The Council of Fashion Designers of America, releasing the results of its six-week study of the fashion show system with The Boston Consulting Group, drew this conclusion: The time is ripe for change.
This story first appeared in the March 4, 2016 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
BCG conducted interviews with 50 industry executives, mostly in the U.S., questioning them about the current system, what they would change, as well as their industry and brand visions for the future. Among the big ideas that came out of the discussion was that Fashion Week is at the beginning of a seismic shift, and “in-season” relevancy emerged as a recurring idea. In addition, the delivery cycle and subsequent markdown cadence at retail emerged as a critical issue that needs to be addressed. Those interviewed included designers, retailers, editors, fashion and trade show executives, show organizers, casting agents, and fashion bloggers.
The CFDA said that future approaches will depend on each brand, their tier and in-house strategy.
“The results validate the reason why CFDA decided to launch the study,” said Steven Kolb, president and chief executive officer of the CFDA. “As the fashion system evolves, the CFDA will continue to conversation and help designers who are looking to change the way they present their collections.”
The CFDA hopes that the study will trigger further dialogue and help move the fashion industry forward.
According to the study, there was an overall consensus on the need for change, specifically for exploring new models for New York Fashion Week and especially the timing of retail deliveries. But the study highlighted a diversity of opinions as to a specific solution. It found that the purpose of a fashion show depends on the brand maturity, the brand tier, the product focus, target consumers, share of wholesale versus retailer business, and the level of digital influence in the business. “Therefore it is up to each designer and brand to define what is best,” the study concluded.
“This is the first step in raising what the issues are, so we can have a solution,” Diane von Furstenberg, chairwoman of the CFDA, said Thursday morning. She said the two main issues are deliveries, which are so early (delivering coats in July) that it subsequently leads to markdowns, and that fashion shows have taken on such a wild expansion in terms of reach. “It confuses the consumer too,” she said.
While von Furstenberg wasn’t expecting a unanimous decision to go consumer, she said she wanted to alleviate all the pressure for designers to have to spend all their marketing budgets on these major fashion shows for the trade.
Fashion Week is still a moment where designers will present upcoming lines to the retailers and the press, she said, stressing “and it will always be that.” Brands will take orders and reviewers will review the collection. Designers will have to decide themselves how much to show openly, so there’s not an overflow of photos. She suggested designers could do something smaller for the trade, and then choose to do something more consumer relevant at another time. “There could be an opportunity to do a big group show all together with retailers,” she said.
“I wanted to give designers the freedom of not having that pressure,” she said. Von Furstenberg said it may have been a “misunderstanding” in the beginning when she originally pitched the idea of going “consumer.”
“There is a need to change, that’s something for sure. Social media is really what is changing. It’s not about revolution, it’s about evolution,” she said. She acknowledged that it will be a lot of work for the Fashion Calendar to keep track of the type of show that everyone will be doing. “It will find its equilibrium,” she said.
Kolb told WWD that he wasn’t surprised that there wasn’t an overarching consensus to go consumer. “I knew going into this we weren’t going to come out with one singular idea, and that it was really only intended to amplify the conversation the industry has been having about Fashion Week and fashion shows, and how the industry can improve on them.”
Kolb acknowledged that the idea of Fashion Week isn’t changing, and designers will continue to show their collections to the buyers and press, but it’s how they go about it. “What I know is the huge costs of doing a fashion show and the peer pressure are not in the best interests of young designers,” he said. “The big show concept isn’t necessarily the right idea for some people.” Some designers might decide to do an in-season consumer show like Rebecca Minkoff did this season. “They can co-exist. It’s a task for us in terms of the Fashion Calendar,” he said.
As opposed to just letting things happen and seeing where they landed, “we became part of the process of how things can happen,” said Kolb. “I’m completely satisfied with it. I never imagined there would be some new revelation, and everybody would all march along the same path. It’s the beginning of a conversation. We need to take the time to let things evolve.”
He was surprised that the topic that people complained the most about was deliveries. “It was a predominant point in the study. Designers, as they design and ship, will be more aware of that and retailers see the interest and adjust that.” He plans to continue the conversation at the next CFDA board meeting March 16.
In the study, BCG notes that in recent years, evolutions in technology, consumer behaviors, weather, and the retail cycle have challenged and impacted the current fashion cycle. Technology, for example, has made fashion shows, which began as trade events, accessible to a vastly larger audience in real time, amplifying excitement around designs up to six months before the product is available. Deliveries come into the stores too early, triggering early markdowns and reduce full-price selling. Several designers and retailers observed the rise of a “buy now-wear now” consumer behavior and a fatigue of trends and designs. Another issue is fast fashion brands have gained the ability to deliver interpretations of designs to retail before the actual designer collections that inspired them.
The study cites three key challenges in the current system: Early deliveries and markdowns hurting retail sales (39 interviewees cited this); a decreasing perception of newness, (22 interviewees cited this), and the danger of designer creative burnout and downtime for designers (17 interviewees cited this).
In-season relevancy emerged as a recurring idea in the study, including more intimate retail/press appointments or presentations four to six months before deliveries, with an option to have in-season activations when collections are delivered to stores and available online for sale.
While the study suggested keeping retail and press appointments to allow buyers to place orders and provide long-lead press with original content early enough, they said they could be made more intimate and exclusive. BCG suggested that designers consider creating bi-annual, in-season consumer-relevant activations during or after New York Fashion Week around the main and pre-collections to be delivered to stores immediately and for the next several months. They pointed out that “consumer-relevant” does not have to mean having consumers as guests at the show. They could have a digital campaign or small party or event, a short film or a large-scale high-production entertainment show.
In addition, they said that the in-season activations don’t have to happen during NYFW, citing the example of Tom Ford, who took his fall 2015 runway show to Los Angeles on Oscars weekend.
On the topic of in-season relevancy, a hybrid model also emerged that maintains the current timing but includes “capsule collections” available immediately for purchase. Other ideas that were suggested include merging men’s and women’s shows, merging design for main and pre-collections or moving retail/press appointments or in season-activations to pre-collection timing. (December and June).
“Ultimately it is up to the brands to decide what works for them, and the CFDA will support designers as they experiment and define what is right for their collections,” the study concluded.