Chanel to hold online-only show: Will concept be a first glimpse at fashion's new future?

The maison usually goes all out for its cruise collections, constructing everything from a spaceship to a merry-go-round for its catwalk displays

PARIS, FRANCE - MAY 03:  Models walk the runway during Chanel Cruise 2018/2019 Collection at Le Grand Palais on May 3, 2018 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)
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Since Covid-19 shut down the fashionable hearts of Milan and Paris, the fashion industry has been reeling, trying to find its new identity.

Whatever "new" normal may emerge from the chaos, it will get one step closer on Monday, June 8, when Chanel delivers its cruise 2020 / 21 collection in a digital format.

With traditional runway shows played out to live audiences off the agenda for the foreseeable future, brands have been trying to find new ways to evoke the magic, emotion and storytelling that herald the arrival of a new collection.

With the launch of its latest cruise collection – that, incidentally, will have been created entirely under France’s strict quarantine restrictions – Chanel will become the first major fashion house to unveil a new all-digital show.

At 12pm Paris time (2pm UAE time), it will deliver the world’s first high-end, online-only show. There will be no audience, no well-heeled scrum trying to gain access and no eager rush for the front row.

There will be no press pit at the end of the runway, and no photographers squabbling over the best position, jostling one another out of the way. There will be no celebrities posing for the press, decked out in the new collection.

In short, this is a whole new approach to fashion, that is as uncertain as it is innovative.

Having worked in this industry for more years than I care to remember, the prospect of a future without the spoilt but beautiful energy of a fashion show feels practical but bleak, as if we are losing something precious, something irreplaceable.

How Chanel aims to recapture that feeling remains to be seen. The only glimpse so far is via the maison's social media, with an image that shows a single model photographed against a backdrop.

Of course, that Chanel is the one to make digital history will be causing wry smiles within the industry, due to the label's famous reluctance to join the digital revolution.

Only its accessories are available to buy online, while its own website is a purchase-less "discovery" space, steering customers to the nearest boutique.

Favouring the hands-on experience of shopping, the grandeur of Chanel's shows has always matched that feeling of sumptuousness. Usually held within the elegant surrounds of Le Grand Palais in central Paris, no expense was spared creating elaborate sets that have included a spaceship, a cruise liner and a giant merry-go-round.

With the teaser video for the Cruise 20 / 21 collection giving very little away, just wobbly images of the sea, sunsets and olive branches that feel wonderfully home-made, we have no option but to wait until June 8 for the big reveal.

Will it be a grand production? The curiosity is deliciously intriguing. Whatever the show, one thing is clear – Chanel unveiling its new collection via a digital format is a vital first step in the direction of fashion's brave new world.

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