NEW YORK — Imagine a world where runway shows take a back seat during fashion week.
It’s happening. And fast. The same-ole-same-ole format of models loping, strutting or moping down a runway is rapidly being supplanted by a series of splashy digital-focused programs rolling out in the weeks and days leading up to a show (as well as during and immediately after). This — coupled with largely consumer-facing initiatives — is the new norm.
This story first appeared in the February 10, 2017 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
There is social media activity on every platform — from Snapchat and Instagram to Facebook, YouTube and Twitter; influencers in the front row; influencers moonlighting as models walking down runways in some designers’ shows; virtual reality tie-ins; drones; apps built expressly for fashion week to facilitate e-commerce; photo booths; in-store activations, and sometimes even other retailers involved.
Which means that if a designer relies solely on the runway to fuel digital chatter, they need to think again. The fashion show is becoming a vehicle to reinforce everything else, with consumers invited to participate, share on their own social channels and even immediately buy the items they see on the runway if they wish.
It’s become the only way to stand out in the cacophony of shows and presentations taking place during New York Fashion Week through Feb. 16 — and perhaps the only way to get consumers to shake their overall ennui over fashion.
Just ask Rebecca Minkoff or Tommy Hilfiger, two brands that have dominated the social media fashion conversation over the last week with their shows in Los Angeles: Minkoff for her own line and Hilfiger for his own line, as well as the Tommy x Gigi capsule (which sold out immediately online and last season sparked high-double-digit growth in retail and e-commerce sales, as well as a 900 percent increase in traffic to tommy.com in the 48 hours after the show).
Avery Baker, chief marketing officer of Tommy Hilfiger, told WWD the brand thinks about its approach to fashion week in terms of three digitally driven pillars: content, the consumer experience and commerce.
Ironically, she made no mention whatsoever of the actual clothes that were due to appear on the runway that night. Because it’s content that’s driving visibility and engagement with consumers today — for Hilfiger, at least. She cited TommyAir as an example, a flight that took the models from New York to Los Angeles, as well as an image recognition app, Tommyland Snap: Shop, which identifies products from the show through a photo and can direct users to a point of purchase.
The brand is committed to using digital to put the consumer at the center of the experience, and it extends beyond fashion week. It’s rumored that a concept store is opening in the spring that won’t house a single piece of clothing inside. All viewing and “trying on” of apparel will take place through augmented reality, where a consumer will see their likeness on a life-size screen. They could “try on” by selecting different looks to put on their digital likeness. Baker declined to comment on upcoming retail projects.
Minkoff’s spring 2017 extravaganza took place at The Grove in Los Angeles Feb. 4, where the brand held an all-day pop-up and a slew of other events, from yoga classes and wine tastings to personal appearances. Not to mention the show.
Make no mistake: digital is integral to spreading a label’s message today but for many brands, a buzzy designer can generate multitudes more attention on social media than any mere event.
That’s the case this season at NYFW, where the hottest tickets are Raf Simons’ debut for Calvin Klein today and the two-for-one Oscar de la Renta and Monse shows on Monday, which don’t need a day-long pop-up to garner chatter and engagement online.
Yes, Calvin Klein did take to social media for two launches in the past month: the spring campaign for underwear and jeans online and a made-to-measure, By Appointment collection the brand posted to its Instagram account the same day the spring haute couture shows started in Paris.
Despite the lack of over-the-top fashion week initiatives online in New York, experts unequivocally agree that Simons’ arrival at Calvin will suck the air out of the room this week. It’s indicative of a new dichotomy starting to take shape: On the one hand, a brand can generate interest by naming a new designer (à la the expected arrival of Riccardo Tisci at Versace) but lacking that, companies need an aggressive digital fashion week strategy around their shows.
“It’s had so much hype…they’re [Calvin Klein] releasing things to social media, whether it’s the custom pieces of underwear or their re-branding. It all trickled out in a very strategic way,” said Robert Burke, founder, president and chief executive officer of Robert Burke Associates. “With that particular runway show, the hype is so high and the expectation is so high that it will either meet expectations or greatly disappoint.
“There’s no doubt,” Burke said when asked if he thought Simons’ debut at Calvin Klein would be the biggest draw of the week.
Even Uri Minkoff, ceo of Rebecca Minkoff, agreed.
“Raf is resetting an entire direction of a brand, and he’s resetting the entire artistic direction and meaning of the brand where it’s like, ‘Hey I’m in charge…and I want to start with the pinnacle of fashion,’” Minkoff said. “We have our brand direction, we know who our customer is. We’re not resetting it; we’re looking to retrench it even more.”
And for him, whether a brand’s distribution is wholesale or direct-to-consumer driven dictates much of the digital strategy. Because Rebecca Minkoff’s direct-to-consumer business is the fastest-growing in the company, orchestrating consumer-driven, influencer events is mandatory at this point, Minkoff explained.
“We’re looking to strengthen and expand what we have versus saying, ‘Here is the new Rebecca Minkoff that I want 200 people to see and experience,’” Minkoff said.