The end of fashion week? What Saint Laurent leaving Paris might mean for the wider fashion industry

With the industry disrupted, will a brand setting its own runway diary become the new normal?

French fashion house Saint Laurent has announced that for the remainder of 2020, it will “not present its collections in any of the pre-set schedules”, effectively turning its back on the structure imposed by Paris Fashion Week.

Founded in 1961 by Yves Saint Laurent, and headed by designer Anthony Vaccarello since 2016, the house known as the arbiter of chic announced in a statement that due to the “current circumstance and its waves of radical change” caused by Covid-19, the company had decided to “take control of its pace and reshape its schedule".

“Now more than ever,” it continued, “the brand will lead its own rhythm, legitimating the value of time and connecting with people globally by getting closer to them in their own space and lives.”

Through this fog of management speak, we can glean that the house has taken the choice to step outside the current prescribed fashion ‘system’ of two main collections per year, per gender (Saint Laurent has a separate men’s collection), plus two pre-collections per year.

With the next round of men’s shows in June already binned because of the pandemic, and a big question mark hanging over the women’s shows in September, Saint Laurent has made it clear it will not be part of the next Paris Fashion Week 2020, whenever or however that occurs.

Of course, this isn’t the first time that brands have sought to step outside the rigid timetabling of shows. In 2018, a few tried to spearhead a shift to a see now buy now model, allowing customers to buy clothes straight off the runway, and effectively cutting out a six-month delay.

While names such as Burberry (then led by Christopher Bailey) Tom Ford and Tommy Hilfiger tried hard to push this new concept, the resulting headaches in supply and missed sales led all to quietly drop the idea and return to the main schedule.

Now, with the arrival of the wrecking ball that is the coronavirus, we are seeing rapid evolution across the industry as brands and entities try to regroup to survive. In April, Shanghai Fashion Week became the world’s first digital-only event, a model that London Fashion Week is looking to emulate as it merges its men’s and women’s events and pushes towards an online focus.

The ‘pre-set’ schedules that Saint Laurent refers to are limited, anyway. The main spring / summer and autumn / winter collections are always shown during Paris Fashion Week, however, the pre-collections (think resort or pre-fall) have already have broken away from this timetable for many brands, and have become increasingly random and lavish affairs, unveiled at odd dates and in dazzling locations.

Case in point: a recent resort collection by Jacquemus was shown in a field of lavender in France. In terms of generating sales, it is actually these pre-collections that are the money spinners, so perhaps the time has come to quietly shelve the formal notion of what ‘fashion week’ is, and where and when it has to happen.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by GUNNAR LARSEN / Rex Features ( 42980a )

YVES SAINT LAURENT

VARIOUS - 1970s

Already, Gucci’s Alessandro Michele is calling for what he dubs “a different life” to the whirlwind of pre-scheduled shows, while recently Balmain’s Olivier Rousteing expressed support for rethinking the spectacle completely, veering towards a single, global event that could tour the world each season.

Whatever the outcome of Covid-19’s impact on the industry, for a house with the respect and reputation of Saint Laurent to choose to step outside the formal structure has to be encouraging. For a company known for taking risks and pushing boundaries to declare that it will "launch its collections following a plan conceived with an up-to-date perspective, driven by creativity”, has to be a positive step for the industry as a whole.

What that actually means remains to be seen, but with the legacy of elegant rebellion, whatever Saint Laurent decides to do next, rest assured it is going to be ground-breaking.