“I would say there’s more attention on it [fashion] than ever before; it’s not a private little insiders’ game now.”
That’s the response from Michael Kors when asked by WWD whether the fashion system was overheated, with chaotic fashion weeks, hordes of tweets and Instagrams, accelerating product cycles and an industry seemingly spinning out of control. The issue is coming to a head as designers, retailers and executives try to cope with a hyper-stimulated consumer and an industry overwhelmed by the speed and reach of new technology.
It raises a question that goes to the heart and purpose of fashion shows: Should they be open to the public? The consumer demand for fashion entertainment certainly seems to exist, but how should it be satisfied?
The Council of Fashion Designers of America proposed a movement this week toward turning the semiannual fashion shows into a consumer-facing rather than industry event by presenting in-season collections that are already in store. The CFDA has retained Boston Consulting Group to conduct an extensive study to define the future of fashion shows. Results should be available in February, which won’t impact the upcoming fall 2016 shows that month.
One nagging contention, which Donna Karan has been arguing for decades, is that the fashion cycle is fundamentally out of whack. Consumers can’t find a swimsuit in July, nor a pair of gloves in February. Markdowns are rampant, and full-price selling is getting harder and harder to come by, especially as designers struggle to compete with restaurants, travel and other spending.
The argument is accelerated when consumers see images on Instagram and Twitter of runway looks that aren’t available in stores for another six months. By that point, the customer is in theory bored by these looks that they’ve seen all over the Internet and on celebrities. The clothes linger on the racks and are ultimately marked down substantially.
In an effort to improve full-price selling, Diane von Furstenberg, chairman of the CFDA, came up with the consumer show idea, suggesting designers should utilize all forms of existing technology to show collections that are in-store or about to hit the stores. Simultaneously, firms would show the following season’s collections at private appointments for retailers and media in their showrooms, returning to a more manageable situation for industry professionals.
At this point, not everybody is in favor of the consumer idea, especially the Europeans, where the concept is going to be a much tougher sell. One emerging opinion: Technology should service the industry, not vice versa. And such a change could be a detriment to the creative process, shifting the runway’s message to one of confusion: Will it be about commercial, in-store looks or over-the-top click bait with the attendant circus atmosphere? Will TV buy in? Will scalpers be selling tickets to the hottest shows? And what will be the designer’s point-of-view for a collection created six months earlier?
Some designers are looking to take the dizzying fashion cycle into their own hands. Proenza Schouler took a stand early 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. Thomas Tait, the fast-rising London designer, said he would skip a full-blown fashion show and have one-on-one appointments with press and buyers in March. And Rebecca Minkoff said she’ll show her spring collection in February and have an audience comprised of 30 to 50 percent consumers.
Another issue is that shipping clothes into the stores too early, which used to satisfy the dedicated fashion customer, no longer gratifies the woman who’s shopping closer to need.
“The customer buys now to wear now. The idea of planning a wardrobe six months in advance is less and less and less. That customer mentality is all but extinct,” said Ken Downing, senior vice president, fashion director of Neiman Marcus, who has emerged as a powerful advocate for the consumer runway shift. “They’re buying it when they want it, and they want it when they see it. When you put these images in front of the customer six months in advance and they can’t get it, we’re actually irritating the customer by not servicing them.”