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The No-Shows

From St. John to Coach to Jones Apparel Group, many design houses prefer to avoid the high cost and frenzy associated with producing a runway presentation during Fashion Week.<br><br><br><br>Who needs all the madness? A variety of firms, ranging from...

From St. John to Coach to Jones Apparel Group, many design houses prefer to avoid the high cost and frenzy associated with producing a runway presentation during Fashion Week.

Who needs all the madness? A variety of firms, ranging from Jones Apparel Group to Liz Claiborne to Coach, Cole Haan, Guess and St. John perennially decide to skip New York’s show week — perhaps because they’re getting along just fine without it. After all, few can argue with the financial track records at Jones, Claiborne or Coach, which are among the fastest-growing companies in the apparel and accessories industries.

The high cost of producing a major show — it can be as much as $750,000 to $2 million; the fact that the shows are centered on the designer-bridge markets, and the fact that there are other ways in which to show retailers their merchandise are some of the frequently cited reasons for not participating in New York’s semiannual spectacle. While obviously some of the no-shows are accessories firms, that makes no difference in Europe, where many accessories firms develop apparel lines just to participate in the runway action.

“If you had asked me 10 years ago, I would have said, ‘yes.’ It would have been a decision based on ego and to gain visibility for the company,” said Kelly Gray, co-chief executive officer and creative director of St. John, the Irvine, Calif.-based ready-to-wear firm with sales in fiscal 2002 between $360 and $370 million. When asked whether she would like to participate in New York’s fashion week, she added, “My father always educated us to give him a reason why it would improve business. And I can’t think of a reason.”

She said by the time the New York shows roll around in February, the company has already shown its fall line to buyers. “The shows are about creating things that are newsworthy. Unless you have something particular you want to say or a mood you want to get across, there’s no reason to show.”

She said most European companies that show do 20 percent of their business in ready-to-wear. “Most are accessory houses. They capture the media attention which translates into sales of accessories. We do a much larger ready-to-wear business,” said Gray. “Our point of view is to sell clothes.”

This story first appeared in the February 7, 2003 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Twice a year, St. John produces a fashion show for its best customers, buyers, retail specialists and retail partners. The show is used for an in-store video, look book and to send to its best customers. The fall show will be held in March at the Bren Events Center, a college basketball center in Irvine, Calif. “It’s grown and grown, and we get 1,200 people who applaud every look that comes out,” Gray said.

But she admits to having an occasional twinge of jealousy over all the press some companies get from their fashion shows.

“All of us have enough of an ego. Wouldn’t it be nice to say you’re the darling of the media? But being the darling of the media can have its drawbacks. What happens when they move on to the next one? We have the loyalty of our customers, and the media never promises to be loyal. In a lot of ways it could hurt us,” Gray said.

“Also, the cost of showing in New York is so high. You won’t get as much press unless you pay the big bucks and use the top girls.”

Coach also doesn’t believe fashion shows are right for the brand. Reed Krakoff, the company’s president and executive creative director, said, “Our product is getting to know it, touch it and feel it. It’s not to our advantage to show on the runway. We enjoy being more of a luxury brand that’s accessories-driven. It doesn’t lend itself to fashion shows.”

Krakoff believes that fashion shows are more for the editors than the retailers anyway. Coach shows its new collections through one-on-one meetings with editors and working directly with magazines.

Although the company does a small collection of leather, suede and cashmere ready-to-wear, it’s only carried in three U.S. stores. Krakoff doesn’t feel there’s any need to show that collection on the runway. “What I love about Coach is we do things our own way. It’s not where our best foot is. xsThe shows are for apparel people who are creating seasonal direction.”

As for his opinion about the semiannual runway ritual, he said, “I love it. I love the excitement, and if it’s a good show, it’s really inspiring. It’s such a salient 10 minutes.”

Cole Haan, the 40-unit footwear and accessories retailer, is another major brand that believes its collections don’t need the runway. Instead, it focuses on accessories market week, said Matt Rubell, chairman of Cole Haan, a wholly owned subsidiary of Nike. “Unless we’re ready to use it as a marketing vehicle to the consumer, rather than the trade, then it’s not worth it. If we invest the money, we’d rather put it toward the consumer. To reach the editorial people, it’s more important to meet with them one on one.”

In addition to its footwear and handbags, Cole Haan makes some outerwear, but doesn’t plan to show it on the runway at this point. “We could do a show and we’ve talked about it, but we would rather run more advertising and stimulate demand that way,” said Rubell.

Anita Britt, executive vice president of finance at Jones Apparel Group, said, “Those [fashion] shows always catered to the designer lines. The lines that Jones Apparel Group owns and markets are a little more mainstream America and midtier channel of distribution such as Kohl’s and Penney’s. It’s nice to participate, but the cost to participate is high, and when we want a lean SG&A base, we have to look at every expenditure and maximize our return to shareholders.”

Years ago, Jones staged small fashion shows in-house for the sales force for the Jones New York Collection, but now it displays its lines to retailers and the sales force in the showroom. Britt explained that since Jones doesn’t own any bridge lines, it wouldn’t make sense at this point to do a runway show. “Our top end is Lauren by Ralph Lauren and they benefit from the Collection with Ralph shows,” she said.

Denise Seegal, chief executive officer of Sweetface Fashion, the holding company for the JLo by Jennifer Lopez brand, said she would consider doing a fashion show for the junior sportswear collection in the future.

“A fashion show provides a lot of excitement and energy surrounding the brand and the product. It’s a very different experience than seeing it in a showroom. The runway show provides a marketing vehicle for the consumer, now that the shows are on TV and on the Internet. Once you have the pictures, the photographs can be used for your press coverage. It gives you immediate worldwide exposure.”

She acknowledged that although putting on a show is very expensive, “it’s an extension of your marketing and advertising. It’s a very costly endeavor but provides a key component to marketing and advertising. The consumer is very intrigued and is interested in seeing the shows live. It gives you instant global recognition.”