NEW YORK — Designers and retailers on Thursday agreed with the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s conclusion that the fashion show system needs to change — and continued to disagree as to how.
The launch of the study set off a rush this season for designers to introduce show-now, buy-now pieces, or in the cases of Burberry and Tom Ford, shift the way they will do shows in September. It also created two firmly opposing camps: New York and London, which seemed to be in favor of more in-season shows, versus Milan and Paris, which are against the idea and are sticking to the current format.
Several New York designers, such as Michael Kors, Proenza Schouler, Lela Rose, Theory and Tory Burch featured “buy now” capsules in the fall 2016 presentations they showed last month, while Rebecca Minkoff had a successful #SeeBuyWear show featuring spring merchandise — and 17 new pieces — and close to a third of the audience being consumers, which translated into strong sales at retail.
The CFDA, along with Boston Consulting Group, 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.
But instead of making a firm recommendation on how to proceed, the CFDA said future approaches will depend on each brand, their tier and in-house strategy.
“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.
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.
Ken Downing, senior vice president and fashion director of Neiman Marcus, said there weren’t any surprises in the CFDA study since he’s been part of the ongoing discussions. “I didn’t anticipate a more definitive result because there’s not a one-size-fits-all solution for the designers. It’s broadening the necessary conversation that all of us need to have on an ongoing basis.” He said it took a broken system to look at the business model in a different way. Downing said he has this conversation daily while he’s in the U.S., as well as in Milan and Paris. “It’s now becoming an international conversation. It’s a great beginning as a thought provoker to open this dialogue internationally,” he said.
Downing doesn’t believe the problem is about the delivery of goods, which was a hot topic in the study. “It’s the delivery of a type of goods the are being brought in. Are they relevant to the season when they’re being shipped? We cherry pick the right products and we cherry pick the most relevant of the month it will be delivered.”
He said designers see pre-fall and fall collections with a classic mind-set, the same for resort and spring collections. “The customer buys now and wears now and clothes with a fully fall point of view that arrive in June, July and September are feeling more and more irrelevant every day. Spring clothes being delivered in November, December and January, and then in March it’s still cold. The weather cycles and the fashion cycles are all out of sync today. We are asking for more seasonless clothes,” he said.
He said he’s asking for color palettes that nod to the season so customers can have a taste of what’s to come without having a heavy tweed jacket in July and August. “That’s an easy fix. The greater challenge is what Boston Consulting Group says is the fatigue of the customer and the inability for the customer’s attention to be held for six months. Another problem is the exposure of celebrities wearing the clothes that go from the presentation straight to their backs, he said.
Downing would like to see the show and the exposure and the media happen closer to the time that the goods are delivered to the stores. He said in Europe, he’s been having discussions about how the designers should be driving the process and not the consumer. “When the customer is in control, they carry the pocketbook. When she stops shopping, the fashion cycle comes to an end,” he said.
Anna Sui pointed the finger at retailers, saying the big problem is that the retail scheduling is off. “When the retailers are asking for fall in June that does not make sense. Especially this past winter, where it was so mild; it wouldn’t hurt to back up deliveries. Remember when there were back-to-school clothes in end of August and September? That makes a little more sense than June. And maybe winter coats should be delivered in October, instead of fur in June and July. The way retail is set up, it’s a six-week turn, and if you don’t sell in those six weeks, you’re not making their quota, and then they ask for markdown money. You just can’t win, unless you hit the jackpot. It never works in favor of everyone. By the time the consumer is ready to buy a winter coat, it didn’t get cold until January, it’s half-price. So why wouldn’t you wait next year until January again,” she said.
As for doing a consumer show, Sui said, “I don’t know that my collection is that mass that it would work. It never has been and I couldn’t gear it that way. For certain companies, it makes sense.”
“I am currently delving into The Boston Consulting Group’s findings regarding fashion week. As this is a complex and multilayered situation, I am looking forward to discussing it in person with my fellow board members at our upcoming CFDA board meeting,” said Michael Kors.
“It’s an interesting time for our industry,” said Tommy Hilfiger, who plans to show his Tommy x Gigi capsule collection, created with Gigi Hadid, at the September show. Immediately after the event, the collection will be available to buy in the company’s own retail stores and online. “Our upcoming September show is the next step in our long history of democratizing the runway. I founded my brand to be accessible and inclusive, and this is a natural progression of our approach to fusing fashion and entertainment, and making the full energy and excitement of NYFW directly accessible to our consumers globally.”
Nanette Lepore said she’s torn about having a consumer show. “I think the key thing to take away is we need to put a real tight exclusivity back on to keep the surprise for the consumer so the press and the buyers have something to get the consumer excited about again.” She said deliveries also pose a problem and stores want to have everything in store when their catalogues drop, in March and September. “People haven’t even gotten back into the stores yet in September, she said. And if the fashion magazines would publish their big fall issues in October, rather than September, that would also help things.
Catherine Bennett, senior vice president and managing director of IMG Fashion Events and Properties, said, “The future of NYFW is an important conversation we should be having as an industry on an ongoing basis. NYFW’s ability to evolve requires us all to acknowledge that one size does not fit all. We’re proud to support our designers and partners in achieving their creative and business goals through whatever avenue makes most sense for their brands.”
Fern Mallis, an industry consultant who created 7th on Sixth, observed about the study: “From what I’ve read, it confirms it’s time for a change, and it’s up to each individual brand. I think it’s going to be a little chaotic before it becomes a real movement. I don’t think they should dictate anything. I think that a change needs to happen in the spirit. I think there’s a lot of exploring to do now.”
The study 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.
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).
Steven Kolb, president of the CFDA, 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.”
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.