NEW DELHI — The drive-in fashion show — a pandemic innovation born out of necessity — arrived in India with a splash last month at the Fashion Design Council of India x Lakmé Fashion Week.

As many as six shows at the event had guests watch the proceedings from their cars, neatly parked in slots flanking the ramp at the sprawling Princess Dock venue in Mumbai’s Mazgaon.

Designers such as Manish Malhotra, Payal Singhal, Masaba, and Bodice by Ruchika Sachdeva had drive-in showcases at the “phygital” fashion week, while other designers stuck to fashion films and pre-recorded ramp walks that were streamed online.

“The biggest challenge of doing a physical show is to ensure that you don’t get Covid-19,” show director Lubna Adams, who choreographed the Manish Malhotra show, told Zenger News.

“It was quite hard because we had to get tested every day starting from when we were home-quarantined to the day we started working. As a choreographer, it was also hard to communicate with the models while keeping a safe distance.”

The other challenges included ensuring the guests seated in their cars eight to 10 feet away from the ramp could clearly see the garments and clothing.

Like many other industries, the pandemic has forced the fashion world to rethink and re-strategize. Globally, fashion weeks have moved away from physical shows to the safety of online presentations.

A model wearing a piece from designer Masaba Gupta’s collection ‘Summer ’21’. (lakmefashionwk/Instagram)

Earlier this year, mega-events such as the New York Fashion Week, London Fashion Week, Paris Haute Couture, and Milan Fashion kept it mostly digital, except a stray physical show or two.

French fashion house Coperni presented a drive-in show at the AccorHotels Arena in March at the Paris Fashion Week, where 70 masked guests in their cars were privy to their new collection.

In India, the decision of the show format often lies not so much with the designer as it does with the fashion week sponsors.

“The show format and schedule remain in control with the sponsors and various stakeholders,” designer Manish Malhotra told Zenger. “I just said ‘yes’ to a new experience.”

Malhotra, who is known for his grand shows featuring scores of models and Bollywood celebrity showstoppers, tried to make his drive-in presentation as close to the “real” thing as possible, with a bevy of models showcasing elaborate, finely embellished bridal and occasion wear, and his signature jewelry.

The designer also got on board Bollywood celebrities Kiara Advani and Kartik Aaryan to walk the ramp as showstoppers.

“The team was particular about the Covid-19 protocols, and everything happened in a very organized manner. There were just 50 guests in the drive-in format. There were layers of checking and screening for Covid-19 at every step, so that made the process a little lengthier,” said Malhotra.

Kiara Advani (middle) and Kartik Aaryan (right) were the showstoppers for Manish Malhotra. (manishmalhotra05/Instagram)

However, such elaborate protective measures could not stop Malhotra’s celebrity showstopper Aaryan from announcing two days later that he tested positive for Covid-19.

Fashion experts said runway shows are increasingly seen as something of an anachronism in a post-pandemic digital world where online presentations garner thousands of views compared to a few hundred at a physical fashion show.

These online shows help amp up a brand’s digital presence and connect them with more consumers across markets.

However, most Indian designers are woefully ill-equipped to take on the challenges of technology-driven fashion that is the need of the hour, said Ajay Bisht, assistant director, fashion styling and communication, United World Institute of Design, and a visual branding expert.

“Fashion brands will have to develop a digitally native, online-first mindset,” Bisht told Zenger News. “Instead of creating fashion films that have little recall value or recording ramp walks for live-streaming, fashion houses need to invest in creating original digital content that engages the viewer at every level.”

“Brands also have to be open to the ‘See Now, Buy Now’ e-commerce model. They should hire data scientists and tech experts to redesign digital strategy so that brands can cater to tech-savvy consumers. There are so many Artificial Intelligence-led technological advancements happening in fashion such as augmented reality and 3D-printing that brands have to adapt or [they will] perish.”

Ananya Panday with Bodice by Ruchika Sachdeva at the FDCI x Lakmé Fashion Week grand finale. (lakmefashionwk/Instagram)

The pandemic has forced many fashion houses to take the first steps to join the digital bandwagon. However, it is still a tricky balancing act between maintaining brand identity and forging ahead in an all-new digital avatar.

Designer Narendra Kumar Ahmed, creative director at Amazon, believes the physical and digital runway shows will continue to coexist for a while.

“Indian fashion shows today are more about entertainment than clothing,” Ahmed told Zenger News. “Digital shows cost much less to produce, so they will be around even after the pandemic as will physical fashion shows because there will always be a sponsor who would want a physical runway presentation.”

“However, the importance of the fashion week, on the whole, is on the wane. Sponsors are few, and finances are meager. The demise of the fashion show is also related to the demise of the fashion magazine and the rise of social media influencers,” he said.

“Besides, fashion has moved on. People want to see young, fresh talent. Many from the younger lot don’t take part in fashion weeks at all. They have a fan following on social media, and that’s where they ‘drop’ their latest collections — it’s a fundamental, generational change.”

While the end of the physical fashion show may well be nigh, that’s an eventuality that scores of people involved in the industry, who have been struggling for a livelihood in the pandemic, don’t want to think about.

A model on a bicycle shows off a Payal Singhal creation. (lakmefashionwk/Instagram)

“Things look very bleak at the moment,” said Adams. “There are so many people out of work, and they have got no relief from the government or anywhere else.”

Malhotra, who recently launched India’s first virtual store, agrees that one should not forget the job opportunities that runway shows provide in a rush towards digitization.

“Runway shows are often touted as frivolous affairs of the elite, but it creates work for models, choreographers, backstage managers, light and sound technicians, set designers, make-up artists, hairdressers, stylists, production houses, independent artists and performers, a whole group of students and interns. And it is important not to ignore that.”

(Edited by Amrita Das and Gaurab Dasgupta. Map by Urvashi Makwana)



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