For as long as anyone can remember, Donna Karan has been outspoken about the flaws of the fashion industry, from a delivery system that’s completely out of whack to a show system in overdrive that may hype fashion, but leads to excessive markdowns on the selling floor. So one can only imagine how she must feel as the see-now-buy-now movement took off this season.
This story first appeared in the October 12, 2016 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“I don’t think I’ve gotten the credit, and I’m really annoyed about it,” said Karan, in an interview at her Urban Zen boutique following her “in-season” fashion show on Sept. 13. “It’s not that I personally [need the credit], but nobody was understanding the [negative] effect it would have on the industry.”
Even back in 1997, during a speech at WWD’s CEO Summit, Karan described her personal pet peeve: delivery schedules. She maintained that a combination of early deliveries and markdowns had trained the American consumer to wait for sales, leading to earlier, more aggressive price reductions. “As an industry, we are selling clothes two to three months ahead of the season,” she said. “I don’t know about you, but I don’t buy summer clothes until Memorial Day, and I don’t even think about winter clothes until it’s cold outside. But for some reason beyond my comprehension, stores want us to ship them six-ply cashmere sweaters and double-face coats by July 15. Of course, that’s fine with the consumer because she’s learning to buy on sale by Oct. 15.” Karan referred to it back then as the “white sale mentality,” and said it’s the cause of drastic reductions in full-price sell-throughs.
Often called a “fashion radical,” Karan also complained about lavish shows for retailers, who had already bought up the collection, and that it was being shown six months in advance of when they would actually be available to purchase. “You want to do great shows?” she asked in 2010. “Do consumer shows. Talk to the consumers; that’s what the web is about, it’s consumer-retailer.”
Also in 2010, Karan said, “What I think we’ve got to do is lower the volume on the press shows….What is the point of these large bells and whistles shows for the stores? What do they get out of it if they’ve already bought — like DKNY, they’ve already bought the collection. Why are we showing after they’ve already bought? The show is being used as content material to communicate to the consumer, but why do we need to blast out five months in advance rather than when it goes into the store? You go into the store now and you’re in culture shock. ‘What am I seeing at retail, because I’ve just seen all this other stuff?’ People then want to wear that immediately.”
Fast-forward to 2016, when Karan is no longer designing Donna Karan and DKNY, but producing her Urban Zen collection. Since launching the line in 2007, Karan has been a proponent of showing the press her collection in-season. Her strategy at Urban Zen is “see, shop, in season.”
In her show notes for Urban Zen, she wrote, “Everything is accessible to us — here, today, this minute, not six months from now. Presenting and experiencing our fall 2016 collection in September with press and directly to the consumer, all at once. No delay. I’ve always said that’s how a customer wants to shop and that’s how I’m showing. The new season is in season. Enjoy.”