Written by Jacqui Palumbo, CNN

It will be a fashion month like no other. The coronavirus pandemic has upended the traditional runway format, and in its place will be a mix of virtual and, in some cases, physical shows with limited audience numbers.

New York Fashion Week (NYFW) arrives first, running from September 13 to 17 ahead of London, Milan and Paris.

Organizers are adapting to circumstances by hosting a number of outdoor events, and Jason Wu opened the schedule with a runway show on the rooftop of Spring Studios in Manhattan. He showed his Spring-Summer 2021 collection to a socially distanced crowd of just 30 people, sending models such as Indya Moore down a plant-filled set inspired by the Mexican town of Tulum.

Harlem’s Fashion Row, a platform founded to promote diversity in fashion by supporting designers of color, also kicked off NYFW Sunday with a virtual showcase of collections by Black designers Kristian Lorén, Kimberly Goldson and Rich Fresh.
Indya Moore walks the runway for Jason Wu during New York Fashion Week on September 13, 2020.

Indya Moore walks the runway for Jason Wu during New York Fashion Week on September 13, 2020. Credit: Mike Coppola/Getty Images

Returning designers include Anna Sui and Chromat, with digital presentations, while a number of notable NYFW regulars like Michael Kors won’t participate this time around.
To broadcast the virtual events, the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) has created Runway360, a digital platform to show new collections or other creative projects. And although the usual star-studded fashion week will be wholly different this year, the switch to virtual may also make for more sustainable presentations — a recent report by Ordre, which specializes in online showrooms, found that international fashion weeks emit the same volume of greenhouse gases annually as a small country.
The digital format is also giving emerging designers a chance to shine without all the usual hierarchies. According to CEO of the CFDA, Steven Kolb, there are 10 new American brands showing this week, including avant-garde mother-and-daughter luxury label Dur Doux, and Oak & Acorn, a Harlem-based sustainable denim brand that makes bold, genderless styles.

The new approach also offers space for offbeat labels to flex their creative muscles, including the newly revived early-2000s collective, Imitation of Christ. The conceptual fashion group, which was upcycling garments before the practice had a name, returns to the schedule almost 20 years after it staged a gothy ready-to-wear show in a New York City funeral parlor (Chloe Sevigny was famously involved in the label’s original iteration).

Related video: A short history of the fashion show

Following NYFW, London Fashion Week will also attempt a mix of in-person and digital events from September 17, as organizers contend with new coronavirus restrictions introduced in the UK following a recent jump in new cases. And while there’s a growing fear that parts of Europe will see a new wave of Covid-19 cases, both Milan and Paris still, for now, plan to stage a number of physical shows towards the end of the month.
A model poses for masked photographers on September 13, 2020.

A model poses for masked photographers on September 13, 2020. Credit: Gotham/Getty Images

Meanwhile, popular social media app TikTok is looking to engage Gen-Z audiences through its own online fashion month, partnering with labels such as Louis Vuitton, Alice + Olivia and Saint Laurent, among others, to livestream runway shows and present capsule collections.

Watch this story for more updates throughout the week.

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