‘Phygital’? Fashion Designers, Please Stop Making Words Up.

Alaina Demopoulos
·4-min read
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast/Getty

We as humans are all feeling our way in the dark through concurrent crises, just trying to survive in a reality constantly testing our will to live. No one knows what to do right now—especially fashion people, who have responded to the pandemic by making up words that mean absolutely nothing.

Michael Kors plans to stage a “multilayered digital experience” this fall. Gucci’s new ad campaign is made up of “candid selfies” taken by models in quarantine. This month’s Valentino couture show, which featured models swaying to FKA twigs music while wearing puffy bridal gowns, was billed as a live film meant to “bring together the human and the digital touch.” What?

The fashion industry has always been one to hide behind elegantly-written, if vapid, press releases—so this jargon is not entirely surprising.

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It is impressive, though, the lengths brands will go to find graceful ways to describe their shows, which are essentially all short films or livestreams that editors and other insiders will watch alone at home, on their couches.

Perhaps no fake word symbolizes the insanity of fashion’s new labels than “phygital,” which some are going so far as to call the “future” of the industry. This describes shows that are staged somewhere in the real world, with actual models taking part, then streamed online for the rest of us to see.

Question: Do brands know they can just send us a YouTube link for their show and we’ll watch it? I promise! There is no need to name a show anything other than “runway we all wish was in person.avi.” Enough with the pretension; I’m Zooming into these presentations while staring at the pile of dirty dishes in my sink.

Every industry has its own vocabulary, and fashion is no exception. Designers have made up articles of clothing. These include jorts (jean shorts), shackets (shell jackets), and the coatigan (a sweater/outerwear hybrid that is so specific in weight it is ultimately only appropriate to wear one day a year).

There are riffs on the selfie, which is also a neologism turned real word thanks to social media. A belfie is a butt portrait, a shelfie shows off statement shoes.

Regarding the very fashion-y term “statement:” anything you own can be prefaced with this if it is 1) bedazzled, 2) oversized, 3) hard to walk through thresholds while wearing.

Industry job titles, too, can keep you guessing. No one knows what a “consultant” does, but most people in fashion seem to consider themselves one. Maybe we are all consultants. Some stylists like to be called “image architects.” Take them seriously!

Anyone uttering these words can consider themselves part of the in crowd; the phrases become popular because saying them denotes a familiarity with the industry.

Last month, WWD published a story saying that “words” were back in fashion. Breaking news: “Words have been muscling out images on social media as brands seek to transmit values and purpose.”

“Words are needed to express a purpose, and a purpose is needed to evolve or transform a consumer brand into an iconic brand,” a Paris-based consultant named Floriane de Saint Pierre said in the piece. “We have entered a time where images are crucial, and can express the new, but rarely express a sustainable purpose. And sustainable purpose has moved to the center of society.”

Anyone who understands this quote deserves a gold star in reading comprehension. I’ll take a guess: Pictures = bad? Typing = good? A picture is worth a thousand words, which we like, because the more words the better?

Just because something can be written out doesn’t mean it has to be. To all the designers and copywriters currently pounding on tables, stumped on how to come up with the next fashion portmanteau or a new way to describe “virtual runway:” Stop! Go home. Take a rest. Drink some water.

Fashion is part of visual culture; that’s kind of why we like it so much. There’s a high that comes with watching lovely things pass by on a runway, a relief when the lights go down and a show starts and you know you won’t have to talk for 10 minutes. You can just stare, and hopefully feel something—no words required.

There are enough people yelling about what to do right now; fashion need not offer any more crosstalk. A brand’s “purpose” should come through in the clothes, not the press release. If it doesn’t, then a brand has got bigger problems.

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