Fashion designers adapt to the ‘new normal’

4 Mins read

One of the current exhibitions at the London Design Museum is the Beazley Designs of the Year 2020, showcasing a selection of the most exciting, current and significant projects in digital, transport, fashion, architecture, product and graphic design.

These ‘best moments in design’ as the Design Museum calls them, were created between January 2019 and January 2020 and what makes the exhibition specifically interesting, is that it has captured the shift that was already taking place in early 2020 when the Covid-19 virus was approaching and about to turn into a global crisis.

“It serves as a recap of where we were when the virus took hold, forcing designers to adapt and change. Now, as we feel our way through a drastically altered world, it feels appropriate to reassess our former direction of travel,” reads the Museum introduction when walking downstairs to the exhibition.

Picture of the self-sanitising door handle.

The ‘Self-Sanitising Door Handle’ by Sum Ming Wong and Kin Pong Li [Courtesy of London Design Museum]

“The show will be arranged chronologically, suggesting a countdown from January 2019 to the moment our attention shifted in late January 2020. More than merely an assessment of the past, it will be a frame for exploring the future,” describes Emily King, the curator for Beazley Designs of the Year 2020 on the Design Museum website.

While it is fascinating to see the most inspiring designs from 2019 that include for example spectacles that protect your privacy – ‘Reflectacles’ designed by Scott Urban – and a deflating fashion collection ‘Moments of Clarity’ by Norwegian Central Saint Martins graduate Fredrik Tjærandsen, what probably is the most interesting and relevant though are the designs that have been created in the light of the oncoming pandemic.

These innovations include products like a ‘Self-Sanitising Door Handle’, a device that reduces the risk of being in contact with detrimental bacteria that can accumulate especially on public doors, designed by Sum Ming Wong and King Pong Li and the 3D rendering of SARS-CoV-2 (coronavirus), designed by Alissa Eckert (MSMI) and Dan Higgins (MAMS).

The rendering is an image depicting what the virus looks like when it is viewed through a microscope, and it was commissioned by the US health organisation Centers for Disease Control and prevention (CDC). The aim of commissioning the image was to raise awareness of the looming pandemic and since then this image has been applied to more works of graphic design, such as magazine covers.

3D-rendering of the coronavirus

3D-rendering of SARS-CoV-2 by Alissa Eckert (MSMI) and Dan Higgins (MAMS) [Courtesy of London Design Museum]

What is important and is also evident in the chosen exhibits, is the fact that design can act as a very powerful means of expression when the world is experiencing a dire change. The latest designs that are presented at the Beazley show were created before January 2020 and since then the coronavirus has gone from being a possible threat to a full-blown, world-wide pandemic, and the design industry has been shown to have stepped into a crucial role in contributing towards the battle against the virus.

While design can greatly help by bringing out new innovative products designed solely with the purpose of fighting the virus, there are other ways that the industry can assist. So far, many companies in design have helped by making use of the resources that they already have on their hands and merely changing the products they produce onto ones that support the combat against Covid-19.

An admirable example of this are high end fashion houses such as Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Prada, Armani and Zegna Group who turned their clothing factories into manufacturers of protective clothing, producing thousands of non-surgical gowns a day. Moreover, Bvlgari, a luxury brand famous for their perfumes and accessories switched from cosmetics to hand sanitisers, providing the NHS with 160,000 75ml bottles of hand gel.

Photo of Bvlgari hand gel

Italian jewellery and luxury cosmetics brand Bvlgari began making and donating hand sanitiser in March 2020 [Instagram: @bulgari]

In addition to the great efforts that many of the acclaimed fashion houses have made during the year, there has been change in the air for the fashion industry for a while now, and more change will be expected as the ‘new normal’ starts to take shape.

“I am grateful that the current pandemic gave an allowance for brands not to abide by the usual seasonal schedule which is so linked to toxic overproduction cycles and is completely unnecessary, outside of the context of commerce and thus profit.” says Andrea Brocca, a Central Saint Martins class of 2020 fashion graduate.

“It is very refreshing to see brands like Yves Saint Laurent take initiative of when they show their collections aside from the industry calendar. This incentivises young designers to be independent from the system. This is the only way we can change the industry, and bring it to the new world. Let’s not be controlled by the old guard,” Brocca told us. Central Saint Martins students also contributed to the efforts to fight the crisis by making medical suits for NHS staff.

The fashion industry is not the only area of design that has stepped up and participated in managing the ‘new normal’. With the virus forcing communities and workplaces to find new ways to make life continue under these circumstances, fields like architecture play a critical role in planning the new normal.

[pullquote align=”right”]“Now companies, cities and countries are desperate for fast, pandemic-proof solutions”[/pullquote]Wallpaper magazine has published an extensive article pondering how architecture will seek new designs and shape the hopefully soon-to-come post-pandemic world in areas ranging from housing to education. Anna Miettinen, a University of Barcelona class of 2020 architecture graduate is feeling slightly uneasy about the future in her chosen career path.

“Having just graduated, I have been thrown into this new chapter of architecture, where ideas and projects have to be created and put in place efficiently and fast. Architecture is known to be a slow-paced industry where projects can take years before they are finished, but now companies, cities and countries are desperate for fast, pandemic-proof solutions,” Miettinen admits.

In a recent article in The New Yorker, architect Deborah Burke published a comprehensive account on the changes the field of architecture will be going through, and concluded that: “People are becoming, if not architects, the craftsmen and makers of safe spaces.”

As the ‘new normal’ keeps finding its form, it will be interesting to see what the future will hold for the design industry. Although the change brought by the virus was apparent in as early as January 2020, as demonstrated in the Beazley Designs of the Year exhibition, it is clear that throughout this year and as we step into 2021, the design industry will keep evolving depending on the demands the pandemic creates.




Featured image courtesy of @zegnaofficial via Instagram.
Edited by May Al-Faris, Susu Hagos and Daniela Ferreira Teixeira

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