European trade show sector seeks solutions after June fashion events’ cancellations
On March 27, the French Fashion and Haute Couture Federation was forced to accept the extent of the Covid-19 pandemic’s impact, and announced that the Paris Fashion Week Men and the Haute Couture Week would not be held. The other leading international Fashion Weeks soon followed suit.
An entire ecosystem thrives around the fashion and luxury sectors’ main events, like fashion week shows. It was only logical that the trade events held in parallel with the leading Fashion Weeks would be waiting for the organisers’ decisions, following which they too had to throw in the towel.
“We kept in touch with other show organisers on a weekly basis, and we waited for the French federation’s decision. We learned from the media that the [Paris] Fashion Week would not be held,” lamented Boris Provost, at the helm of the Tranoï trade show. “We were neither consulted nor informed. For us and for our exhibitors, it was a relief that the wait was over,” he added.
June trade shows cancelled in Paris
The organisers of Splash, Man, Unique by Mode City, View and Tranoï, the trade shows originally scheduled to be held in Paris on June 26-28, decided to issue a joint statement with the French women's ready-to-wear, lingerie and menswear federations, announcing the events would not go ahead.
“The labels we have managed to get in touch with have understood the reasons for the cancellation,” said Antoine Floch of Man/Woman, whose New York edition too was ruled out due to the health situation in the USA. “They are all carrying on with their business, despite facing major difficulties owing to the global context. Of course, this does raise issues, because the majority [of labels] are unable to present full collections,” he added.
The Spring/Summer 2021 collections were due to be presented in June. And while the whole of Europe has been at a standstill since March, the situation had been tense for several months. “The last [Paris] Fashion Week, in March, proved to be extremely problematic,” said Provost. “Attendance was low and the level of orders that ensued far from substantial. Crucially, retailers and department stores have since revised downwards and even cancelled many orders. The majority of exhibitors have delivered their Spring/Summer 2020 collections but they haven’t yet been paid. The entire sector is under cash-flow pressure. And, since the whole industry has ground to a halt, many exhibitors were not quite ready to present their next collections in June,” added Provost.
Besides the lock-down, it is for this reason that European trade show organisers are cancelling or postponing events. Until a few days ago, northern European organisers actually seemed to think they might still go ahead with the season as planned. Of course, their shows would have attracted only local labels and retailers, given the restrictions on international travel.
Berlin’s Premium, Seek shows probably postponed to end July
However, the pandemic seems to be affecting these events too. In Germany, show organiser Premium, led by Anita Tillmann, says it is currently mulling a postponement of Premium and Seek, scheduled for the end of June, to July 28-30. No final decision has yet been taken, as measures taken outside Germany are also being assessed.
In Denmark, the organisers of the Copenhagen Fashion Week, scheduled at the beginning of August, said a few days ago that the event is going ahead. But the Danish government then announced it would emanate new regulations on public gatherings. The organisers of CIFF, Revolver, Dansk Fashion & Textile and Wear said they will issue a joint statement about their decision in the next few days, adding they are “ready to change [their] plans for this summer’s Copenhagen Fashion Week.”
In Italy, leading menswear show Pitti Uomo initially indicated its June edition would go ahead as planned in Florence. However, the date for the end of the fashion industry’s lock-down period remains uncertain and, following the cancellation of the Milan Fashion Week, Pitti Immagine eventually announced the show is postponed to 2-4 September, and will last three days and not the usual four.
“It is impossible to imagine now, in the midst of Italy’s lock-down period, what the mood of retailers and buyers will be in June. We must figure out when they will be mentally ready to make purchases for summer 2021. The commercial campaign will probably extend until September, which will become the season’s crucial period,” said Claudio Marenzi, president of Pitti Immagine. “This is why we decided to stage the show in early September. Besides, holding our summer session in October would not have made sense, being too close to next January’s winter edition,” he added.
The issue of appropriate dates and whether to stage menswear shows after the summer seems to be a hot topic. A number of labels are currently fighting for survival, and setting aside a budget for trade shows may not be a top priority. Yet, meeting their commercial contacts in person seems to be imperative for many of them.
“The majority of our contacts is telling us that if we were to organise something in September, they would be there. People are going to need to meet up again and talk after this period,” said Floch. “We could expand the Woman show, adding more floor space by using the Vendôme Cambon and Evreux pavilions, as we did last winter. One big positive right now is that the relationship with other shows is working. For example, Frédéric Maus of WSN proposed we use some of the space at the next Who’s Next show at the Porte de Versailles [exhibition centre]. But we haven't yet decided,” added Floch.
Countries may adopt different public gathering rules
Neither when nor how lock-down measures will be eased in the various countries is yet known. In France for example, President Macron announced on April 13 that restrictions will be gradually lifted from May 11, but public gatherings will be forbidden until mid-July. This means that it is very hard to plan ahead.
“We don’t yet know which policy will be adopted for events with hundreds of participants. Will it be possible to hold them? And what about travel permits?” asked Hervé Huchet, who was set to kick off the debut edition of genderless show View in Paris in June, and who is also active in the French menswear federation. “There will likely be very few exhibitors and visitors from abroad,” he added. There is even more uncertainty around the early September events, like Pitti Uomo and Parisian shows Who’s Next, Maison et Objet and SIL.
Their organisers are all faced with a huge question mark, while rumours are already circulating that the calendar of the September fashion weeks may be modified. “We have two events: Who’s Next at the beginning of September and Première Classe between the end of the month and early October,” said Frédéric Maus. “We are ready, we have staff working on a variety of issues. Notably, on various scenarios, from the worst-case ones to the possibility of staging the events as usual,” he added.
Given the uncertainty, the trade show sector agrees that fashion labels will have to find alternative ways to present their collections. The French men's ready-to-wear federation, with help from DEFI (the country’s Committee for the Development and Promotion of Apparel) has approved the creation of a data base of international buyers to which information about labels can be sent. The data base is expected to be available in June.
Virtual solutions are the most popular. Some labels have already deployed digital showrooms, and others are stepping up the pace of their efforts in this area. Even though collections will shrink, given the difficulty in producing samples, labels will manage to keep in touch with their clients by presenting new items virtually.
Trade show organisers too are keen to boost their virtual capabilities by the end of June. “We have been thinking about digital solutions for a while,” said Floch. “Some services already exist, but we wanted to work on a platform through which our community would be able to link up and do business,” he added. For the Tranoï show, virtual solutions will likely involve collaborations with partners, while the Premium group has announced it will deploy a facility for its exhibitors in partnership with wholesale platform Joor. British showroom Welcome Edition has announced the launch of its online showroom on June 25.
In France, the women’s ready-to-wear federation is staging a webinar on its Telegram account on Thursday April 16 at 9.45 am, to answer questions by fashion labels, together with B2B platforms New Black, Joor and Playologie. The View trade show, organised by Hervé Huchet, Caroline Mossot and Sébastien de Hutten of Playologie, is set to have a physical and a virtual edition. The website could offer part of its services free of charge for eight months, in order to provide commercial solutions for labels and attract exhibitors, ahead of the event’s first edition, to be held not in the autumn but next January.
Uncertainty over September shows too
The doubts enveloping the September trade shows are like a sword hanging over many organisers’ heads. Relationships with event venue owners seem fairly smooth, but show organisers are incurring costs and advancing fees to contractors, making their cash flow situation precarious as a result.
“[The Man] show is our baby, Olivier Migda’s and mine. We set it up over nine years ago, forking out €5,000 each,” said Floch. “Last year we made €4 million in revenue as beneficiaries. [The show] is quite a hefty chunk of our personal and professional investment. We aren't going to let it wither. When we started, we said we wanted to remain independent. Given the current situation, we must think about it. What’s crucial right now is that we carry on, for our employees, our exhibitors and for retailers,” added Floch.
However, in what will be a delicate post-crisis situation, trade shows must be able to attract buyers to reassure and support their exhibitors. “We must ensure that shows are busy with visitors. We are working collectively as organisers. We can go farther in doing things together. But the public authorities must help us,” said Provost of Tranoï, adding, “We need support from the city of Paris, the regional authorities and the [French] government. We don’t need a gala dinner or a cocktail party. We all know each other. We must do business effectively. We must get buyers to come to the shows and discover our exhibitors.”
In Italy, Pitti Uomo has already announced that for the show’s next edition the city of Florence will be “buyer friendly.” Will others be inspired by Italian-style hospitality?
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