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English Version | Through the looking glass

02 Sep 2021
By Carolina Queirós

We wish we could have written this piece entirely in the past tense. That would mean the times of the pandemic were in the past, a moment in time with a beginning and end, which we would analyze from afar, through the looking glass.

We wish we could have written this piece entirely in the past tense. That would mean the times of the pandemic were in the past, a moment in time with a beginning and end, which we would analyze from afar, through the looking glass. That day will come. However, we’ll always have the present… and Fashion. We’ll always have Fashion. 

It is estimated that the Earth is approximately 4,543 x 10^9 years old. This exponent translates into a lot of zeros, but more than that, it reveals a notion about the human condition that has the power to put (almost) everything into perspective. Considering our eternally short existence as human beings on this planet, our history, and the one of humanity itself, is defined by nothing more than… moments. Split seconds. Every single person – especially the mildly interested in the wonders of physics, or those with a particular fascination for pointless arguments – has heard about the theory of relativity, often materialized in the simplistic phrase “Yes, but that’s relative”, equivalent to the famous (though less eloquent) alternative, “It depends”. Our split seconds, those that define the ephemeral time we have around here, acquire such a huge potential to impact our existence, that they become colossal, gigantic, eternal. Split seconds that define and transcend the relativity that outline them. The COVID-19 pandemic is the most recent categorical example in the history of mankind we can interpret as a real moment of disruption, where it is easy – painfully easy – to identify a before and after. Today, we collectively experience great willingness to “turn the page”, a moment where Fashion also plays its role: of proving every challenge can become an opportunity, of demonstrating how beauty, individual expression and sensibility are fundamental pillars of what it means to be alive. Everything else is relative. 

To think of what comes next, in the direction the world will take in one, two, ten years from now, quickly becomes a highly abstract exercise and, in the case of Worth Global Style Network, of great responsibility. Universally known by the initials WGSN, the consultant giant took on the challenge and established itself as a market leader in trend forecasting in the universes of more than 20 different industries, including Fashion and Beauty. I confess the thought of discussing the future, of analyzing in detail what is yet to happen, in all its possibilities, fascinates me. Maria Errobidarte, Senior Consultant in one of the company’s headquarters, in London, accepted to meet me halfway (figuratively speaking), in that split second we call the present, but with our eyes set on the future. We then began our chat based in one primordial understanding: it was almost unnecessary to pose her the questions I had prepared, since it was clear we have all been haunted by the same question marks since March 2020. Despite this, we started with the beginning, by auditing the one and half years of a pandemic that turned the world upside down. “In 2019 and 2020, the world of Fashion suffered huge losses, about 93% in comparison to previous years. With COVID-19, the industry undoubtedly went through a very harsh time, but it is important to point out how this time also acted as a huge trigger. What I find the most interesting is the realization that what we were used to seeing as a challenge now multiplied into countless opportunities.” The somewhat optimistic tone of this first response completely disarmed my oh-so-well prepared roll of questions – I took it as a good omen, and Maria carried on: “A good example is the role of e-commerce in a time we could call ‘post-pandemic’. This field is not only completely different from what it was but has also become way more advanced. In this case, its evolution directly reflects the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, when it comes to the complete obliteration of the physical act of sale for many months. The scarcity of other options made it so that our attention was focused only on digital, but not exactly in the same it had happened up to this point, it was more transversal. The advances of Artificial Intelligence allowed for small details to produce the biggest effects, regarding, for instance, real-time online chats, whose role is to guide and help the consumer when a salesperson is not there to do so.” 

Effectively, we don’t really live in a “post-pandemic” world. However, the digital one and its infinite possibilities aren’t exactly breaking news, but more so a promise of constant renovation. We’re familiar with the impact the Internet can create, and how blurred the line between what is tangible, physical, real, and all the other worlds we create behind our screens, is. Social media is based precisely upon this concept of infinite update, which made it an important indicator of the changes and adaptations we’re going through collectively – something that is no longer restricted to a certain demographic group, but that has proved decisive in the survival of entire industries, companies, and businesses. “Our screen time is being subdivided and evolving, to the point where it is no longer only centralized on Instagram or Facebook as it once was. In these platforms, the image, the product, is static - what we call flat. Today, it is paramount that brands pay attention to the way they present the product and how it will be perceived through a screen, something that has been exponentially explored through platforms such as TikTok – where users can only share content on video format, differentiating it from other social medias -, or gaming, which is challenging the very definition of ‘social network’.” Maria Errobidarte also mentions how this adaptation to new ways of communicating, for instance through 3D renderings, creates an array of opportunities, at the same time as it “reorganizes” the market. The plot thickens. 

One of the fundamental pieces of this digital structure of Fashion are the so-called content creators, or influencers, who in the space of one decade went from their small blogs and obscure Tumblr pages to the most wanted seats in the front row, threatening to challenge the space until then reserved to a small portion of the editorial and journalistic elite. Until the fateful moment of the pandemic, there had been no breaks to crescendo of followers (we’re talking millions here) that would accumulate on the feed of a handful of influencers, they who would produce the biggest impact on their audiences, often charmed by the highly romanticized (fake?) representation of a luxury-filled life without a care in the world. We were comfortable with that pseudo-notion. With the pandemic, that pink bubble burst and the answer to this sector of marketing’s stimuli transfigured what currently is expected of an influencer so that nomenclature is seen as rightfully earned. “One of the most primary consequences of the pandemic was felt in our own interpersonal relationships. We don’t interact the same way due to the impositions of this paradigm we were inserted in, and that translated into shifts in the connection with social media. The micro-influencer market became considerably more relevant than the macro-influencer one. Nowadays, consumers don’t seek as much the validation of those we considered to be key opinion leaders but would rather focus on smaller communities where they feel their personal impact is more applicable. It’s that more local perspective when faced with the question ‘Which voices are indeed the most relevant in the industry?’ that is making it so that Fashion depends less in huge numbers and turns to the implementation of a strategy of personalization that can be seen from the communication approach to the product itself”, Errobidarte explains. 

Associated with the virus’ intransigence, we’re also living a period of intense social and political turbulence, which has deeply interfered with our sensitivity to certain topics, from which Fashion, until quite recently, cleverly chose to keep a “safety distance” from. Now, standing on the sidetracks of our time’s major debates is not only ill-advised, but completely impossible. There can be no talk of Fashion without sustainability, without an honest, inclusive, and transparent approach, without a clear positioning before those who not only consume a certain product, but far more important, are inspired by its purpose and legacy. The WGSN Senior Consultant explains how society’s structural challenges are even tampering with the definitions we so often employ within the sector: “I believe the response of the sector in 2021 is based on bringing back the values its players have established themselves upon, but the definitions we use for those values are changing. The meaning of ‘legacy’ for a Fashion brand today is much bigger. ‘Bigger’ in the sense that it is more inclusive of what a brand or individual stands for – and not just regarding the narrative they build around them – according to their creative identity. A good example is the LVMH group. Being one of the most important luxury conglomerates in the industry, owner of several brands with some of the oldest histories and legacies, it is important to note how they have been able to stay relevant within the current paradigm. Louis Vuitton, thanks to Virgil Abloh’s in Menswear, has conferred the necessary edge to the brand in order to captivate a full generation of consumers. The somewhat unexpected acquisition of Gentle Monster is yet another example of how the diversification of the group’s portfolio projects onto the conglomerate, multiplying the impact it produces in its consumer base.”

It’s necessary (and very much relevant) that we mention the role of the consumer – a.k.a., me, the dear reader, and everyone else – in this context. The before and after we’re dealing with here, this line in the sand the pandemic has drawn, came about because we do not think the same way as we did before, we’re not the same people. The rules have changed, and the characteristics of these “new consumers” dictate the new daily order: a generation saturated with information, whose values demand… appropriate answers. “Appropriate how?”, you must be asking. Appropriate according to the expectations, of course. “Expectations of what?” It remains to be determined. “Have you ever heard of FOFO?”, Maria Errobidarte asks, as we discuss, in the least cliché way possible, how we were not the same people we were a year and a half ago. “Before, it was very common to employ the expression FOMO [fear of missing out]. Then came JOMO [joy of missing out], and now we have FOFO [fear of finding out], which was born out of a certain social anxiety in finding out more about anything. The saturation of information we have grown used to is such, that we feel some level of fear of knowing what happened and where, what certain people have said or done, what brands have presented or discontinued.” Well, of course. It’s crystal clear. The collective pressure we feel in being aware of everything at every moment (second?) is motivating a sociological form of depression where we feel inclined to avoid knowledge itself. I understand it might sound like a somewhat dramatic conclusion, but it remains nonetheless likely and oddly familiar… When we look at the “after”, through the looking glass, we understand the future is written by the present, but the pandemic has unveiled the missing key of what makes these actions truly relevant: one must think (and act) beyond oneself. In an act of complete contradiction, given the egoistic inclinations of human nature, the challenges the pandemic has thrown our way demand our complete commitment to something bigger than any personal agenda or immediate satisfaction of our own interests. It might be possible to count on one hand the things in this world that have such capability of transcendence. Fashion is one of them, and its responsibility is as encompassing as it is necessary: the one of dressing the reflection of the other side of the mirror, even when we can’t yet reach it – which is the same as saying, in other words, to dress the future. 

Originally translated from the New Beginnings issue, published September 2021.Full credits and stories on the print issue.

Carolina Queirós By Carolina Queirós

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