New York Fashion Week buyers

NEW YORK — Is there a fashion schism in the works?

After a New York Fashion Week where the debate centered on see-now-buy-now — often at the expense of the spring styles on the runways — retailers remain divided over whether it’s a good thing for fashion and the creativity that is as much part of the industry as results on the sales floor.

Retailers said the see-now-buy-now shows remained a work-in-progress. Tom Ford’s cocktail dinner show on Sept. 7; Tommy Hilfiger’s extravagant carnival-cum-show on Sept. 9 for his Gigi Hadid collaboration; Rebecca Minkoff closing off Greene Street on Sept. 10, and Ralph Lauren building a glass box in front of his Madison Avenue flagship all showed adaptations of the model, but other designers still had to work out the kinks.

The question remains, though, whether see-now-buy-now is truly a strategy to follow.

Ed Burstell, managing director of Liberty, noted the importance of satisfying customers’ desire for instant gratification, but said the cost of see-now-buy-now could be steep. “It really comes down to big versus little businesses. This will put smaller brands under even more pressure,” he said. “Basically you can’t make money unless you have money. How many emerging brands will have the financial backing to manufacture seasonal collections sight unseen by buyers and unreviewed by editors and journalists? This could have a devastating effect on creativity as the number of brands could shrink substantially.”

Burstell pointed a finger at self-appointed Internet pundits, who opine despite a lack of knowledge or credentials. Some say this has made fashion more democratic and inclusive, but Burstell believes it’s created a culture of noise and disposable products.

Jeffrey Kalinsky, designer fashion director of Nordstrom, has reservations about see-now-buy-now. “In the designer world, [see-now-buy-now] is not what will drive consumers to stores,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense to me. When stores get a [see-now-buy-now] collection, is everyone going to rush to the store and gobble it up? If the consumer doesn’t wander into the store for a month, where’s that excitement? There are so many other ways to make things better in stores. Why has this become the focus?”

“It’s such a complex subject,” Coco Chan, head of women’s ready-to-wear and accessories at Stylebop.com, said of immediate fashion. “There are many pros and cons. It’s easier to say it than to do it, in reality. Some designers have dipped into it in a capsule way, like Moschino.”

Chan acknowledged that the concept of designs hot off the runway “generates a huge amount of excitement and sells really quickly. But it works best for product that’s easily digestible, particularly accessories. I suspect it’s not for every type of product or category, such as the more conceptual collections that take time for customer to understand and appreciate.”

Chan was skeptical that see-now-buy-now could work for high designer collections. “For certain products, perhaps the production time can be shortened,” she said. “No one can make a Valentino gown in less time than it takes. The customer appreciates the workmanship and will see the difference.”

“[See-now-buy-now] is giving fashion week a new impulse, highlighting different strategies among designers and brands,” said Tiziana Cardini, fashion director of La Rinascente in Milan. “It remains to be seen if the outcome will be positive for customers and brands.”

Alix Morabito, fashion director of Galeries Lafayette, sees see-now-buy-now as primarily a publicity vehicle. “Except for collaborations, buyers have already bought the collections. These shows became tools of public communication. See-now-buy-now is promoting the selling season. For the European market, American designers are not easy to position due to their price range and design. The [gap] between advanced contemporary, emerging designer and luxury is too blurred.”

Mario Grauso, president of Holt Renfrew, said, “We’re in the midst of a big change in the way we view, edit and buy collections. The customer always comes first, but until vendors are able to accommodate retailers with timely see-now-buy-now deliveries, the Internet will continue to be the go-to source for consumers.”

Ken Downing, senior vice president and fashion director at Neiman Marcus, has been bullish about see-now-buy-now from the start, but even he admitted, “We are in a learning period. It’s important that designers continue to look for new ways to present their collections in relevant time.”

Tom Ford’s see-now-buy-now collection produced strong business for men’s and women’s rtw and had a halo effect on beauty, fragrance and accessories, Downing said, adding, “This is truly the future and brands that don’t understand that will be left behind.”

Linda Fargo, senior vice president of the fashion office and the director of women’s fashion and store presentation at Bergdorf Goodman, said the efforts of Ford and Lauren had a positive impact on sales with a 360-degree approach that included store events, marketing, and digital and social media to explain the strategy to the consumer.

Designers were showing on runways see-now-buy-now collections that she bought six months ago, said Sarah Rutson, global vice president of buying for Net-a-porter. “The reality is that the brands and designers didn’t know what would be shown in September when we did the buy back in February,” she said.

La Ligne, which showed buyers products for October delivery, has the right idea, Rutson said. “La Ligne committed early to buying stock and showing certain pieces,” she said. “We, in turn, bought something that’s truly [see-now-buy-now]. It’s all about being balanced for our global customers with different needs based on climate and seasons.”

Suzanne Timmins, senior vice president, fashion office, Hudson’s Bay Co., said, “We’ve seen an immediate reaction to the capsules we’ve carried and it’s been beneficial for us to be able to register that immediacy as a retailer.”

While all the talk seemed to center on see-now-buy-now, there remained a large number of designers who didn’t hop onto the bandwagon and instead showed their spring collections. Among these, buyers found plenty to praise, as emerging or rising labels including Brandon Maxwell, Monse, Rosie Assoulin, Joseph Altuzarra, The Row and Sies Marjan asserted their originality, overshadowing some older, more established hands.

There were bankable trends such as stripes, cargo details and eye-popping colors; must-have items such as off-the-shoulder men’s shirting blouses, and in a springtime for velvet twist, the winter staple did double duty. The biggest trend for spring seems to be skin, with bra tops, cutouts, crop tops and skirts with high slits.

Store executives praised the smaller, intimate presentations some designers opted for, including Jonathan Saunders’ first effort for Diane von Furstenberg, Derek Lam and Lela Rose. “It was a different way of looking at fashion week than we’ve been doing for the last decade or so,” said Roopal Patel, senior vice president and fashion director of Saks Fifth Avenue. “Everyone was beating to the sound of their own drum.”

“A lot of designers took risks and pushed the envelope a bit more than usual and offered very competitive pricing,” said Kelly Golden, owner of Neapolitan Collection in Winnetka, Ill.

“We’ll definitely be buying into shirting,” Timmins said. “This trend continues to grow and move in different directions. The cargo-utilitarian trend feels very new as does the effortless dress, long, floaty and pretty.”

Several retailers attributed the burst of creativity to the presidential election. “In a time of uncertainty, designers said, ‘Let’s try to have some fun,'” said Beth Buccini, owner of Kirna Zabête. “There was a real flirtiness and playfulness to the collections.”

“In spite of, or maybe because of an uncertain election climate, many designers responded with amped up creativity, beauty and expressiveness,” Fargo said.

Barneys New York executive vice president and women’s general merchandise manager Jennifer Sunwoo said must-haves for the store’s customers are personalized satin bomber jackets, printed tops and bralettes from Altuzarra, and deconstructed men’s wear shirting seen on several runways.

Brooke Jaffe, Bloomingdale’s operating vice president, fashion director of rtw, said she’s eyeing promising designers such as Novis, Tome, Creatures of Comfort and PH5, while Moda Operandi’s gmm of rtw Elizabeth Leventhal singled out Brock Collection, Hensley, Adeam and Rejina Pyo for accessories. Her counterpart for nonapparel, Chloe Sippe, called out statement earrings as a key trend.

Haus Alkire was singled out by Macy’s Inc. group vice president and fashion director Nicole Fischelis, along with Gypsy Sport, which has “a very interesting approach to genderless ath-leisure.” She liked the juxtaposition between the romantic streak seen in many collections with the trend of more rigid military-inspired looks.

As the fashion focus shifts to Europe — where Burberry will hold its see-now-buy-now show Monday — the question remains whether more brands will join the party, or else stick to the current schedule. The danger is further confusion among consumers at a time when fashion retailers and brands are struggling to find growth.

“There’s an enormous malaise among customers,” Downing said. “There’s an overexposure of goods, on celebrities, on social media. The quicker brands realize that we need to find new ways to excite and energize customers, the better. The power of social media can be a positive and an asset to the industry or a liability. Currently, it’s become an enormous liability.”

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