Indian fashion weeks have always been synonymous with front rows packed with A-listers, models sashaying down the ramp, celebrity showstoppers dressed in exquisite designer wear and the paparazzi clicking each second of the grandeur showcase.
But with the pandemic striking in full force, the fashion industry, too, has been hit hard and is now trying to find a footing in the new normal. As a result, shows have gone virtual and the ramps have been replaced with green screens and real-time compositions that track the motion of view so that the audience — now comfortably seated in their living rooms — can witness the magic up close with access to vantage points.
Until now, the Indian fashion fraternity has put up three virtual fashion shows — India Couture Week, The Blender’s Pride Fashion Tour and the recently-concluded Lakme Fashion Week — with each of them enthralling the audiences from across the country and abroad. But, it has been no mean feat. Presenting a physical experience in a virtual way has its own set of challenges and protocols. Numerous re-dos to get that one perfect shot, constant sanitisation and health tests, are some of the many precautions being taken to ensure the show goes on, safely.
Describing the experience of working for the digital version of the Lakme Fashion Week “like none other”, Jaspreet Chandok, Head, Lifestyle Businesses at IMG Reliance said in a press note: “We had to keep in mind the highest level of safety for all those involved. While events that we otherwise manage are held over several months, adapting to the same level of safety regulations for a five-day shoot while not compromising on guidelines or the cost, was a challenge.”
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Better safe than sorry
In an earlier interview with indianexpress.com, model Sonalika Sahay had shared how prior to the LFW shoot, everyone had strictly quarantined themselves. The five-day digital fashion week was shot in a hotel with the management ensuring that all safety measures — sanitisation, social distancing, temperature checks — were followed. With sanitisation stickers at every corner of the venue, it is estimated that at least 800 COVID-19 tests were conducted within regular intervals so that everybody on the set continued to remain safe.
Despite such stringent measures in place, organising a digital show seamlessly was easier said than done. Sharing details about the Blender’s Pride Fashion Tour, Ishwindar Singh, GM Marketing, Pernod Ricard India said, “The show came together as a result of a combination of experienced professionals from different backgrounds, endless virtual calls, on-ground safety checks and multiple looks shoots with the same talent without any time constraints. Given that there was no live audience, we had to keep spirits high to bring alive expressions and attitudes, and eventually highlight the craftsmanship of the designer.”
Thinking on your feet
It has not only affected models and organisers, but things seem have taken a complete 360-degree turn for designers, too. That, however, has not stopped them from presenting their labour of love with the same extravagance and enthusiasm. “Challenges are good. They help you evolve and push your boundaries. Something new, like a digital fashion show with restrictions, makes you go beyond the usual process and create designs which symbolize hope,” said designer Punit Balana.
And with challenges, said Aneeth Arora of Pero, comes creative freedom. “In a physical fashion show, you wait for the pictures to release. But with things going virtual, you can record and present it with a proper script and a mood board.”
Agreeing, designer Amit Aggarwal said: “Technology has been about liberation and we have to evolve and adapt. As a brand, we always believe in pushing boundaries, innovating channels of communication and interaction with our customers. While the charm and experience of a traditional runway shows are undeniable, the ability to weave a narrative and the brand vision digitally is also very exciting.“
While designers agree that the on-ground format will always be preferred, they also say that one can’t deny that it comes with its own set of restrictions, unlike virtual shows. “The virtual format allows the platform to interact with audiences despite the geographical boundaries, giving us the opportunity to expand our reach,” said Chandok.
Designer Monica Shah of Jade agreed that “virtual shows are not only more accessible, but democratic since they attract more viewers than an in-person fashion show”.
Pooja Singh, National Creative Director of Lakme Salon, shared that the new medium allowed them to focus on every element of the look. “Minute details of the hair and makeup – the glitter eye shadow, delicate braids, intricacies of the braided bun — were captured in the digital format and presented on screen in their full glory, which makes it visually appealing.”
As compared to physical shows and their invite-only audiences, virtual shows not only give access to thousands of people to tune-in at once but also allows them to create an exclusive experience for themselves. Chandok added that this year’s LFW was more inclusive than ever. “It was more than just a live-stream. The core innovation was around the creation of a surreal 3D experience, where the discovery and interactions take place in a delightful manner. We had shoppable shows, where viewers were able to put designs directly from the virtual runway into an online shopping cart.”
The future ahead
It is no secret that technology has been successful in bringing the fashion community together but can it replace in-person shows? Even though designers champion the idea of doing online consultations and dress-fittings, they believe there is a place for both in the coming times. Shah said that whatever the future holds, she would love to explore a confluence of both the mediums.
But, designer Anavila Misra shared that with virtual and real worlds coming together much faster than ever before, she misses the rush and excitement of meeting the fraternity. “Also, I believe that fashion will continue to evolve and if the industry doesn’t accept the new changes anytime soon, it shall make them redundant. I think the current scenario presents an opportunity for the tech and fashion space to come together in a never-seen-before format which, from just being fashion shows on the digital platform, will very soon move to virtual reality. So, I think the future is bright for tech and fashion to collide and create a new design of fashion interface not just limited to shows.”
Concurring, Chandhok said: “Today, tech is enabling people to have rich and luxurious experiences, virtually. With the right tech integrations, the virtual experience can be a rich and exclusive, mirroring an in-person experience. The touch and feel of Indian craftsmanship is just as important.”
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