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Author Filippo D'Asaro
Artwork Timo Helgert
Production nss factory

From the organization of fashion weeks to rates at which productions run, the pandemic has exposed many old or wrong mechanisms, whose changes have been delayed for years. Today, the industry is facing a mandatory turning point, which will revolutionize both the future of the industry and the role of brands. If the last decade was one in which fashion was mixed with highs and lows, what it is entering will be the decade in which brands will be the protagonists on a cultural and political level.

As far as the impact of the pandemic on the fashion industry can be read through the numbers of its economic losses, the most significant changes it will leave behind will mainly be of an immaterial nature.

“There will be greater attention on both sides towards real and long-term value”
Luca Benini, founder of Slam Jam

The brands are in the biggest moment of media exposure in their history, consumers ask that they take sides on social issues, as we’ve seen with the Black Lives Matter movement or for the commitment to the sustainability and inclusiveness of the industry . Proclamations are no longer enough and errors are not allowed because the digital ecosystem is ready to punish much more effectively than previously, just think of the Dolce & Gabbana debacle in China or the story of the blackface sweater produced by Gucci.

In this context, products become a tool to guide the consumer, while the brand remains the most important asset of each company. This is the principle of cross-sectoriality and contamination, a process started thanks to the collaborations between brands within the industry (of which perhaps the best example is the collaboration between Louis Vuitton and Supreme in 2017) and which today has crossed the borders of fashion, involving sectors such as the automotive, art and politics sectors.

“The final product will be replaced by the values of a brand - the values will pass through all the members of the community and not only those interested in the world of fashion”
Alessandro Poggi, marketing director of Uniqlo in Italy

Gen Z has not given up on political struggle, it has only changed the means by which it is fought and brands - and all their communicative manifestations - are one of the most important reference points for structuring one's voice. Wearing a garment or a brand today has become a cultural statement - sometimes wrapped in layers of irony - but which nevertheless represents for the consumer a possibility of self-positioning within the social structure: the brands have gone from being a symbol of social status to an instrument of expression and structuring of one's personality, helping to redefine the categories of luxury themselves.

“All the brands that manage to establish a relevant dialogue with people - in a constantly evolving context - will have a very important role”
Luca Benini, founder of Slam Jam

Luca Benini personally experienced the birth of communities that have grown over time around brands such as Supreme and cultural spaces such as Spazio Maiocchi in Milan or Dover Street London Market.

Many of these cultural and economic changes were triggered by the 2008 financial crisis. The history of fashion and brands is in fact linked with this type of watershed events that have created a before and after in history by radically changing values and the tastes of society.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, other events with a similar impact were the plague in the fourteenth century that contributed to the birth of luxury and the Spanish Flu in the post-war period was one of the main factors that contributed to the explosion of creativity of the roaring years' 20.

The crisis of 2008 drastically changed the fashion industry. From an economic point of view, large luxury conglomerates and fast fashion brands have crushed medium and small players. From a cultural point of view, however, the entry of Generation Z into the market has overturned the values underlying the concept of luxury, inaugurating a season of mixing between high end and street fashion - a new system of values whose aesthetic has been the absolute fulcrum.

This change of priority in the west has been accompanied by the entry into the market of Chinese consumers - very different from western ones in tastes and priorities - but which has offered European luxury brands the opportunity to grow at the speed of light.

Last year, Chinese consumers accounted for 35% of the overall luxury market, according to a report by Bain & Company, while by 2025 the share of sales of luxury items to Chinese customers is expected to rise to 50% . This data underlines how even the geopolitics of the luxury market is about to change irreparably: the brands will have to adopt different communication and value strategies according to their reference market (China, West, India and the Middle East) with intentions of not falling into political contradictions and values. At the same time, brands will increasingly take on the role of interlocutors on global issues such as climate change and supply chain organization. For example, many brands have already protested against commercial reprisals between China and the USA.

According to analysts and experts, the western consumer of the post-Covid 19 world will not be impacted by revenge spending but will become more attentive both economically and in terms of values.

“The balance between impulse buying, desire and necessity will be more balanced in future consumption: the needs and desires of consumers exist and will continue to exist; becoming increasingly concrete, precise and demanding”
Alessandro Poggi, marketing director of Uniqlo in Italy

The change in everyday life caused by the pandemic will push consumers to seek the quality of materials, sobriety in design and color palettes: fashion will have to redefine the concept of normcore starting from the most basic needs.

In this context, the moment of purchase is only the final act of a relationship that starts online in most cases. The app developed by Gucci in this sense is an excellent example: it offers the consumer the opportunity to try on clothing via augmented reality but also offers the entertainment of video games, in a complementary way but not in substitute to the social profiles of the brand and Alessandro Michele.

The store intended as a physical space is one of the major question marks for brands today, as a powerful narrative and experiential tool, but at the same time one of the most inefficient costs in front of the lockdown, combined with the growth of an e-commerce sector which, however, is still far from the boom predicted by some analysts.

Not all the needs contained in the purchase of a jewel or an expensive garment are met by simplified logistics and in the same way cult brands such as Supreme and Palace have built their identity around physical and rather than virtual places. The impact of the lockdown has already been felt on H&M which has announced the closure of seven stores in Italy, but also the luxury brands are evaluating the cost of the sudden decline in tourism, especially that from China, given that today they are the first nationality for tax free purchases both in Europe (with a 34% share) and in Italy.

The key role of physical retail is still very important, but what sense will it make for a brand like Louis Vuitton to keep stores open in every airport in Europe or for Uniqlo to have stores in every city?

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Author Filippo D'Asaro
Artwork Timo Helgert
Production nss factory