Cover SHANGHAI, CHINA - OCTOBER 12: Models showcase designs on the runway at Reclothing Bank show as part of the Shanghai Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2019 at Xintiandi Hall A on October 12, 2018 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by Visual China Group via Getty Images/Visual China Group via Getty Images)

As the spread of the COVID-19 virus continues to threaten the lives and livelihood of everyone around the globe, events big and small, including the Tokyo Olympics, have been forced to be postponed indefinitely or cancelled. While the Big Four fashion weeks (New York, London, Milan and Paris) in February and early March went on with few changes (Giorgio Armani changed to a livestream format last minute), many brands already experimented with livestreaming for the first time perhaps to accommodate a number of Asian buyers and press could not attend. Since then, however, other fashion weeks have had to grapple with the decision of whether to go on as planned.

China’s homegrown tech giant and online marketplace Tmall rallied behind Shanghai Fashion Week which was slated for March 24-30 to allow for their brands like Angel Chen, Shushu Tong and Feng Chen Wang to show as scheduled, but staged entirely on the internet for folks to enjoy from the safety of their own homes, making it the first digital-only fashion week. How did it go? Well, we have some thoughts.

Brands were only given a month’s notice to learn and adapt to this format. Those who already had their own Tmall stores would have the livestream on their own channel, while those who didn’t would have to go through Labelhood an independent showcasing platform under Shanghai Fashion Week, and a fashion incubator for young Asian designers.

Basically, it meant that there were brands spread across several sites and finding what was showing when was a struggle without a standardized schedule. It was difficult enough to obtain the proper links and access into the sites, and navigating the all-simplified Chinese pages for those who do not speak the language would be incredibly challenging. It did not help that in the end, quite a few technical glitches meant playbacks couldn’t be viewed.

For runway shows, models walked to no audience on a virtual runway with a CGI background—it felt like watching an Instagram live video, on a tiny, narrow screen which lacked the pomp and circumstance of traditional fashion weeks. But there was something more intimate and casual about the presentations—you were in the designer’s studio, and he or she was presenting the clothes to you, and details could be held up to the screen to be examined more closely. Each designer could come up with their own way of sharing their collection. Some had straightforward show-and-tell sessions where a model would try on each look to the soundtrack of the designer’s running commentary. Some had industry friends over to talk about everything from inspiration to food. One even did a hotpot session and answered questions from the digital audience. Probably its biggest differentiator from other fashion weeks, is that the end goal was to sell products. Viewers could buy the collection directly from the Tmall stores; many designers had coupons for those watching and any sizing or style questions could be answered immediately on the chat.

Bohan Qiu, founder of Boh Project, a PR and digital content agency based in Shanghai, helped several brands like FFIXXED Studios and Cornerstone design their livestream projects and co-hosted a few. His main takeaway from the week?

“I think it was a lot of fun, but maybe this livestream model is really only suitable for a specific tier of brands, like those who already have an online presence or following, a product range that is affordable and easy to purchase (RMB 2500-3000 maximum), and items that have been worn by celebrities definitely sell better. The audience is usually two percent of your friends, and the rest would be random traffic Tmall drives to your channel. We don't know who those people are and most likely not the typical designer brand consumer, so selling a dress up to RMB 9000 is still quite tricky on Tmall today. I think livestream is still a good method to engage and speak directly with your audience or community as a brand, but I think it should live as additional content to each designer’s own show or presentation.”

While it’s unclear whether Western brands will ever fully adopt a livestream-only fashion week, and there are still clearly quite a few technical issues in the format to untangle, Shanghai has proved that the idea is not as farfetched as it used to be.

See also: Milan Fashion Week Fall/Winter 2020: Day 4-5 Highlights

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