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The Changing Retail and Fashion Landscape

I’m going to share something with you that will show my age. You’ve probably seen those 80's movies with the groups of teenage girls wandering through shopping malls, spending their allowance or paychecks on the latest fashions and accessories, grabbing a snack at the food court, dreaming of buying those designer handbags, and loitering in the stores with the cutest clerks. Can you picture it? Can you hear the water fountains, smell Mrs. Field’s Cookies, and hear the soft music playing overhead?

That was me. I was one of those 80's girls. I am now one of the many grown women feeling the nostalgia of passing an afternoon at the mall, in the air conditioning, giggling with friends, buying the latest record or cassette tape, and collecting designer jeans, Izod shirts, Vans, neon legwarmers and scrunchies (OK, maybe I don’t miss everything). But…the shopping mall. A central gathering place around which our young lives were centered, a safe place where we could cut our fashion teeth and start to define our own style, like a living beauty magazine. Fashions we saw in pictures from months ago were now hanging on racks in front of us, ready to touch and try on. And it served as much more than a shopping mecca - our social lives where shaped, defined, enhanced, and defined by which logos were on our shopping bags.

Of course, maybe it wasn’t all roses and rainbows (my lackluster budget usually forced me to choose between an order of fries and those cute new socks), but it sure was a fun way to pass an afternoon with friends.

Sadly (from my sentimental perspective), those days are fading. Shopping malls have relinquished their popularity to digital carts, shopping in our pajamas from the sofa, and home delivery. Gone are the days when you’d see the weekend sale ads in the newspaper and rush to the mall, hoping to find your prize in your size and preferred color. Now if one doesn’t have what you want, a few clicks later, you find it. Boom. Satisfied. Move on.

Malls are dying. And the recent pandemic has made an even stronger negative impact on many companies already planning on closing brick-and-mortar stores in favor of e-commerce sites. This year alone we have lost or will lose 25% of Express stores and 20% of Macy’s stores - and Macy’s is considering opening smaller sites in strip mall locations (what??). Nordstrom has or will end up closing 16 stores. Lord & Taylor will only have 40 stores remaining (and how much did it hurt when their flagship NYC store shuttered?). JC Penney will only have 600 stores, Gap is closing around half of its stores, Sears is all but a lost cause…I could go on and on.

As I shift my moping from being a consumer to one of an image professional, I find myself scouring the news for updates on store closings, bankruptcies, and shopping trends. I do get the appeal of on-line shopping, of having almost endless options at my immediate fingertips, but I’m not sure I’ll ever lose my personal bias toward feeling the fabric, seeing the drape on the body during a fitting, and comparing the subtleties of the cobalt blues from different designers, in person. Even when shopping for myself, I still prefer in-person. Although I do love a good deal.

Fashion in a virtual world

And speaking of in-person…the entire fashion world has been thrown into a virtual setting, including fashion shows and weeks. With the pandemic still holding its grip on the world, designers have pushed their creative talents into new territory: virtual and digital shows.

Although some (not all) fashion weeks and shows are expected to return sometime this fall to present Spring 2021 fashions, they expect to follow recommendations from local health and public authorities, so the landscape and design are sure to change. Meanwhile, while we recognize this is temporary, it does set the stage for some rather innovative and, dare I say, ingenious presentations. I think this environment has truly allowed designers to display their full creative chops. For example (and some of these examples may have already happened at the time of publishing, but I have to mention them):

  • Balmain is presenting their summer couture line from a barge on the River Seine, with live models and performers. The event is closed to the public, but visible from the riverbanks.

  • Christian Dior is doing a live show sans audience at the Piazza del Duomo in Lecce, Italy.

  • Hermès is livestreaming a digital experience tied to its spring 2021 collection.

We’re getting virtual events, streaming video, multi-media presentations with complementary and informational collateral - again, all viewable from the comforts of our homes and offices. The advantages are pretty strong - no or reduced site or venue limitations (hello, green screens and digital backgrounds!), removed scheduling issues, no seating constraints, etc. Yes, there are a reduced number of shows, dates are being shifted in the hopes of having a live show, but I also found something else exciting. The Swedish Fashion Association, which had cancelled their shows for the past two years due to environmental concerns, are restarting their shows in a virtual setting. How sensational is that?

But even with all these innovative developments, and the ability to reach a larger audience, we can’t forget that fashion shows, with their couture designs and sometimes outlandish presentations, are art. And art is emotional. It should be experienced in person.

Do you feel more impact looking at Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” in an art book, or standing directly in front of it at MoMA? Are flowers more fragrant on a website, or in your garden? There is definitely a trade-off. And while I will and do enjoy seeing fashions presented in these needed modern platforms, there’s nothing like feeling the energy in the room during a show.

It’s almost as exciting as finding an Earth, Wind & Fire album on sale.

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Sep 23, 2022

Lovely blog you haave

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