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The Fashion System: Ralph Lauren

The designer argues that the current insider-only fashion show model will change for a simple reason: It must.

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Foresight, creative thinking and ample resources make for a formidable force. Ralph Lauren is leading fashion’s way in his aggressive embrace of new technologies. This includes various possibilities for fashion shows, including making them not only consumer-accessible, but also consumer-targeted. Last December, the designer staged his firm’s first direct-to-consumer show in an online event for Rugby, which proved a dazzling quantifiable success. On March 17, a similar effort will hit the internet for Lauren.


Here, Lauren argues that the current insider-only fashion show model, for years the insular pinnacle of the industry’s long-entrenched modus operandi, will change for a simple reason: It must.

 

As a company, Ralph Lauren is leading the way in embracing new technologies.       

We have been experimenting here in this company. With Rugby, business increased dramatically when we did the virtual show with the product online, when it was in the stores. It was amazing. We have been experimenting [elsewhere]—the iPhone and other things; David has worked on a lot of these projects. So, the concept of doing a show that goes right to the consumer, it’s not a matter of, ‘Should we do it?’ We’ve done it. Now, Lauren is next. That’s going to be a whole show in March.

What about the notion of keeping the shows as trade shows, but earlier to encompass the pre-collections?

This is a much bigger topic than discussing pre-anything. The issue is [the industry] has fashion shows that a lot of designers can’t afford; they spend a fortune. And there are designers that can afford it. But where do we get the biggest bang for our buck? We proved with a little company like Rugby that [a consumer-focused show] increased business. The business has been blowing out since that show. Now we’re doing it with Lauren and we’re going to continue to do other things. That’s definitely on our charter.


Any plans for the main collection?    
              

The main collection is what we’re discussing now. We have been discussing it for years because I’ve always had issues with who sees the shows and how they’re written up, versus our own showing and the [fact that] the consumer never gets to see what we do. It’s always been an issue, and now the vehicle is out there. It’s out there to be done, and it will be done.

 

In men’s wear, I’ve shown my whole collection on one floor, and everyone comes up and says they love seeing the clothes this way. [Showing] that way is doing a service for the magazines, a service for our buyers, in terms of economically showing it in the best way. That’s done, that goes to the buyers, to the stores. Then, the show that goes to the consumer has got to be done. Whether it’s on the Internet at the same time, the real factor is that when it’s about to go into the stores is when consumers really get turned on. [If it’s shown six months in advance] they get hot for a week and then they forget it; there are other buzzes all over the place. So, in preparation for this conversation, I sat down with my people and started to talk about all these things, and we walked away with a lot of different pillars on how to do this.

 

Do direct-to-consumer shows change the purpose?

There’s two purposes [to shows]. One is the history of how it worked years ago—the only outlet a designer had was to show in a fashion show, so the magazines and the newspapers could all see it and say, “this is a statement.” Now that statement has changed. Now it goes online in five minutes and everyone’s seeing the show. There’s a whole world out there—I don’t know how many millions of people—seeing the clothes after that. So that part of the business is definitely going to change.

 

A lot of designers have their own stores, so they make their statement [there]. But I know my stores want to see all these things, and they want to know exactly what the statement is. I want the press to look at it. Magazines have a whole world to be dealing with. The magazines have issues, the designers have issues, and the world is changing at the same time. And so the question is, How does all of that unfold? How does that go forward? I can’t make a prediction about how the magazines are going to react to it, but it’s caused everyone to react and that’s what’s important. You can’t say it’s going to be the way it was, because it won’t be that way. When a young designer wants to get exposure, he possibly can afford to do this on the Internet, but it’s not at the time of the show [now] as much as at the time when the consumers are walking in the stores.

 

What questions do you take to this newly developing retail show schedule?

Where is the best bang for your buck? How many people are you reaching? As technology improves, it’s going to be much more refined—bigger screens, the interactive sensibilities of talking to an editor on television while they’re reviewing a show will happen. We’re doing something like that in Lauren [next week].

 

The issue is, if all these things are happening, if we can do a show that makes sense [for retail], and virtual reality costs a quarter of the price to put on a show, why not use that?

What are the primary issues in this switch from a trade to a consumer show focus?

There are a lot of issues about switching because buyers have to buy and products have to be ready and mills have to weave fabric, so you can’t just say, “I’m going to do it right before the show.” The question is where is the value? Is the big value showing it to the magazines and the editors? You’ve got to show it to the stores, right? So you have to put together a look, just like I did [for men’s], and they came up and they said, “This is great, I can buy it, I can see it, I know what I’m buying, I can talk to you, I can hear anything you have to say.” So we’re doing the service that we should be doing. The retail stores are buying it; they know exactly what they’re buying and they get the message. They don’t need all the music.

So, who needs it? The consumer. The consumer says, ‘I want to look at fashion. I want to see what’s happening now, and I want to see where I’m going. I like that new collection, I like what I’m seeing; it looks brand new, I can go and get it.’ So the point is, showing it three months earlier, or anyone puts it on the Internet three months earlier, it will get reactions. More people are tuning in and they’ll get to know it, but they can’t buy it, so what will that do?

So the switch in timing is essential.

Showing [timed to] retail, when we do our advertising, live, live, live fashion shows, whatever type it is, the biggest vehicle of really building our business. And we have proven it because we’ve experimented it. We did it with Rugby, and we’re doing it now. And, for the future, that’s where we’re going.

What becomes of the mega press shows?

My opinion has always been that the press doesn’t need the bells and whistles; they don’t need the celebrities. They don’t need any of that. I think it’s at retail where all that other stuff is important—how the show goes, what the music is, what’s happening, what’s hip, who are the celebrities, who’s wearing what, that comes at retail. It comes when the clothes go into the stores and the consumer is then saying, “Oh, wow—I want to see what’s going on.”

In five years, will your major shows be targeted towards the consumers?

Absolutely. I wouldn’t say five years. I would say much faster than that.


See the review and full run of show from Ralph Lauren’s women’s fall 2010 collection collection>>


The Fashion System: See more views from designers, retailers and others>>

 

 

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