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How the pandemic is changing high fashion

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Gucci's Spring/Summer 2020 runway show in Milan in 2019.

Gucci's Spring/Summer 2020 runway show in Milan in 2019. The brand announced it is officially abandoning the traditional fashion seasons. John Phillips/Getty Images for Gucci

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Gucci is the latest fashion designer to announce that the pandemic is forcing it to change the way it does business. The brand announced it’ll stop showing new designs at fashion weeks worldwide, and eliminate three of the five fashion shows it’s traditionally held every year.

Other designers are calling for radical change in the industry, while a number of brick-and-mortar retailers — most notably Neiman Marcus — have filed for bankruptcy.

When Gucci announced that it was slashing the number of fashion shows it’ll hold, it wasn’t surprising to people who watch the sector.

“The shift hasn’t really begun with COVID, it was perhaps accelerated by it,” said Jennie Vry Liu, executive director at the Yale Center for Customer Insights. 

That’s because “having to come out with new fashions every single season in a hope that these fashions will sell is a problem for businesses, they’re overproducing,” explained Jeff Galak, a marketing professor at Carnegie Mellon.

Fashion had already been under pressure to change, said Thomai Serdari, who teaches luxury business marketing at NYU. To become more inclusive and to reduce its carbon footprint. And the fashion calendar year — planned far in advance — feels outdated in the age of fast fashion like H&M and Zara. 

“A lot of the influence comes from online channels,” Serdari said. “People were eager to see what new things were coming out from brands that were going direct-to-consumer and that had already bypassed the traditional channels of marketing.”

Traditional channels like fashion shows. Then there’s the shuttering of retailers. Sucharita Kodali, an analyst with Forrester, said that means Gucci and other brands have to figure out how to make up the sales they would have made through those stores. 

“Brands now have to sell their own merchandise, putting pressure on them to try to be more efficient,” Kodali said.

And with many brick and mortar stores closed, that’s going to take some creativity.

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