Can Fashion Magazines Cash In On Instant Fashion?

It isn’t often that new revenue opportunities arise in the world of fashion magazines, but the direct-to-store runway movement could be just that if it gets off the ground.

This story first appeared in the October 12, 2016 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

With less money coming in from print advertising, newsstand sales and subscriptions, and digital advertising not yet making up the losses, media companies are grasping at ways to pump up the bottom line.

Even though the see-now-buy-now runway trend is in its infancy, magazines are already strategizing on how to get in on the action — and that entails shifts in business and editorial approaches.

Fashion publications have been making a multipronged effort to cover the collections: securing exclusive first looks of designers’ collections for print, live-streaming the runway shows and documenting what’s on sale via social media, to name a few.

And while the occasion surely presents an opportunity for publications to reap more advertising revenue, most publishers explained that it’s still too early to cash in on the instant fashion moment in a big way.

“It has been interesting so far. It feels very much in test phase,” said Edward Menicheschi, the former chief marketing officer and president of the Condé Nast Media Group, who left the company on October 10 . “The moment today is about discovery and surfacing the content. It’s less ‘click to buy’ and [more] getting them to focus on a moment. Moving forward we will concentrate on getting them to buy.”

The former executive said that at Condé Nast titles such as Vogue and W, the focus was on showcasing the collections that were available to buy in stores via digital and print. For instance, Vogue, Vogue Runway and W presents designers’ looks that were on sale on Instagram and on their web sites.

In print, Vogue gave its readers a preview of Ralph Lauren’s buy-now collection in its September issue, an endeavor that had to be planned out in advance.

“Print is able to present the collection in a luxe way,” Menicheschi said. “Vogue has particular[ly] supreme access.”

But access doesn’t necessarily reap dollars, he acknowledged. While Vogue and others could sell digital ads against coverage, its social media and video efforts aren’t as lucrative. That’s because publishers cannot monetize Facebook Live videos, and Instagram isn’t nearly as lucrative advertising-wise as print or traditional digital advertising.

Menicheschi, instead, was looking to branded content opportunities and the potential of making designers’ collections available to buy on, the company’s e-commerce site. He argued that the e-commerce and technological element needed for a true “buy-now” moment isn’t here yet because the “designers are not yet set up to do it.”

Until then, the model is a “display and advertising-based model,” he noted.

Michael Clinton, president, marketing and publishing director at Hearst Magazines, also focused on native advertising and exclusivity as ways to drum up revenue. Clinton noted that in its October issue, Harper’s Bazaar ran an ad unit for Tommy Hilfiger’s Gigi Hadid collection, along with an exclusive interview with Hadid.

“In a world of a lot of noise about influencers, I would argue that our brands are uberinfluencers and that the editors who work on our brands are uberinfluencers,” Clinton said. “When you have the filter of Harper’s Bazaar, Elle or Marie Claire, it carries a lot of clout with the fashion community.”

Other than print and digital native advertising, Clinton also sold co-branded Instagram posts for the season. While those tactics aren’t new, Clinton remarked that what’s exciting is how “buy now” is creating new fashion opportunities outside of fall and spring seasons.

“The fall and spring seasons will still be very important because they represent a change, but we’re going to see a lot more pop-up collections throughout the year,” he said. “That’s going to be a big opportunity. I think we will see more advertising based on those collections in both print and digital.”

Anthony Cenname, vice president of luxury advertising at The Wall Street Journal and publisher of WSJ Magazine, echoed Clinton.

“The instant fashion concept is having a seismic impact on calendars, not just for buyers, but for marketers,” he said. “Our readers are the ‘See it. Love it. Buy it’ audience. Marketers want to reach these shoppers, which is making for some really exciting conversations about February and March. There are a lot of new opportunities and plenty of room for fresh creative approaches.”

The need to change one’s approach, and to a large extent, thinking, also extends to the editorial world. With the development of instant fashion comes the need to change how fashion weeks are covered.

Marie Claire editor in chief Anne Fulenwider described how designers are caught between the old model and the new and how it is impacting her job.

“What we saw during New York Fashion Week was a divide between the large consumer-facing in-season extravaganzas like Tommy Hilfiger’s or Tom Ford’s public, real-time video runway show, and the small, insider-feeling presentations of spring collections like what Jonathan Saunders did at Diane von Furstenberg,” she said. “What is shaking out is that there will be a two-pronged approach — the bells and whistles for the consumer events and the intimate and direct approach for the ahead-of-season presentations. The editors and buyers I spoke with throughout the week all loved the smaller presentations, as you actually get more intimate dialogue with the designers and it’s much more collaborative. The architects of the larger extravaganzas all spoke of holding smaller, advance sneak peeks for the editors and buyers in future seasons. There was a lot of discussion about when we can shoot the spring collections, whether they were shown [in September] or not, and if they weren’t shown, then we were arranging times to get in to see them in advance of the consumer-facing shows in February. So it is clearly an ongoing collaboration.”

Aside from the logistical inconvenience of shooting collections in advance, there’s also the issue of how “buy now” impacts a magazine’s storytelling.

According to Glamour editor in chief Cindi Leive, the mix of designers opting for “buy now” versus the traditional model, makes it difficult to “synthesize the trends.”

“I think the traditional model — even though everyone was complaining about it — there’s something to be said for it because you could go to a large number of shows and get a sense of the overall mood of the season,” Leive explained.

At the same time, she continued, the direct-to-consumer movement does address the issue of “delayed gratification,” but not necessarily the “seasonality issue” of in-store merchandising: “You go buy your coat in November and all you see is swimsuits,” she explained. “It has been addressed in some way in e-commerce.”

On the upside, “buy now” has made covering fashion more exciting digitally and more important.

“Digital is such an immediate medium. I think from a digital editor’s perspective, it’s great. I’m not just showing you the look, I’m showing you how to get it,” Leive said. “Speaking as someone who edits a brand with a print and digital footprint, there has been a longtime bias to print…a sense that if it’s not in print, it’s not real to certain designers.”

Another issue of importance is the continuing role of the critic in fashion, as designers will likely rely more on the instant feedback of retail and less on the fashion reviews.

According to Stella Bugbee, editorial director of New York’s The Cut, that topic is something she’s discussed with critic-at-large Cathy Horyn.

“I talked to Cathy a lot about it over the course of [New York Fashion] week,” Bugbee said. “Critics help all sorts of artistic fields…if that’s gone from the process, it’s a much more design-by-consensus world that we’re going to live in.”

For instance, if Christopher Bailey sells out of a $5,000 coat, it probably means he will make more, regardless of what the critics say, Bugbee offered.

Horyn declined to be interviewed, but she has chronicled her thoughts on see-now-buy-now for The Cut, and has lamented over how it could diminish the creativity of the high-end designers.

That aside, Bugbee is more in the camp of embracing the change and finding new ways of storytelling. At The Cut, which balances the daily digital churn stories with the biweekly rhythm of New York’s print magazine, Bugbee said her team chronicled “buy-now” shows and curated their favorite pieces. In terms of nabbing exclusives, Bugbee didn’t view that as a cutting-edge way of telling stories.

“The notion of exclusives is absurd. It’s really antiquated. It doesn’t reflect how people consume things,” she said. “Obviously, there are moments when exclusivity works in your favor, but it is no longer the measure of whether somebody is going to consume content — especially in the context of fashion. It’s about talking to your audience.”

She said fashion — and media to some extent — could take cues from how the tech world works, the concept of “breaking down assumptions” and rebuilding.

Vetements is blazing that path in terms of design, Bugbee said, and Opening Ceremony is in the way it releases capsule collections.

Although see-now-buy-now will be harder for monthly magazine editors to address editorially, Bugbee offered, “anyone who sees it as anything other than an opportunity is wasting time. It’s just time to address that it’s happening rather than lurking in terror.”