Ch-ch-ch-changes. David Bowie has never felt more apt to provide the soundtrack for the A/W16 runways, and we're only two cities in. The biggest news is not a trend, a shoe or the way Alessandro Michele's Gucci has been a subtle/not-so-subtle inspiration for one and all. No. It's whether the fashion industry can get behind a see now/buy now business model. For every designer who is pro-change, there is one who isn't. While New York and London seem to be embracing a consumer-facing show schedule, Milan and Paris say the current calendar is fine as is.
This was and is the news being reported from every direction as more and more designers — led by Burberry (amongst the majors) — showed in season (or announced they would eventually) and offered runway looks online and in stores for immediate purchase. By the end of NYFW, designers like Michael Kors and Proenza Schouler had capsules of core pieces for purchase right away or within a day. Meanwhile, François-Henri Pinault, head of Kering (which owns Gucci, Bottega Veneta, Saint Laurent and Balenciaga) and Ralph Toledano, president of France's governing fashion body, announced via WWD that they would be continuing with the current system.
Ten years ago, even at the dawn of the Internet, this wasn't an issue. Back then, the only way to see a show was with a ticket or the next day, in the trade papers or on their— let's be honest — clunky websites. But with Instagram, Snapchat, live streams and entire marketing teams dedicated to new media, the customer is seeing every detail of clothing and swing of a chain strap up close, at the same time editors and buyers are seeing them. And then she's being inundated with behind-the-scenes imagery… six months before anything is available to buy. So by the time a collection hits the stores, it feels old and the fast fashion brands have already ripped it off. What's a multi-billion-dollar global industry to do?
When asked on the last day of NYFW about all the change, CFDA president and CEO Steven Kolb kept it short: "The CFDA has been focused on the idea of a new Fashion Week model for some time," he said. "To that we are working on an industry study with the Boston Consulting Group that is looking at consumer relevant ideas that will be released the first week of March on CFDA.com…In conversation with many people in the industry the overwhelming agreement is people want change."
But can we change? Can a 40-year-old, global system switch gears? Can retailers, buyers, editors, social media stars, stylists, fabric mills, manufacturers — not to mention the fast fashion shops — all hold hands and say, "All for one and one for all?"
Harper's Bazaar spoke to several members of the fashion community for their perspective.
- LOUISE NICHOL, Editor-in-Chief, Harper's Bazaar Arabia
The social media sellers: "Many small brands emerging today come from an entirely different mindset than that dictated by the traditional fashion calendar. The strength of social media means they can cut out the middle man retailer required by the wholesale model and sell direct to customers, with low overheads, thanks to the shopfronts of Instagram and WhatsApp. This approach is especially relevant in a region such as the Middle East where niche brands such as Mochi and myriad abaya designers – who have a laser-like focus on their customer – can communicate far more effectively with consumers in the here and now. They create instant desire and need to fulfill that with instant supply."
Increasing polarisation: "Magazine lead times in the Middle East are exceptionally short, so from a self-interest point of view I am all for speeding up the show-to-store cycle. That being said, the heart of our industry is to ensure that fashion inspires us all to dream, and it’s rare that dreams worth having develop overnight. Whether it’s a car or a Kelly, most of us appreciate that true craftsmanship takes time, love and creativity. I expect we will see increasing polarisation of the industry between direct-to-consumer-focused brands who thrive on social media and fulfill our consumerist urges for hot fashion items, and ever-more luxurious brands and products that discerning shoppers are happy to wait for. Happily, I believe there is room for both."
- MICHAEL KORS, designer, offered capsule Ready-to-Wear, Ready to Go collection included on A/W16 runway
On his customer: "My attitude is kind of, our customer doesn't pay attention to the seasons anyway. What matters is if it works in her wardrobe and if she loves it. So if we can offer her some pieces right away, why make her wait?"
Big picture: "This is all a work in progress. In the end, every house has to do what's right for them. I think it's akin to how we all receive music today — my mother still buys CDs; 16-year-olds now think it's cool to only Spotify or buy Vinyl; I download everything. Everyone is getting their music in different ways, and I think everyone is going to get their fashion in different ways. And each house is going to have to decide what's right for their customer and what's right for their design process. Fashion is about change, and it's going to keep changing."
- KEN DOWNING, Fashion Director, Neiman Marcus
Pro change: "We're hearing it more and more that the customer is bored of the clothes before they come into the stores. No one can hold their attention for six months. The over-gifting and dressing of celebrities is creating fatigue. You're seeing clothes on social media all over the place. It's overexposing many things. When the clothes do arrive, there's a new barrage of imagery that they're in a froth and fever over. So what's arriving in stores looks stale."
Season-appropriate clothes: "Which Donna Karan has been talking about for 20 years...Because of the immediacy of everything online, the customer doesn't need to order it early and wait. We're in an ADD/OCD world because of the Internet, and we're irritating and frustrating the customer. I want to bridge that gap."
- TOMMY HILFIGER, designer, who is switching to customer-facing in September with a collaborative collection/runway with Gigi Hadid
On his decision to change to a see now/buy now model: "We've been having this conversation for five years. The customer doesn't want to wait. In the design studio, we think about what the customer wants for fit and colour. So now we're thinking about the service. She is the ultimate judge. She has the credit card. She's on her mobile or laptop buying Burberry. Unless we step in and make ourselves relevant to her shopping moods, we could be left behind."
Big vs. small brands adapting: "We have an incredibly sophisticated large-scale system. It's going to be a monumental task to do this, but we're prepared. We plan to privately show the magazines and buyers in advance of the seasons so they can shoot and buy… Smaller designers are more nimble because they don't have layers of people in the way and established systems. They will run into trouble — you have to own inventory in order to service the needs of the runway in size and colour over night up front. But after they get over that hump, their consumer base will be much happier. I'm thinking of Prabal Gurung and people like that. These young designers have many fans and the minute they see it, they want it."
Season-appropriate clothes: "I have to credit Donna for saying, 'Hey are we crazy? We're shipping wool and outerwear in July.' By the time it gets cold, it's old news already and it's marked down. Selling in season makes more sense. Even for retailers. It's a win-win for everyone."
- CHRISTINA BINKLEY, fashion and style columnist, The Wall Street Journal
Why now? "A great driver of this is fast fashion. They're smart at catering to consumer interests. Consumers are trained to believe that they can have what they want right away. They don't want to wait for the aspirational stuff for what feels like a lifetime — six months. That's a massive amount of time. It's like lemmings in a sense — I don't mean to be derogatory. It takes a few people leaping off a cliff. Who's better than Christopher Bailey at Burbery, who's a leader in digital? Then people saying, 'Ok, he survived that fall.' My guess is that in a couple of years, the whole structure will look different."
For the magazine editor: "Traditional print — that's the crucial issue, right? The one idea that's getting traction is to move the show dates later — so a July/August show. The showroom would still be an earlier market. But how do you treat those long lead publications? Do you let them in at the same time as the retailers? That's hopeless. That will work with some brands, but for the real trend-setting brands, there's money there. That's insider info. I don't have the answer for it. It's going to be uncomfortable for a few years."
- SARAH RUTSON, Vice President of Global Buying, NET-A-PORTER
The system needs to change but… "While it's great that designers are moving toward a system which is democratic and inclusive, there is still a big push/pull to consider when it comes to product, which ultimately appears on our site five to six months after it appears on the runways. Then of course, there is the issue of designers' intellectual property and the vulnerability to fast fashion "inspiration." The need to cut production lead times is critical in translating the excitement that shows generate into real sales. However, the reality is that lead times are still five to six months, so how realistic is this notion of a shortened production schedule? That's the real question to address."
Don't forget discovery: "For us, fundamentally we are travelling all the time for both pre- and main collections. We also need time to be able to explore the new. This is becoming harder and harder with the current schedule."
On who did it first: "Look, there are always brands who will make a first move into something, and brands that will follow shortly thereafter, but it doesn't have to do with taking a stand or being a leader; it really comes down to logistics in the end. The brand in question needs to be able to work with shorter and shorter turnaround times for production, and sometimes, larger corporations have more resources to do this than smaller brands might. Large brands like Burberry also have a huge amount of business in core product, so that still drives their bottom line."
On democratising style influence: "We all agree that fashion shows are incredibly important. They allow a brand to tell their seasonal story, and communicate a vision on a consistent basis. They excite and ignite in the moment, but ultimately, it is up to us as retailers to convert inspiration to acquisition. Retailers like Net-a-Porter are storytellers, and the way we edit and interpret the season for our customers is just as influential, if not arguably more so, than the seasonal fashion show. The other consideration these days is the street style phenomenon, which encircles the fashion calendar; influential personalities and what they wear/how they wear it are equally as important today. And this comes down to personal styling, not always a head-to-toe runway look."
- REBECCA MINKOFF, designer, who switched to a see now/buy now model this February, reshowing Spring 2016
On early positive results: As the founder of her privately-owned company, Minkoff shared, "Just on the day of the show alone, we sold four times the amount of spring goods for that day to plan. That's one store, one day. It's already working. Same thing on the website."
On taking the plunge: "We've come to realise that when we do something the old way, we never succeed as a company. Whenever we don't do that, it works. There's security in going against the grain."
- PAOLO RIVA, CEO, Diane Von Furstenberg, where the designer showed A/W16, including a handful of see now/buy now pieces, in a party tableau at her office
Pro change: "What really matters is not what you will do, but how you will do it. But change is here to stay. The industry will not stabilise around another business model that is one-for-all."
On early positive results: "It's about traffic. What's encouraging is in one style, we only have one piece left, four days after the presentation."
Big vs. small brands adapting: "Small, small brands have to have the financial means and the creativity to leverage their mobile and digital. For the bigger brands, they have the means. But big brands are less nimble. But then, Burberry…It's a huge brand and they have always been dynamic."
- RUTH CHAPMAN, Co-executive chairman, Matchesfashion.com
Pro change: "It's hugely positive whenever any creative industry challenges itself and the status quo. Brands need to embrace what the customer wants, which is newness and to be excited and engaged by fashion as they see it."
Imminent growing pains: "What is vital though is that the luxury and artisanal quality is maintained, which cannot happen instantaneously — buyers still need to see the collection in advance and make their selection before the customer watches the show. This also has the advantage of making our edit increasingly unique and strengthen our point of difference from other retailers — which is what we are renowned for."
- GIORGIO ARMANI, designer
On taking the plunge: “I think that a revision of calendars is in some ways desirable: the times, and not only the digital revolution, require it. However, I think it is premature to be swept away by the enthusiasm over the see-now-buy-now: for this revolution to be effective and permanent, it will be necessary to intervene on every step of the pipeline in order to create an operating mechanism, not the umpteenth operation of mere communication. I am not worried about the fact that everything goes online right away on social media: dailies have been doing this forever. I would like to realign the timing of the presentations with those of sales in stores with intelligence, balance and great functionality. This will require time and naturally a strategy fit at all levels, which I am ready to undertake.”
Via Harper's Bazaar US