Power to the people.
In a move aimed at fixing what it describes as “a broken system,” the Council of Fashion Designers of America is getting behind a movement to turn the twice-yearly fashion shows into a consumer-facing rather than industry event by presenting in-season collections that are already in the stores.
The CFDA has retained Boston Consulting Group to conduct a study to define the future of fashion shows. The study, which will begin after the holidays, should take about seven weeks, and won’t have an impact on the upcoming February season. BCG will survey industry experts to explore a possible shift to shows that are more closely aligned with retail deliveries.
“We have designers, retailers and everybody complaining about the shows. Something’s not right anymore because of social media, people are confused,” said Diane von Furstenberg, chairman of the CFDA. She said that consumers see an outfit on Instagram or a Web site and go to the stores and can’t buy it for six months. “We have some ideas. Everyone seems to feel that the shows being consumer-driven is a very good idea,” she said.
Von Furstenberg said the CFDA hasn’t figured out how the new system might work yet, but said designers could conceivably have smaller showroom presentations and appointments with retailers and press to show them the collection six months out and to place orders. They then would have a runway show with all the bells and whistles for a consumer audience showing in-season merchandise — and getting all the positive benefits from the social media phenomenon. The goal is to improve full-price selling at a time when fashion apparel sales continue to flag as consumers switch their spending to restaurants and experiences over clothes.
With the current system the way it is, von Furstenberg said, “The only people who benefit are the people who copy it.”
“It’s very confusing. Everything needs to be rebooted. We’re making this proposal and people can do whatever they want,” she said. “ I have a feeling people will be showing what’s available closer to what’s in store. I don’t have all the answers, otherwise we wouldn’t be hiring [BCG].”
Steven Kolb, president and chief executive officer of the CFDA, added that the organization is working with the industry to get people’s opinions. He and von Furstenberg are planning to meet with IMG, the show producers, on Tuesday to discuss the topic, noting that fashion shows have become entertainment and there are many opportunities.
He said BCG will evaluate the pros and cons of making the shows consumer-driven. He’s had meetings with designers, ceos of companies and top retailers to talk about how to fix the system. It is not a foregone conclusion that a change will happen. “They might come back and say, ‘There’s nothing to fix. Keep it the same.’” Maybe it would be a hybrid scenario, he added.
“We want to take a broken system and create a new system,” he said. The study will help the CFDA evaluate who’s into the change, and who’s not. “Ninety-five percent of the people I’ve spoken to say, ‘Amen.’”
One of the main ideas is keeping the show dates but changing the seasons, such as showing fall in September and spring in February. BCG will also question whether shows should be in June and January and whether they should be more aligned with the pre-collection calendar. The U.S. fashion organization is leading the charge, but Kolb said he recently spoke to his counterparts in London and Italy. Patrizio Bertelli, ceo of Prada, years ago called on the women’s calendar to shift closer to that of the men’s shows, with women’s showing in June and January, in order to improve deliveries.
More and more companies are rethinking how they handle the overheated fashion system, with its chaotic fashion weeks, hordes of tweets and Instagram posts and accelerated product cycles. As reported Monday, Rebecca Minkoff said she would show her spring collection during NYFW in front of a consumer audience — 30 to 50 percent would be consumers — being among the first to take this dramatic step.
Minkoff is the latest designer to question the value of fashion shows that present collections four to six months before they land in stores — by which time consumers are so bored with the styles that they’ve seen on celebrities and social media that they don’t buy them. Just last week, Thomas Tait, the fast-rising London designer, decided to skip a full-blown fashion show and have one-on-one appointments with press and buyers in March. Proenza Schouler took a firm stand earlier this month when the designers said they would not release any pre-fall imagery or sanction outside photography and short-lead reviews of their collection until the clothes, shoes and bags begin to hit the stores around April. And, last week, Silas Chou’s daughter Vivian took a majority stake in Thakoon Panichgul’s company with plans to turn it into a show-now, see-now, buy-now, wear-now brand, and Thakoon is not on the February calendar to have a show. This past season, both Givenchy and Rag & Bone offered opportunities for consumers to attend their spring 2016 shows.
Then there is the Victoria’s Secret show, which remains a hype-generating event across Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and YouTube — not to mention network television.
In response to Minkoff’s move to have a consumer-driven event showing spring merchandise in February, Ken Downing, senior vice president, fashion director of Neiman Marcus, said, “I am an enormous proponent of relooking and recalibrating how we use the fashion show that has become a mega-marketing” event. “The history of fashion shows was to show the buyers and the press the message of the season. But technology has utterly changed everything in our industry. That customer continues to follow Instagram and Twitter and watches the live-stream of fashion shows. When they are seeing clothes, they are less aware of seasons. What they are seeing, they want,” he said.
This is the second time that the CFDA has retained BCG, having worked with the firm in 2013 to evaluate the organization’s priorities and create a five-year plan.