MILAN — Stefano Gabbana has a problem — he’s always been averse to eating bright red strawberries in the winter. So the designer is convinced that a fur coat sitting in a store window in the sweltering heat of July or a chiffon top and cotton miniskirt beckoning to customers on a foggy November day doesn’t make sense, either.
The same goes for magazine shoots and ad campaigns that show skimpy swimsuits during ski season or a sexy dress on the cover that can only be bought two months later when it’s available in stores.
“I started asking myself, ‘What’s happening?’ I live in Milan and one day last winter I saw cotton shorts in our Dolce & Gabbana store. As a consumer I said, ‘No, this makes no sense,’” Gabbana said, his crisp white shirt offsetting a black papillon tattoo peeking from under a navy V-neck sweater over jeans.
Gabbana admitted the combination of the consumer slump due to the global recession and fashion overkill has been a major eye-opener, forcing companies to zoom in on what doesn’t work in today’s fashion system.
“I don’t want cherries or strawberries at Christmas anymore. I want to eat, dress and live on time,” he said with vexation. “I think we all need to sit back and ponder over this anxiety we all have of constantly needing to anticipate.”
Slouched on a burgundy velvet sofa in the leopard-print wallpapered and wood library of the company’s Via San Damiano offices, Gabbana described how the fashion system over the past two to three years has become “drugged.”
He foresees a vortex of collections that have shorter and shorter life spans and that are often out of touch with the needs of a consumer increasingly overwhelmed by a crescendo of merchandise and wooed by super-early sales in this tough economy.
“The problem is that the consumer who purchased a new dress at full price will feel tricked to see that same item discounted only a month later,” noted Gabbana.
Watching every penny is also king these days, he said.
“We’re rationalizing costs with the same mentality of a family on a budget forced to cut back on the movies or the weekly supply of Parmesan cheese they put in the shopping cart,” said Gabbana. “Collections need to be smaller and more focused.”
To that end, Gabbana and Domenico Dolce have cut back on the number of collections they produce each season. Beginning with spring 2009, they will now focus on pre-fall or cruise and the runway line, killing the collection they used to do in between.
The early stretch of the season, which accounts for 80 percent of revenues, was beefed up slightly with 270 styles for both pre-fall and cruise. Conversely, the designers reduced the size of the men’s, women’s and accessories sample collections for Dolce & Gabbana and D&G. For example, for pre-fall they created only 21 sample coats for the main collection, compared with the 30 they did last fall, saving on production and fabric costs.
Besides affecting the bottom line and impacting creativity, the risk of cranking out too many collections, said Gabbana, is being stuck with warehouses chock full of leftovers.
Although he recognizes the importance of U.S. department stores, he wags a finger at the pace they’ve set, demanding more merchandise in less time.
“If one stops and analyzes the scenario, you ask yourself what’s this mad rush for, for who, for what? Does the average consumer really care?” he queried. “A normal shopper, even an elitist one like ours, buys a down jacket in November based on the weather.”
So the company decided to push back pre-fall deliveries to mid-June from May for its own stores, and Gabbana hopes to make them even later going forward. They’re structuring similar delivery windows on the wholesale side.
“In Europe, we deliver cruise in November, which we already postponed to December, but because of the market conditions, many wholesalers are asking if they can pick up their orders in January,” said Gabbana.
What works instead, he said, is dressing the company’s Christmas windows with elegant clothes from cruise because of the logical tie to holiday and vacations, as well as occasional updates to the seasonal assortment.
“I say we put some order back into things,” he said. “This is the real service we can do to our customers and we’re all in this together."