The Spring 2023 season will forever be known as the first full-throttle return of fashion month post-COVID-19. With mask obligations ditched and not a vaccination certificate in sight, New York, London, Milan, and Paris each served schedules packed with physical runway shows, events, and presentations.
As Beijing-based fashion critic Drizzie Zhuo said to Jing Daily, “Brands always felt the need to go back to physical shows and after COVID, once things got back to normal, they couldn’t wait a second more to do physical shows to connect with people directly.”
The return to real life events has pushed the past debate of a digital-only fashion month into the abyss. Instead, brands combined the opportunity of showing physically with the rapidly-increasing significance of online engagement — sped up as a result of lockdowns and the consequent upsurge of social media use — to produce shows that their attendees could not help but post to their stories.
Providing shareable entertainment value, the Spring 2023 shows gave us a glittery fake car at Thom Browne, Bella Hadid getting a dress sprayed onto her at Coperni, Kanye West trudging through mud at Balenciaga, models falling over at AVAVAV, and ex-Dazed Editor in Chief Isabella Burley stomping the Vaquera catwalk.
The real purpose underlying all of the above was to break through the noise on social platforms — i.e., instantaneous marketing value. As Zhuo commented, “With all these brands and competition, and people’s indulging in social media, going viral is deemed to be the goal of a fashion show.”
Coperni’s Paris Fashion Week show was a class act in that. Spray-on fabric company Fabrican was tasked with spray painting a dress onto Bella Hadid as the finale look, which immediately had the world mesmerized. Despite some critiquing the act as pointless, it got the brand on everyone’s feeds, fashion and non-fashion alike.
Following that performance, social listening data sourced on Digimind found that the brand’s mentions reached a height of 326.4k in 24 hours. For context, during the 30 days prior, mentions stayed under 1k each day. Launchmetrics even sent out a one-off newsletter dedicated to the dress, stating that Hadid’s post reached $1 million in Media Impact Value: “Due to a large number of requests along with the understanding of context, we couldn’t help but exceptionally break with precedent for the recent Coperni stunt which has become a viral, cultural phenomenon.”
Whether it was actually of conceptual value is one matter, but did it bolster brand engagement? Absolutely. In the same way, the innovative show by Italian menswear brand Sunnei also went viral on TikTok, with models hidden in the audience who then went behind a curtain to quickly reveal their twin wearing a full look of the collection.
The co-founders behind Sunnei, Loris Messina and Simone Rizzo, assured Jing Daily that going viral was not the motivation of the show, though. “We don’t see the point of a runway if there’s nothing you are interested in communicating with it. That’s why our shows are performative acts. They are not ‘artistic’ performances — we respect art too much to have the presumption to say what we do has anything to do with that — but still, it goes beyond the concept of fashion runway.”
Instead of being based on performative entertainment like some other shows on the schedule were considered to be, Messina and Rizzo conveyed a deeper concept through their runway. “Aren’t models being depersonalized and subject to abrupt transformations something that happens behind the curtain of every show?” asked the founders. “Sunnei just made it happen in front of the audience, instead of backstage. Normally, what we see on runways is the result of this metamorphosis, but this time the brand wanted to shift the focus on the process itself.”
Well, the world found the concept interesting, that’s for sure: Tank magazine’s editor Caroline Issa’s TikTok of the performance is currently at 3 million likes and 16.8 million views.
As consumers stay glued to their social media feeds, the Spring 2023 runway felt dedicated to producing content. Clothes were secondary on many occasions.