NEW YORK — This season, fresh off the runway will take on a whole new meaning — and it could shake up the fashion system.
Designer e-tailer Net-a-porter.com has struck an exclusive deal with the soon-to-be-relaunched Halston, which comes with a myriad of elements, from an online retrospective to coverage of the brand's runway show at Gagosian Gallery Monday.
The pièce de résistance, though, marks a major departure in the cycle of fashion: The day after the show, Net-a-porter will begin selling two of Halston's fall runway looks on its site, with same-day delivery in London and New York and anywhere else in the world the day after.
"As the collection goes down the runway on Feb. 4 and the press and buyers are seeing it for the first time, two of the key pieces will be sitting, wrapped, packed and ready to go in our distribution centers in Manhattan and London for worldwide delivery," said Natalie Massenet, chairman and founder of Net-a-porter.com. "We will go live within 24 hours of the show, with exclusive content of the show. The customers can log on and be the first women around the world to wear the new Halston."
The move is groundbreaking in several ways. At a time when customers can see runway looks on fashion sites and blogs within hours of a designer's final exit, and stores ask for earlier and earlier deliveries based on the strength of pre-collections, many industry executives are increasingly questioning the commercial validity of the much-hyped bi-annual runway extravaganzas. The clothes on the runways of New York, London, Milan and Paris typically hit retailers several months after the shows, long after the media buzz around them has faded and with plenty of time for copycat manufacturers to move in and offer similar looks at lower qualities and prices.
"This is offering a luxury brand a lifeline in an age when the high street chain will deliver their product to customers faster," Massenet said. "We are allowing a luxury brand to reclaim the right to sell to the customer first. We are only doing it with two looks, but hope that we are offering a glimpse to brands that we can change the fashion system and say, 'We can get the product to the customer, because we can market and distribute in the world.'"I am sure this will be a shock to the brands that specialize in knocking off some of the talent in the fashion industry," she added. "They had their cake and have been eating it for a while, and we're now saying, 'We work with the brand to reclaim their ability to sell their product first.'"
For Halston executives, the collaboration offers the chance to reinform consumers about the heritage of the brand and separate it from its checkered history under the likes of Randolph Duke and Bradley Bayou.
"It is a marketing-based initiative, whereby I am using a vehicle like Net-a-porter, whose consumer base is global," Halston president and chief executive officer Bonnie Takhar noted. "This gives us a great platform to get brand awareness increased in markets where it is possibly not as high as it already is in the U.S."
The Weinstein Co. and Hilco Consumer Capital LLC bought Halston in March after Tamara Mellon, founder and president of Jimmy Choo, brought it to the attention of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. Their involvement in the relaunch has raised the industry's anticipation over this latest relaunch of the iconic brand.
"Natalie and I have known each other for quite some time, and when I think of Net-a-porter, I don't necessarily only think of it strictly as a distribution channel," Takhar said. "The format is really unique. There is the retail association with elements of editorial content. The way it is presented is fantastic for what I am trying to achieve, which is to increase brand awareness with the right copy and font."
On Wednesday, Net-a-porter will go live with a microsite featuring a retrospective of Halston curated by fashion writer and historian Colin McDowell, in collaboration with the site's creative team. McDowell will offer a live narrative with archival footage of the namesake designer from his early days as a milliner to Jacqueline Kennedy to his reign as the designer of the Studio 54 set. The retrospective will not touch on iterations of the brand after Halston died in 1990, since the relaunch references the time when the brand and its colorful designer were at their creative peak. "This is really to educate the consumer on what Halston was and how the brand is being relaunched," Takhar said.On Feb. 5, 24 hours after the Halston show, Net-a-porter will present a video clip including an interview with the brand's current creative director, Marco Zanini. It is expected to highlight Halston's relevance to the present day, and feature Zanini, a Versace alum, discussing his view of the brand and his inspirations for the fall collection. Net-a-porter also will separately feature edited video footage of the runway show. Shoppers can then click and buy two Halston looks, a $1,495 shirt dress for daytime, and a $1,795 evening silk dress. And in what is sure to be considered a fashion first, they can wear the looks out in London and New York, where Net-a-porter has shipping centers, that same day, and elsewhere the day after.
Massenet cited the success of a recent initiative with Roland Mouret as an indicator that the site's customers are ready for this type of instant gratification. In July, the e-tailer gave consumers the chance to buy pieces from Mouret's comeback collection, RM, 24 hours after the designer showed it. Unlike the Halston collaboration, though, the RM event was more akin to a traditional trunk show, with Net-a-porter taking orders and delivering the items at a later date.
"It was an extraordinary success for us," Massenet recalled. "We did over $1 million of business in a short time with a new collection. It told us that our customers want more and more as fast as possible, which convinced us to take the next step.
"When we heard that Halston was relaunching in this moment, we wanted to have our customer be the first ones around the world to be wearing Halston again," she added.
Takhar said she had been planning this instantaneous retail launch with the e-commerce site for several months. Massenet and her team had been privy to Zanini's creations in the design process, and made their selections based on the two looks they felt "would encapsulate the whole collection," Massenet said.
Halston had to manufacture these two looks before the show, and Massenet said she had no qualms about buying the inventory so far ahead of time.
"We buy because we know our customer," she said. "We have an unbelievable knowledge of our customer and know what they liked in the past, what they tend to buy, we know their sizes, and through that, we can make educated decisions. But it does start with loving the product, and we feel confident that this will be a success."Net-a-porter's buy is limited in edition, but the company did not disclose the number of units it has purchased.
Takhar said incorporating the Internet has become an "absolutely essential" tool in marketing. "It's definitely part of my business plan strategy going forward," she added. "Communication online is imperative. It cannot be ignored."
That said, the executives underscored that this is not a snub to traditional brick-and-mortar retailers.
"We are huge fans of brick-and-mortal selling, but that's not who we are," Massenet said. "The theater of [brick-and-mortar retailers] will be relevant to customers, but we can simultaneously send out a message to the 1.5 million women who come to the Web site by showing them the line and having the looks delivered same day."
Alison Loehnis, Net-a-porter.com's vice president of sales and marketing, explained that initiatives like these typically help traditional retailers later in the fashion cycle.
"We have always been about the fusion of content and commerce, but in addition to selling women edited collections, we are also used by a lot of our customers as an information tool," Loehnis said. "Some people ask us if retail stores don't deem us competition. The brands who view us as a partner have told us that, often, our promotion helps drives traffic to stores."
And if Massenet has her way, similar designer deals offering instant consumer gratification will be on the way.
"It won't happen overnight, but this is a vision of fashion's future that we try to ease in, and it is one that emphasizes creativity," she said. "We are talking to a lot of our brands about doing special things. We like to push ourselves and take things to the next level."
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