Tom Ford RTW Fall 2018

It seems all we hear from the media these days is about artificial intelligence doing what humans do, only better; algorithms that can target what your customers want, and how to use social media to reach that consumer.

Yet the fashion and retail industry is told that it’s all about the emotional experience that today’s brands must create in order to sell to today’s consumer.

Well, Tom Ford just showed a brilliant, exciting, new, modern collection during New York Fashion Week that, in and of itself, should provide an emotional experience and much more. Gutsy, wearable clothes that should have the fashion media cheering from the rooftops with a big fashion message! This is exactly what is needed. Will the fashion media grab it?

With all the digital marketing, distribution and media outlets available, it should be easier than ever to get the message out. Clearly these excellent tools also make companies more efficient while providing terrific sales opportunities. The old school trickle-down effect where a world-class designer had a hit collection, and other lower-priced brands copy or “knock it off,” may not be as vigorous as it once was, but it is still a big factor. Even though fashion energy seems to be at a relatively low level, retailers have increased the number of their private label collections. These are very much influenced by designer and big brand lines. The retailers are still all over New York, London, Milan and Paris fashion weeks.

Brands and retailers clearly have to concentrate on projecting their own style message in a creative modern way. It has to be more than department stores and malls opening up restaurants and other lures that will attract traffic. These efforts should for the most part be product driven.

Let’s go way back in “The Day,” when major retailers had marquee Fashion Directors (as some still do). They were responsible for finding new resources and to develop presentations for store executives as to why the best collections were important. This small core of fashion directors would spread the message throughout their store groups and beyond. They included Dawn Mello of Bergdorf Goodman, who went on to Gucci, creating a star when she brought in Tom Ford. Kal Ruttenstein, from Bloomingdale’s, was the most creative fashion director of his time, going so far as to bring Broadway to Bloomingdale’s. During his tenure he made the retailer the most exciting store group in all of fashion. These fashion teachers created energy by constantly inspiring the industry as a whole.

And that is the key word: teacher. That is what is missing in today’s world. We need to start thinking of marketing as teaching.

There have traditionally been three legs to the Fashion Education stool. They are the designers, the retailers and the fashion press.

The Fashion Press and consumer newspapers appear to have stagnated. Fashion magazines have waited far too long to find a way to teach younger consumers about style and taste and who has it. The more sophisticated consumer understands, but the mass market is floating around in fashion lifeboats looking for a safe harbor.

The fashion press is going through the motions covering everything, and some of it is very well written with excellent photography.  But watch out – dull professionalism can lead to a slow death in the hyper-creative atmosphere of fashion. Major magazines are just now awakening to the new teaching methods of the 21st century. Condé Nast’s W Magazine, for example, is developing ways of “creating their own fashion influencers” to be part of their media mix. But the genre as a whole still has a lot of catching up to do.

So into the void jumps fashion influencers.

New York Magazine’s The Cut claims, “Fashion influencers have usurped the power of the media branches of the old fashion establishment.”  These influencers, many of whom started as bloggers, are all over the place. Some are fashion savvy with taste and others not so much. The most successful have become fashion media power players and have developed multimillion-dollar businesses based on brands paying them to promote their products. Some supposedly have followers in the millions, and get front row seats at the major collections. But WWD just seriously questioned the authenticity of some of their follower numbers. The other problem is there are so many “influencers” these days sending out hundreds of messages that it can get confusing.  Will they last? Some will because they understand fashion and have superior taste. Many will not.

At the retail and brand level there is new thinking percolating. Designer brands like Karl Lagerfeld and Tommy Hilfiger are creating capsule collections with celebrity models who are part of the creative process — Kaia Gerber in the case of Karl Lagerfeld, and Gigi Hadid for Tommy. Retailers, meanwhile, are using prime first floor space to provide “pop-up shops” for new fashion lines. Macy’s, for example, will rent space to a new brand for a short period, in some instances as little as a month.

But are the stores and malls being as creative as they could be? For example, what about hosting a Green Carpet Event (instead of Red Carpet), where 50 or 100 Influencers walk the Green Carpet at a store or mall?  What about a row of shops having a “Design Your Own Dress Night”? A customer can say, “I like this red dress, but want it in blue” or “I do not like the rhinestones around the neck,” etc. The associates would be able to order the changes and have the dress delivered to the customer in a few days.

The point is that brands and the retailers have to have a steady stream of ideas — but the product must be the centerpiece.

Michael Coady is a media and marketing industry consultant, and the former ceo of Fairchild Publications. He can be reached at:

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