By now, fashion designers would have been putting their final touches on dresses as they planned lavish runway shows and collection previews in preparation for New York Bridal Fashion Week, which runs April 16-20. But the coronavirus outbreak has forced them to rethink how they should present their latest fashions.
In February, the Bridal Council, a New York-based member organization that supports bridal-focused designers, retailers and media, met at Manhattan Manor, an events space in Manhattan, to discuss alternate plans should the virus continue to spread throughout New York. “It was becoming clear we wouldn’t be able to come together in the traditional ways we had before,” said Rachel Leonard, the editorial director of the organization. “But we didn’t plan on the lockdown.”
Suddenly stores were closed. Designers were unable to travel. Fabrics became harder to obtain, and manufacturers took a forced pause. Then, finally, social distancing made it impossible to produce or attend runway shows.
Ms. Leonard sees some drawbacks to shifting designers’ presentations to online platforms. “It’s still a touchy-feely, emotional business,” she said. “It’s hard to see a fabulous wedding dress on the internet. The wow factor you felt when presenting in front of people and Instagram moments only an insider got, will be gone.”
Still she remained optimistic. “For designers, there will be a reinvention for how they do business and present their collections,” she said. “They will gain better relationships with their stores and brides, which might make them focus more on what’s going to sell, how to create newness, and make them smarter business people.”
Some designers have already begun to find inventive ways to communicate with their customers.
Anne Barge is hosting weekly online events called Wedding Wine Wednesday. “Every week she’s meeting with her stores on the web to talk about the issues of the day,” Ms. Leonard said. “Sareh Nouri is doing live Instachats with her brides.”
We spoke with five bridal designers, each of whom was taking a different approach to reaching press, retailers and brides during this season’s Bridal Fashion Week.
Amsale’s Virtual Dressing Room
For the last few years Amsale, a sophisticated, modern bridal brand founded by Amsale Aberra, who died two years ago, has relied on creative surprises in its shows. One year it projected moving images onto massive windows in a ballroom overlooking Lower Manhattan. At another, it used real brides to walk the runway in “Amsale X You” dresses the brides had designed.
“It became clear a physical show was out, and we were not able to complete the collection’s photography, so we’ll be sending dresses to two or three models who can take the photos themselves, or are in a relationship with a photographer to produce images of the line,” said Neil Brown, the chief executive who was married to Ms. Aberra.
This season the designer will be showing five collections, each with approximately 10 looks, all which fall under the brand’s umbrella. “This month we’re launching a virtual try-on on the site where a user, media person, or retailer, will have the ability to try on apparel digitally, or on an avatar of their choice that represents their body type,” Mr. Brown said. The brand is also offering digital marketing appointments via Zoom, the videoconferencing app, where retailers and editors can have a one-on-one dialogue with the design director, Margo LaFontaine, or meet with the sales team to view the latest collection.
Sahroo Recycles Previous Shoots
Last year the designer Sarah Abbasi, the founder of Sahroo, previewed her first bridal collection by showcasing 25 looks at the Whitby Hotel in Manhattan. Her focus was sleek, upscale white pantsuits and close-fitted bejeweled matching sets. This year the virus coincided with a decision she had already made to produce one collection, rather than the standard two.
“We were fortunate and have done four photo shoots since we launched last year,” Ms. Abbasi said. “Many of those photos have never been seen. Since we can’t present in person, we’ll be repurposing and recycling from previous collections by re-sharing visuals from old posts mixed with fresh ones from past shoots.”
The brand also intends to do a bigger presentation in October. “As our brides’ needs have evolved in this unusual climate — many have pushed to next year or they’re doing something small in their homes — we’ll be changing the selection of what we would normally share,” she said. “That means posting about more intimate, less ornate and subdued matching sets rather than our feathered or over-the-top pieces that have historically done really well.”
Hayley Paige’s Capsule Collection
Before the lockdown, Hayley Paige, the head designer and creative director of Hayley Paige, a bodacious and of-the-moment bridal brand, said she was planning a 12- to 20-piece collection, with a small show highlighting real brides wearing her new designs.
“We would have done virtual videos and lookbooks, those are the given needs for any collection launch,” she said. “But in light of what’s happening, we’re going to put together a capsule collection with six to eight pieces featuring designs that were already completed when the virus started to happen and a corresponding lookbook so we have something going out.”
Ms. Paige also noted the emotional toll the virus was taking. “I want brides to know I’m here for them,” she said. “Right now we’re about reassuring people that orders will be fulfilled.” Ms. Paige will be making live video chats on Instagram, where she will speak with brides and field questions. “My social media has been really important,” she said. “We are putting the emotional side upfront. Bridal fashion week might be canceled, but love isn’t.”[Sign up for Love Letter and always get the latest in Modern Love, weddings, and relationships in the news by email.]
Justin Alexander Focuses on Visuals and Video
Instead of doing a fashion show in New York, Justin Warshaw, the chief executive and creative director of Justin Alexander, a multigenerational, all-inclusive contemporary wedding dress company, had been planning a media dinner for 60 editors at the Public Hotel in New York this year. “We were really excited about the dinner,” Mr. Warshaw said.
But the coronavirus outbreak derailed those plans, along with a scheduled fashion show in Barcelona. “So it’s made us rethink and look at connecting virtually,” he said.
This month he will invite 100 members of the media to an hourlong live stream presentation via Zoom. “We’re lucky, in February we shot product video at the Beekman Hotel for each of our 26 styles for the Justin Alexander Signature Collection,” he said. “We’ll walk media through our content, show videos, and present our campaign images.”
Then there are the five-hour webinars, which will cover his more commercial collections which he will present to editors and buyers for six consecutive days, each in a different language. There will also be virtual Q-and-A sessions, educational seminars, and consultations for retailers. “So far more than 200 stores have signed up,” Mr. Warshaw said. “We anticipate a surge of brides shopping for dresses when this is over. We want to help prepare them for the new normal when they reopen.”
Winnie Couture Shifts to Mask Making
Winnie Chlomin Lee, a founder and creative director of Winnie Couture, is focusing on the virus directly. Several years ago, the brand stopped showing at Bridal Fashion Week. Instead it has released all its looks, around 35 to 40 pieces, in January at its eight flagship stores. But now rather than concentrate on new collections, Ms. Lee has released an assortment of haute masks.
“Masks are a sensitive subject,” she said. “I’m from Hong Kong, where wearing masks is the norm. In the U.S. it’s a different story.” She wasn’t trying “to lead a trend in fashion,” she added. “This is for need. Brides are still having their weddings. I wanted to offer options for them that had elements of their dress incorporated into the protective wear.”
The first beaded mask, created with European fabrics and Swarovski crystal embellishments, took two days for her to complete in her home in Los Angeles. Four masks — two for men and two for women — were designed to keep couples feeling safe and protected without sacrificing fashion. Each is crafted with couture fabrics and elements, like glittering crystals and plumes of lace. “Our design house in China started making them last week,” she said. “ It’s a very beautiful, delicate piece that’s an accessory to complete his or her look.” All of the proceeds from the 163 masks that have already been sold will be donated to Direct Relief, a nonprofit organization that provides personal protective equipment and essential medical items to health workers responding to the coronavirus.