MILAN — To each his own.
That seems to be the motto for fashion brands as each increasingly looks to forge its own path in terms of runway shows. Gucci’s decision to go coed with its shows starting next year is bound to shake up the Milan fashion calendar — and perhaps that of other fashion capitals, as well.
The Italian brand said Tuesday it plans to present its men’s and women’s collections in one fashion show starting in 2017. No decision has been made on whether the shows will be staged in January and June during Milan Men’s Fashion Week, or in February and September during the women’s shows.
The first unified runway event is to take place at Gucci’s sprawling Milan headquarters in Via Mecenate next year. The company is expected to move its offices to the new location by the end of this year.
“It seems only natural to me to present my men’s and women’s collections together. It’s the way I see the world today,” said Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele. “It will not necessarily be an easy path and will certainly present some challenges, but I believe it will give me the chance to move toward a different kind of approach to my storytelling.”
“Moving to one show each season will significantly help to simplify many aspects of our business,” said Marco Bizzarri, president and chief executive officer of Gucci. “Maintaining two separate, disconnected calendars has been a result of tradition rather than practicality.”
But Gucci is Gucci — and what works for it and Michele’s gender-blending vision might not work for many others.
A spokesman for Kering stressed that Gucci’s decision to do coed shows does not concern Kering’s other fashion brands, which include Saint Laurent, Bottega Veneta, Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney.
“Each of our brands faces specific challenges and has its own creative reality,” he said. “Kering will take with each of them the decisions that best match their own reality.”
While other companies such as Burberry and Tom Ford have opted to show men’s and women’s together in a seasonless — or see-now-buy-now — mode, Gucci insisted it is working with Italy’s Camera Nazionale della Moda to determine a calendar date that will support the company’s commitment to a “see now, buy later” schedule. The goal is for a “further reinforcing [of] the Italian fashion system” in order to align “on a calendar that allows us to maintain the ‘see-now-buy-later’ schedule for our fashion shows, as it is fundamental to the full exploitation of Gucci’s creative and production capabilities, for which the lead times are essential,” explained Bizzarri, who revealed the development at The New York Times International Luxury Conference in Paris.
Carlo Capasa, president of the Italian fashion body, said, “Gucci’s decision is a business choice that corresponds to the story told by Alessandro Michele and is made in accordance with the practice and procedures of our fashion week.”
He added that “Gucci, a long-serving member of Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana and also a member of our board, intends to maintain the ‘see-now-buy-later’ principle on which most of the creative side of the Italian fashion industry is based. Our two fashion weeks (men’s and women’s) are two events serving brands, media and buyers. The dynamics within each of them may obviously vary, especially at a time when the market is undergoing significant change. Our mission is to enable each brand to tell its story in the manner most in keeping with its vision.”
Capasa pointed out that the calendars are continuously evolving, which makes it “hard to predict if there will be any negative effects. I wouldn’t give too much importance to the strict division between the men’s and women’s calendar. At the moment, there are many women’s collections showing during Men’s Fashion Week and vice-versa. The situation is much smoother than the past. That’s why I think the most important thing is that the Italian proposal show powerful vitality as a whole.”
Ralph Toledano, president of the Fédération Française de la Couture du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode, had no comment on Gucci’s decision. The French fashion body had already waved off a move to see-now, buy-now, maintaining the capital’s winning formula of having runway shows take place a season before collections are sold at retail.
As for the Council of Fashion Designers of America — which last month issued a report identifying a need for change in the fashion show system, but leaving it up to individual designers to determine what was best for them — Steven Kolb, chief executive officer, said, “I think it’s reflective of the industry conversation that’s been happening. How do brands approach shows differently? I think that, as we’ve said, each brand making decisions of what works best for them is the way it should be approached. Clearly, Gucci thinks it’s a good idea. Certainly it has put some thought into it. We know already that other brands, Burberry and Tom Ford, are doing the same. If they think it’s a good idea, I think it’s a good idea. When you look at American fashion and fashion shows, prior to starting Men’s Fashion Week, there were combined shows.”
Kolb added that Gucci’s decision “is modern and reflective of people wanting change and looking at different ways to approach fashion shows that are more relevant in today’s market. I think we’re going to keep seeing change and it’s the latest example of brands trying something different. There are a lot of ways to approach things differently. I’m sure from economics, it’s one show.”
Gucci’s idea has been mooted before. Prada’s ceo Patrizio Bertelli suggested merging men’s and women’s collections on the same runway years ago, but the idea never gained traction in Italy. Speaking for herself and her own modus operandi, Miuccia Prada opposed the idea of showing men’s and women’s together during a WWD interview last month. “I am against it,” she said. “To do two creative shows in one is a massacre. And it has to be a huge show, if you want to do it seriously.”
Alberta Ferretti, who doesn’t design a men’s line under her signature moniker, said from Gucci’s viewpoint, she believed it is “consistent to unify men’s and women’s and I appreciate the desire of the group in such an important decision to want to work in any case in close contact with the Camera della Moda to maintain a balance.” She addressed the “moment of great changes in fashion,” which can be faced by being “open, enterprising and flexible. Today, every decision can appear intelligent or senseless at the same time, but after a first period, all will return to a new normality.”
Retailers generally applauded Gucci’s shift, though.
Tiziana Cardini, fashion director at La Rinascente, said Gucci had made “a brave choice, in line with the strategy in terms of style and development of the brand. It’s going to be interesting to follow its evolution.”
Rosi Biffi, owner of the Biffi and Banner boutiques in Italy, said, “I consider this choice very brave and appreciable. This change will bring great advantages and significant improvements in terms of organization, rendering the work of all the fashion system more effective. For us buyers, it will make for a decisively interesting challenge. I believe confidence and professionalism will win, as always.”
Andrea Panconesi, founder and ceo of Luisa Via Roma, concurred, adding, “Finally! Better late than never. It is right to unify the men’s shows with the women’s. I don’t see the reason to hold them in two different moments. First of all, because the buyers are the same and could optimize time placing orders simultaneously. Second, by combining them, the deliveries of merchandise would also be optimized, moving them up by two or three months.”
He went on, though, to express support for the see now-buy-now-wear concept. “What I feel like adding is that surely the system must be further reviewed,” he said. “For example, a first vision of the collections could be reserved to buyers and only when the clothes arrive in stores present them to press and the public. This way, the press and the media in general would publish photos of products that consumers can actually find in stores and decide to purchase immediately.”
Carla Sozzani, founder of 10 Corso Como, said: “I agree 100 percent with Gucci.”
American retailers weren’t all that concerned, viewing Gucci’s move as an evolution within the fashion space.
“I guess we’ll be buying more plane tickets,” said Tom Kalenderian, executive vice president and general merchandise manager of men’s for Barneys New York. He said in recent seasons, more and more designers have been mixing genders on the runway, a trend he attributes to a designer or creative director who oversees both genders seeking to “make everything seamless. The concept is very strategic and speaks to a consistent message of how to tell a story.”
He said the rise of androgyny in many collections is “breaking down the barriers of masculinity and femininity and seems very natural. I would be surprised if Jonathan Anderson is not the next one to do this.”
Roopal Patel, fashion director of Saks Fifth Avenue, said the decision indicates “a very modern approach and a natural evolution in fashion. Many designers are creating men’s and women’s simultaneously, so it makes sense if you have one person who is the creative vision for both sexes.”
She said the way Saks buys the line will remain the same and with the “schedules and calendars shifting, we need to see where it’s most important for us to be. But the designers may have already thought it through since you have women’s pre-collection at the same time as the men’s market in Europe and our teams would already be there.”
Ken Downing, fashion director and senior vice president of stores for Neiman Marcus, said, “We are seeing more and more brands considering a combined runway presentation of men’s and women’s collections after the announcement by Christopher Bailey at Burberry. This is new territory, and will adapt as needed. There is much change, and more change to come in our industry. We welcome new ideas, as we all look to retool our industry to better address the ever-changing needs of the customer.”
Elizabeth von der Goltz, senior vice president and general merchandise manager of fine apparel and designer sportswear for Bergdorf’s, said: “I love the idea of Gucci showing both men’s and women’s together in one show. It makes sense for brands to be experimenting with different formats bringing something fresh and exciting to fashion week. Showing both men’s and women’s together gives the audience a more holistic view of the collection.”
Asked whether coed shows would work in the U.S., Robert Burke, chairman and ceo of Robert Burke Associates, said, “Things have gone through cycles of where they’ve been at different times when people have shown together. I think the Gucci collection is certainly on a high right now. I think it’s interesting to do. I don’t know if it would fly here, especially because of the buying cycles. It’s great to show, but the reality is that it’s all bought ahead of time.”
Did he think the women’s or the men’s Gucci collection would move?
“I would think it would be on the women’s calendar. The women’s is such a big business. I don’t know that they could move up women’s as easily. I think men’s would be easier to move forward, than women’s moving back,” said Burke.