Fashion and wellbeing are two concepts rarely put in the same sentence – other than in the slightly ironic context of ‘retail therapy’. Generally speaking, fashion has been viewed as an addiction more than any kind of cure. In the worldwide fight against Coronavirus, however, the fashion community has come out swinging. Not only have fashion brands from across the spectrum contributed financially to the direct battle against the disease within the medical community, many have also worked to combat the secondary effects of the pandemic and resulting lockdowns in most countries. Harnessing the power of social media, followers now have access to a whole host of online classes, workshops, tutorials, short documentaries, live music, and workouts curated and delivered by their favourite brands, ranging from H&M to Hermes. The nature and style of content may slightly vary but there is a common underlying incentive; raising morale, creating connections and, at a very simple level, providing some feel-good entertainment at a time when our mental and physical wellbeing is truly being tested.
This outreach within the fashion industry has appeared in conjunction with a nationwide effort to address the potential effects of the lockdown expected on mental health, as evidenced by the sizeable government grant of £5 million to UK charities offering life-saving support including telephone and online services. Speaking with an NHS psychologist, it is clear that the changes to our daily lives will negatively impact the mental and physical well-being of many individuals including those with no underlying conditions. Not only does enforced isolation potentially lead to loneliness, anxiety and depression, it also means that the signs of deteriorating mental and physical health will go unnoticed until it reaches crisis point. Although the efforts of commercial brands through social media in no way replaces professional services for those requiring medical care, the techniques outlined below can address more minor individual issues that many will experience including reduced physical activity, confined social interaction, and anxieties about the future.
Generally speaking, we have seen four types of content from the fashion industry to accompany Instagram’s #StayHome tag:
The live-streaming of DJs, singers and musicians at home has been one of the most widely used features across fashion brands, filling a void where social gatherings, festivals and club nights used to be. The choice of genre and star has been carefully considered to be in keeping with brand image and target audience, and on the whole the tracks have been up-beat showing a real sensitivity to public mood and the power of music to change it. Alexander McQueen has created a brand new Spotify channel inspired by its runway shows, offering a soothing and atmospheric soundtrack to staying at home, and Chanel has a similar offering over on Apple Music. French brand Kenzo has snagged ‘Finders Keepers’ star Mabel among others to curate their weekly playlist, but for live performances has gone with a few more alternative choices including Kazy Lambist and celebrity-stylist-come DJ Matthew Mazur (aka DJ Mazurbate). Karl Lagerfeld live sessions have similarly featured several DJs with modest Instagram followings but with significant influence within their industry, and this week Gucci shared some candid home-videos with a selection of talented albeit quirky singers covering high-culture classics including Gino Paoli’s "Il cielo in una stanza”. True to form, high fashion has kept its air of exclusivity since you have to be ‘in the know’ to recognise the acclaim here. Boohoo’s Big Weekender line-up also involved musicians and DJs with a smaller fan base, who were almost exclusively female and tended to display a more colourful, playful aesthetic online than their haute-couture equivalents.
Let’s Get Physical
There has been a proliferation of home workout videos in response to growing concerns about how the restrictions on movement during lockdown will impact on physical, emotional and mental health. This has been a population choice among highstreet brands, for example Topshop has collaborated with London-based gym Move Your Frame for ‘feel-good, high energy workouts’. Karl Lagerfeld has been one of the few high fashion brands opting to this style workout, and has chosen to use Karl’s former bodyguard rather than a well-known figure in the fitness community. Shoe designer Alexandre Birman has provided an endless schedule of engaging content for each day including HIIT exercise classes alongside nutritionists, life coaches, meditation experts and holistic therapists to inform followers how to manage their stress and balance emotions at this difficult time. Live yoga and meditation have also been a fairly frequent occurrence across fashion accounts with varying styles; whilst some have been aimed at physical conditioning others are more focused on meditative qualities. River Island, for example, invited professional yoga teacher Lucy Sesto for a one-off session of ‘Sunday slow flow and guided meditation’. Meditation is widely promoted as an alternative therapy aimed at creating a state of calm and can include the technique of mindfulness to increase awareness of thoughts and feelings. Whilst there is much debate, and snobbery, about what constitutes ‘real’ yoga, fashion brands have widely used professionally trained instructors who can offer their guidance and expertise on coping with the stress of living in lockdown.
Arts and Crafts
Something which has been more apparent within luxury fashion is a focus on protecting creativity and craftmanship during isolation, which has taken the shape of art projects, collaborations, inspirational podcasts and ‘behind-the-scenes’ access to the designers and their genius. In the last few weeks we have seen the emergence of art competitions like #McQueenCreators, a series of weekly projects including sketching iconic designs or life-drawing, alongside Lacoste’s #CrocoDraw challenge (so named as it requires recreating the icon by drawing or crafting), and Kenzo’s Wednesday Workshops. Tuning into the practices of mindfulness, Manolo Blanik has invited fans to download his sketches for colouring, an excellent practice for focusing the mind. The sharing of archival footage and unseen imagery has been adopted by the likes of Versace, Gucci and Balmain with the intention of instilling positivity and inspiring online communities whilst they are confined to their homes and lacking creative stimulation. These small acts on social media can have a huge impact by allowing audiences to feel part of a like-minded community, and the intimate conversation through channels like Dior Talks or Miu Miu Musings replicate the connections we would normally form through daily social interaction. Outside of high fashion, the promotion of creativity has more commonly been in the form of DIY fashion tutorials which encourage upcycling old clothes, such as through tie-dying or embroidery. This is unsurprising as people are generally more open to modification with lower cost items, and has the added bonus of increasing the lifecycle of fast fashion items. Not only is it a confidence boost to gain or improve a skill, the strategy of art therapy has been very useful in cases when verbal communication of experience has proved challenging or confusing - something widely applicable in current times.
Playing Dress Up
A tactic which has been played by fast fashion brands more commonly than couture has been to highlight the role clothing and the body play in determining our emotional state. This has typically been couched in terms of ‘self-care’, a concept which has been increasingly used within fashion marketing. Brands like ASOS, BooHoo, Missguided and New Look have put together a number of directly merchandised Instagram posts which encourage their customers to continue buying clothing, cosmetics and toiletries because it will make them feel better. ‘Say yes to the (summer) dress – even if you are only wearing it inside’, read one caption from New Look’s Instagram page today. Many brands have particularly picked up on reports of an upsurge in sales resulting from consumers wanting to be the best dressed on their Zoom workplace meetings. Fashion writers and some theorists have widely argued that fashion has the psychological power to change our mood, our movements and our confidence in unparalleled ways to other material objects. Whilst there is undoubtedly some truth in the claim, it is important to not give too much agency to clothing as the sole contributor to our state of mind and avoid excessive emphasis on appearance. Maintaining a routine by getting dressed each morning as though going to work has been recommended as one way to maintain a sense of normalcy, something which certainly counts as self-care. However, avoiding social pressures to unnecessarily spend in the belief it will solve all our problems is equally recommendable.
The outreach of the fashion industry has generally matched the advice being circulated by national mental health charities, such as the sharing of stories and recognition of creative outlets, suggesting it’s on the right track in offering support to those struggling in lockdown. According to local festival-based fundraiser, The MIND Festival, which has continued its support of NHS Crisis Line during the pandemic, upholding the commitment to deliver services could prove vital in offsetting the indirect impact of Coronavirus on mental health. It was particularly noted how the showcasing of cultural forms, like art or music, unites individuals by highlighting shared interests, talents or experiences. Through the array of virtual events, workshops and classes that provide communal engagement or nurture a skill, essential human connections continue to be formed despite physical isolation. The potential to connect can even grow – whilst many Alexander McQueen fans would feel too intimidated to enter a store without spending, there’s no obligation to purchase a two-thousand-pound clutch when downloading the label’s Spotify playlist or taking inspiration from its digital archive. That’s not to say these initiatives are devoid of product promotion. It is evident the dividing issue here is intention – after all, fashion houses are not charities and must continue to drive sales. But the immediate aim of giving a welcome distraction from anxiety-inducing world events and refocusing on personal wellbeing is broadly aligned with that of industry professionals. Particularly in the case of luxury fashion, cultivating an online following conveniently serves the dual purpose of a successful marketing strategy whilst offering us some much-needed light relief.
Although this type of content may be helpful to some audiences during the Covid-19 crisis, there are some potential drawbacks to keep in mind. Each individual in every household will have a slightly different experience depending on their health, profession, family structure and financial security, so there is no universal panacea. The intrusive nature of social media is both a blessing and a curse; whilst it offers an incredible opportunity to share our achievements with missed loved ones, or even create completely new connections with like-minded communities, overexposure can lead to increased stress, anxiety and guilt. The issue of ‘Smugsolation’ as coined by Glamour Magazine, whereby idealistic images of quarantine lifestyles are plastered across social media, can add further pressures to those already feeling over-burdened. It is worth remembering that accessing the space for a home workout, affording exotic ingredients for a 'cookalong’, splashing out on luxury facemasks or even having the option of staying at home are privileges not applicable to all. Now, more than ever, it’s important to construct a positive relationship with social media in which the desirable escapism we seek is balanced with some necessary reality checks.