During COVID-19, fashion weeks with fittings, runways, and sardine-packed seating assignments have been cancelled. While the world has put a pause on those extravagances for the foreseeable future, there have been feats in the digital-verse, such as Balmain’s avatar showroom and the game Animal Crossing’s very own fashion show. Now, a full-fledged week that solely exists online has emerged, called Cyber Fashion Week. It’s not just designers posting their lookbooks online, either: Instead, users can browse an international menu of clothes made for and presented in a digital space. The concept was created by Shukri Lawrence and Omar Braika of the Palestinian label Trashy Clothing. The range of shows in Cyber Fashion Week vary. Los Angeles-based Iranian artist Hushidar Mortezaie’s trippy presentation that gives the viewer a 360 degree view of his clothing and art while the young Paris-based Algerian digital artist Pat Shuro brings his buff and busty world of avatars in bodysuits to the Instagram forefront.
Cyber Fashion Week started with a cancellation. Trashy Clothing, a label that mixes kitsch, nods to the LGBTQ+ community, and Middle Eastern culture, was supposed to show their Fall collection in Iceland but could not due to COVID-19. After exploring their options, Lawrence and Braika decided to do something online-based. “We were thinking that the alternative was to create this platform for designers and others who were affected by the same exact thing [COVID-19] and had restrictions put on creativity,” says Lawrence over the phone from Jordan where he and Braika are currently quarantined due to travel restrictions. The duo started planning in late March and began tapping people that they had previously worked with and that they were interested in. “Our goal was to cover all time zones in one week. We have designers from Hong Kong, New York, London, Iran, and Jordan,” adds Lawrence. During the planning process, they collaborated and consulted with designers and artists to see how their creations could fit in the digital space and sync with Cyber Fashion Week. The project launched on May 25 for six days in which they had two designers and one musician show and play per day. To create a true fashion week experience, the duo also included afterparties, one of which included a DJ set by the Russian activist-group Pussy Riot.
Lawrence and Braika recognize that Cyber Fashion Week has given their brand, as well as others, an expansive platform. In the absence of a physical fashion week, it has first and foremost helped brands show their collections that have not been able to present their creations. One Dubai-based shoe brand, Thaely, which uses recycled plastic bags to create a vegan sneaker, was scheduled to have a physical store launch before the COVID-19 pandemic. When that event was nixed, Thaely used the Cyber Week Fashion Week platform to show the shoe using an augmented reality filter that allowed a realistic rendering of the shoe to be seen from all angles.
Physical shows aside, the nature of Cyber Fashion Week also challenged designers to rethink what message they want to send and in what mode they wanted to send it—and in this digital space, their brand statements veered far from a standard emailed press release. Take the Jordanian T-shirt label Elvaux by Christine Tadros, for example which told their story in fantastical form. The label deals with the hefty concept of colonialism in the Levantine regions and aims to analyze and investigate the Levant’s history. For Cyber Fashion Week, Tadros collaborated with her sister Solenne Tadros, a virtual reality artist who told Elvaux’s story in a more immersive experience. The result included a psychedelic dissection into the orientalist paintings of French painter Jean Leon Gerome, which appear on Tadros’s T-shirts.
One of the most impressive displays came from Trashy Clothing itself who used the platform to show their Fall collection among other pieces. The brand made two different shows using 3D models that Braika animated and then requested their customers who had bought something from the label to send scans of themselves using the program Display.land. (According to Lawrence, they had to pose with their arms and legs outstretched for about 10 minutes to be fully scanned.) From there, they were able to include fans in a virtual Trashy Clothing show. The concept allowed Lawrence and Braika to further connect with customers. “At the end of the day, we create our garments and accessories for our customers, they are our real-life models wearing our pieces in their daily lives, we have to honor them, they're our muse!” wrote Lawrence later via email. “A lot of the customers were amazed at how their scanned files turned into animated virtual models, we received a lot of love and even more questions.”
Like any fashion week, Cyber Fashion Week isn’t a one-time event. Lawrence and Braika plan on launching it three times a year in January, May, and September. For future Cyber Fashion Weeks, the duo hopes to get more designers, artists, and musicians to participate. “We can save time and give opportunities to people who can’t travel abroad to work,” says Lawrence. “This can be part of the future of fashion. Especially this year, this was about ways that we could collaborate as creatives together.”