Catwalk At A Crossroads: The Changing Face Of Fashion Week Stockholm

Photo: Fashion Week Stockholm Facebook

From August 30 until September 1, the fashion crowd will gather for another edition of Fashion Week Stockholm as Swedish designers present their collections for the upcoming season. Press and buyers will take in all the new trends and inspirations in preparation for spring and summer 2018. The concept of fashion weeks is very old, dating back to salon shows in Paris in the early 1800s, but today the focus is on the main four – New York, London, Paris and Milan – that set the trends for upcoming seasons. Other cities have also jumped on board however, launching their own showcase for domestic designers. Stockholm Fashion Week started in 2005, meaning this year marks its 12-year anniversary, and a lot has happened since its inauguration. Initially, the concept was realised in the form of sporadic fashion shows at Berns, but has since grown to a full three days of scheduled shows from both established and new designers, attended by press and buyers from Sweden and abroad.

The journey hasn’t always been easy. In 2015 they lost their biggest sponsor, Mercedes-Benz – undeniably a big financial hit, but new sponsors have since come aboard, and the big news this season is that Fashion Week is changing location from Berns, the main venue partner for over ten years, to the Grand Hôtel.

“Berns’ ‘Stora salongen’ (the great hall) has been Fashion Week’s home for many years, but some rejuvenation is needed, and has been asked for by both the brands and the guests who visit Fashion Week”, explains Emma Ohlson, secretary general of Association of Swedish Fashion Brands, the organisers of the bi-annual event. “We see Grand Hôtel as a fantastic platform, it’s the most exclusive thing we have in Stockholm, both in terms of venue and hospitality with the level of service they provide,” she continues.

There have previously been other venues alongside Berns throughout the years, but the organisers hope that this relocation of the main hub will give the week a lift and increase interest levels from brands and press. It’s a strategy that Elin Alemdar, the designer behind Stylein, agrees with: “Having a new venue feels fun and positive,” she says. “Personally I felt it was hard to find the inspiration for more shows at Berns, because the newsworthiness of the experience itself becomes such a challenge, and the framing of the show so repetitive”.

From left: StyleIn, Whyred, Ida Klamborn. Photos: Mathias Nordgren

She goes on to explain that “a fashion show has so many different purposes. For me as a designer, this is the opportunity when I get to create a complete conceptual experience and set the tone for the whole collection. For the brand the show has become important because of the marketing that occurs across social media, but also in traditional media. This is when we as a brand fully hold the power in how we present ourselves to the customer and the press”.

But the social media Alemdar mentions as a positive marketing tool has, in certain ways also presented new challenges for the fashion industry – not just in Sweden but also on a global scale. The prevalence of social media as a branding and marketing tool has meant that the original small salon presentations for industry insiders have grown into huge productions, where bloggers sit front row and live-Instagram the event for their followers to enjoy. In some ways, spectacle and entertainment value have become the focus rather than the clothes themselves. These days, when the clothes do eventually arrive in shops around six months later, fashion fans who now know the collections just as well as the magazine editors who attend the shows just don’t show the same desire to buy as before. So what does this mean for the fashion industry, and the viability of holding fashion weeks six months before the collections become available to consumers? In a digital world, is a physical fashion week as important as it used to be? Erica Blomberg, Head of Marketing at the Swedish Fashion Council, explains: “Digitalisation fundamentally changed the consumer’s ability to see behind the scenes and access information. This means we’ve already seen a shift away from classic runway shows. For example, we’ve seen brands use a ‘see now buy now’ model, which means you can buy the clothes straight off the runway [rather than six months later].

“Marc Jacobs opened a pop-up shop during New York Fashion Week, where customers received a small perfume bottle if they tweeted or instagrammed using the hashtag #MJDaisyChain. This way of using fashion week to sell products by utilising ‘social currency’ is another example of how digitalisation is changing the industry and fashion weeks” she adds.

Sweden is a country quick to adopt new technologies, and Fashion Week Stockholm has seen some digitally innovative concepts. A few seasons ago, designer Ida Klamborn opened up her catwalk show to the public with what she dubbed the “democratic front row”. Here, people like celebrity stylist Bea Åkerlund and singer Little Jinder gave up their seats for robots fitted with virtual reality cameras that provided a 360-degree view, streaming the show live to Swedish fashion fans through an app.

However, there’s also a downside to this newfound democratic access to the fashion industry. While access to information and inspiration for everyone is a positive, at the same time traditional fashion media is struggling, and brands see it affecting their sales figures. The fear is that consumers are growing tired of a collection by the time it’s available to buy. PR mogul Thomas Hägg’s take is that “The fashion industry might have shot itself a bit in the foot by wanting everything to be visible so immediately to everyone, because then people have time to grow tired of it. The consumers have gotten bored of the products by the time they come out in the shops.

“You’ve taken away that ability to yearn for something you don’t completely grasp yet. Of course it’s opened up very many doors, but it’s maybe also made people a bit tired of fashion. You lose interest when things aren’t as exciting anymore. Maybe the industry needs to build that hype up again. I think the industry needs to think a bit about what to do with the visibility, if it really is such a great thing to release all imagery at once”, he elaborates.

Carin Rodebjer seems to have thoughts along the same lines as Hägg. Last year, when Rodebjer presented the Spring/Summer 2017 collection it was to a much smaller, exclusive audience. The setting was a dinner at Ulriksdal Palace outside Stockholm, and in an unusual move, the brand embargoed sharing any images of the collection across social media. In fact, Rodebjer took it one step further and didn’t send out pictures to the wider press until it was time for the collection to be released in stores six months after the show, creating much more anticipation.

Smaller, dinner-style presentations are something we’ve seen quite a bit over the last few seasons at Fashion Week Stockholm. But Emma Ohlson says that a lot of the feedback they get from journalists and buyers reveal they still want to see fashion on a model on the catwalk. Thomas Hägg agrees, explaining that “you get a different feel for something when you go to a show, that you don’t get from looking on social media or online”.

He adds however that “the industry needs to think about how we should publish this. There could be availability for others to come to the shows, but maybe you shouldn’t release all videos and catwalk pictures at once, but wait until they are relevant. I think Fashion Week Stockholm will continue, there is still an interest in showing there, but maybe the concept will change a bit and become a bit smaller, more closed off. But that would be to create more curiosity around the concept”.

From left: Ida Sjöstedt, L’Homme Rouge, Stand. Photos Mathias Nordgren

Erica Blomberg echoes Hägg’s thoughts saying “of course fashion weeks don’t look the same as five-ten years ago, and going backwards to an old fashioned traditional style schedule is in my opinion out of the question. But that Fashion Week would go away completely as a physical place isn’t likely”.

The fashion world is in unchartered waters at the moment, and it might simply be a question of testing out new models to see what works, but with today’s fast moving digital environment it’s obvious the industry needs to be flexible and open to change. Something the Swedish fashion scene has proved very open to, adopting new technologies and formats for presenting collections.

The future of Fashion Week Stockholm is not just about format though. Financial backing is imperative to its continued growth. Emma Ohlson believes Fashion Week Stockholm is currently the Swedish fashion industry’s most important export-driving activity. And it’s a growth industry: Swedish Fashion Council figures say that since 2011 the nation’s fashion industry has grown by 50 percent and exports have nearly doubled in that time, making it one of the country’s fastest growing export industries. Despite this, Ohlson says work needs to be done within the creative and cultural industries to create a better understanding from official parties such as Stockholms Stad, This is Sweden and the Swedish Institute.

“Fashion Week is incredibly expensive to produce, we need sponsors and commercial partners to support us in doing this. Brands also have to want to pay for the platform we provide. That includes everything from sound and lighting to bringing journalists and buyers over. So it’s a costly production but I would say it’s invaluable to the Swedish fashion industry. What we really need is state support. The fashion industry has 305 billion kronor in turnover, we make up 11 percent of Sweden’s total exports. We only get two percent of the total cost it takes to put on Fashion Week from Stockholms Stad. That’s in comparison to London and Copenhagen who get between ten to twelve percent from the city.”

Encouragingly, despite the economic challenges, new financial partners came on board a couple of years ago, and with the new Grand Hôtel venue, Ohlson thinks the future looks bright for Fashion Week Stockholm.

 

Fashion Week Stockholm, Aug 30 – Sep 1. For more info see fashionweek.se

 

Words: Beatrice Trodden