirement. So, a positive change is that all brands are seemingly scaling back, buying narrower and deeper, which is also much more efficient for manufacturing. I think brands need to focus on making what they offer count, be sustainable, have longevity and be the best they can be.’ 

Another positive change we can hope for is to see an industry united in the wake of this year’s turbulence. According to TOG member Mytheresa’s fashion buying director Tiffany Hsu: ‘Brands, showrooms and agencies should collaborate more. Dates and places can be aligned and therefore less travel would be needed. The current situation has proven to be a spark for innovation, which now needs to be translated into the post-pandemic fashion system.’ 

What’s felt particularly galvanising to witness is the way that brands rallied together during lockdown and made meaningful pivots, adapting to manufacture PPE or hand sanitiser. Golden Empire, for instance, started manufacturing PPE rather than its usual merchandise for the likes of Joules, Fat Face and Boden during the pandemic. Moving with the times doesn’t just play into a more unified culture but is economically essential, too. As Gethings explains: ‘The ability to react quickly and zigzag according to current trends and demands is imperative for survival.’  

We now expect the brands we support to stand for something, to have a voice, and to use their commercial might for better. Posting a black square on Instagram as a sign of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, for instance, isn’t enough on its own; we want to know companies are making meaningful changes. We want them to be held accountable. We will care more about who is making our clothes, where they came from, that the brands we buy into treat their staff with respect. To move forward, we must do so together.  

On a more intimate level, 2020 has also meant a time of rewiring of our personal style. Behind closed doors, we leant into the joy of comfort and practicality, embracing elasticated waists, trackpants and oversized layers with an enthusiasm nobody could have predicted. Fitness and loungewear brands thrived in this otherwise commercially challenging year, like luxe activewear brand and TOG member Varley, which saw an uptick in its online sales during lockdown.  

‘The way we work and dress has changed forever,’ muses the brand’s founder, Lara Mead. ‘I think this shift was happening pre-COVID but it accelerated the change. Women in particular are seeking a comfortable, functional but stylish wardrobe that can carry them throughout their day.' Now we know we can get things done even in our pyjamas, it’s unlikely we will ever return to the constriction of pre-2020 fashion. Rather we will make our ‘real life’ wardrobes work for us. ‘I’ve always loved a good tailored suit and I will keep wearing them,’ says Hsu. 'But I might have a more relaxed approach and will mix it more with knits and jersey.’ 

But, inevitably, our appetite for dressing up will also return. We will want to luxuriate in the joy of fashion once more. The heels, handbags and date-night dresses that have been languishing in wardrobes everywhere will be taken out for a twirl again. After all, your 2020 diary might have been empty, but here’s hoping 2021’s won’t be.  

Laura Antonia Jordan is Grazia's fashion news and features director