NEW YORK — “Exclusive accessibility.”That’s how Steven Kolb, president and chief executive officer of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, summed up the new bottom line for runway shows, where insiders gather to experience a brand and then turn to their respective platforms to project it onto the digital firmament.If the ideas of being both exclusive and accessible are hard to square in one’s mind, that’s just the beginning of what Kolb said would be a “period of chaos” as the industry transitions from one model to another.Kolb spoke Thursday as the CFDA and Launchmetrics revealed their new data-heavy report on runway shows, “Front Row to Consumer: The Voice Driving Fashion Week in Today’s Digital Era.” The report was revealed exclusively by WWD on Thursday prior to the forum.Joining him in on a panel to explore the study’s finding and track the runway’s direction were Launchmetrics ceo Michael Jais, Alexander Wang’s chief strategy officer Stephanie Horton and Elite World Group co-ceo Chris Gay. The discussion was moderated by James Fallon, editorial director of WWD.“For an industry that changes so frequently, the fashion business model really hadn’t changed for decades,” Kolb said.But now the whole system is on the move, with brands testing new approaches and following the path that best suits their own designs. Most recently, Wang decided that, after the next New York Fashion Week, it would start showing in June and December.The CFDA has been supportive of the move.“The brands that are interested in this idea are definitely the younger-generation brands,” Kolb said. “What will happen is that you’ll see a core group of designers root themselves in December and June.”While frustrating perhaps to the traditional media set and buyers, he said if the business model works, other brands would adopt the schedule.“Those that don’t migrate, might stop showing because, really, they’re on the calendar now and showing, but they don’t need to be showing,” Kolb said. “It will be a period of chaos, but chaos always calms down at some point.”And while the when, where, what and why of fashion shows remains in flux, the who definitely includes influencers, who collectively provided brands at New York Fashion Week with 36 percent of the Media Impact Value realized, the study found.That makes influencers the most important show attendees, according to that measure.“Sometimes we think the influencer is frivolous and just out there and actually annoying sometime, but when you slice between that and you see the value of it, maybe that to me was a reassurance [from the report], that it’s a good thing,” Kolb said.Elite’s Gay said influencers bring their own expertise to the equation.“If you want to do something that really resonates, it has to move organically to their followers,” said Gay, who advised that brands include influencers in the conversation “because they’re experts of their own following.”Even if that following is relatively small, it can be important.“The microinfluencers have to have — and they normally do have — really strong engagement because it’s a more segmented audience, they’re really touching on a nerve,” he said.With influencers just one part of a puzzle with many moving parts, the whole industry is stepping back and reevaluating.“You really have to look at the goal of your show and why you’re doing it,” Horton said. “For Alex, really the show is to communicate the brand to the consumer.“For us, the business model needs to change because the consumer’s changed,” she said. “So why would you do something that’s not working just because that’s what people think you should be doing?”The new cadence of Wang’s show better fits the company’s production schedule and will help get the right seasonal looks to consumers when they’re looking for them.“You always want to have that bit of mystery and exclusivity of a brand, but the democratization of fashion is real, it’s really being able to create that balance,” she said.And that balance will be differ from brand to brand.“There’s not one path to be successful and engaging your audiences, depending on your goals…depending on what you want to achieve with your brand, you have different options,” said Launchmetrics’ Jais, underscoring one of the report’s main findings.
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