NEW YORK — Will Net-a-porter.com and Halston change the fashion cycle?
On Tuesday, the luxury e-commerce site and the American fashion brand disclosed they were teaming up to deliver two looks from the fall collection to consumers the day after Halston's runway show Monday. At a time when shows are much covered, and consumers seem to want to get their hands on the looks as soon as possible, many retailers are pondering whether the deal will have a ripple effect with designers and traditional brick-and-mortar operations.
Most lauded the initiative as a new way of looking at how the Internet can serve the industry.
"I think it's a fabulous thing for Halston, for Net-a-porter and for the consumer," said Jeffrey Kalinsky, founder of Jeffrey New York and executive vice president, director of designer merchandising at Nordstrom. "If a lot of people started doing something similar, I think it would change the rules for everyone."
But while Kalinsky believes the pact between Halston and the upscale online retailer is a positive development, he recognizes "there's also something sort of great about having to wait for something. They're both good feelings. It really becomes buy-now, wear-now. It's something that a lot of brands started to do. It changes the rules for everyone and changes the thought process and that's not a bad thing."
In fact, the deal will allow women to wear a fall 2008 Halston smack in the middle of New York Fashion Week — a good four to five months before the clothes typically would be delivered to traditional retailers. The Halston pieces that will be offered on Net-a-porter are a $1,494 shirtdress for daytime and a $1,795 evening silk dress.
"That's really fast fashion," said Julie Gilhart, vice president of fashion merchandising at Barneys New York, reacting to the Halston news. "That would mean a designer's ready-to-wear show would already have to be made. They produce their collections based on what's ordered. I don't know how it would work on a high-end level. I don't think they could take that risk."
However, if only one or two pieces were being offered right away, "that may be kind of interesting," she said, adding the limited availability and exclusivity of the product will create interest."I think that there's something to be said about instant gratification," she said. "It's got so many implications. We're also imagining what the potential could be. It's definitely worth a thought. Things have to change. It's interesting to experiment. Sometimes someone doing something different inspires someone else to do it better."
Many agreed that such a special teaser initiative could help whet the consumers' appetites, which could carry over into the point of delivery for traditional retailers.
Lori Hirshleifer, vice president of Hirshleifer's at the Americana Manhasset in Manhasset, N.Y., said that selling runway looks the day after the show "isn't a problem. It's a great thing to get the name out there. Anything that gets a new name out to the public sooner is fantastic" — as long as it's not the whole collection.
"If it's two or three pieces in a collection to let people know what's going on, that's fine," she continued. "There are people knocking it off, so why shouldn't they be able to get the [real] thing. If there's too much offered it would affect the retailer. It takes some of the specialness away."
The whole act of buying, anticipating and waiting for the product would change. "There's excitement in waiting after seeing it on the runway and putting your name on the list," Hirshleifer said. "In our Chanel boutique, we play the runway video and people say, 'Wow, when is that coming in?'"
Stefani Greenfield, co-owner of Scoop NYC, said the initiative will impact the counterfeiters and copycat manufacturers.
"For so long people have been knocking off and getting it out there and beating a designer that has to deal with craftsmanship, workmanship and details that take time," she said. "This allows the consumer to be part of our moment in fashion. I think it would bring more excitement to fashion. I don't think it's about hurting the retail business. It's about coming up with creative ways to get quality to consumers."
As for a speedier delivery cycle, Greenfield said she's always tried to get products in stores more quickly. "[Halston and Net-a-porter] are pioneering something and taking risks and satisfying the consumer in a new way," she said. "It's no reason for retailers to feel insecure. Who would have believed we would be shopping on the Internet? Who would have thought that a store online could become what it's become?"Henri Bendel fashion director Ann Watson called the deal "a terrific marketing strategy."
"We have seen a lot of relaunches of many brands," she said. "Looking at how Halston and Net-a-porter.com are partnering to relaunch the Halston brand, it's in keeping with the Halston DNA and what Halston himself probably would have done if he were alive. He went mass first, so I think he would also be the first to really embrace e-commerce. It's indicative of our Internet age."
Watson added she doesn't see the move as a threat to traditional brick-and-mortar retail. "I see this as a wonderful opportunity to create more marketing initiatives that are aligned with the Internet and how to maximize the tools of the Internet.
"We as retailers are always rethinking our format and platforms, whether it is e-commerce, catalog or in-store," she continued. "We constantly have to be absorbing and listening to our customers. There are a select few women who like to get the inside scoop, but in their minds right now, when they walk out of the house for their social events, they are thinking about their spring-summer lifestyle, so they won't need the clothes quite yet. That's why two styles that Net-a-porter selected seem timeless and also seasonless."
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