Yay! But lots of Nays.
That was the reaction from designers, retailers and press in the U.S. and Europe to the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s daring proposal to transform the fashion shows into consumer events and feature in-season collections that are in-store.
As reported, the CFDA has retained Boston Consulting Group to evaluate the future of fashion shows in New York, and the study is expected to be completed in February. It won’t impact the February shows, but it’s a movement that’s being proposed for future show weeks for the women’s and men’s wear industries. BCG will survey industry experts to explore a possible shift to shows that are more closely aligned with retail deliveries, with the ultimate goal of stimulating full-price selling at a time when fashion apparel sales continue to languish as consumers spend more of their money on restaurants and experiences over clothes.
But while CFDA chairman Diane von Furstenberg and chief executive officer Stephen Kolb appear to be firmly in favor of the idea, saying “the system is broken,” designers and industry executives were divided. Both Ralph Toledano, president of the Fédération Française de la Couture du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode in Paris, and Carlo Capasa, president of the Italian Chamber of Fashion, were firmly against the proposal, as were several American designers and retailers — although several of the major New York designers played it safe and declined to express an opinion.
Here, a quick survey of what designers, executives and others think of the CFDA’s plan:
Francisco Costa, women’s creative director, Calvin Klein Collection: “It is an interesting discussion and one that I agree is overdue. I totally support the idea — there are improvements to be made and benefits to be had. I am excited to see what transpires.”
Donatella Versace: She said she’s embraced fashion’s new pace. “That’s the world today and fashion is about change and evolution. I love the immediacy of life today and how the doors of fashion are opening up so everyone can feel part of a global tribe. We started with a revolution at Versus Versace, transforming it into a ‘see-now, buy-now, wear-now’ brand. It has been the most extraordinary success, finding a whole new audience who lives their lives online. For my most recent women’s wear collection, we put the sequined leopard-print Palazzo backpacks in some key Versace flagships and e-commerce, because I wanted our customers to get a taste of the catwalk right now. Why should they wait till next season? I believe rules are there to be broken.”
Linda Fargo, senior vice president fashion and store presentation director at Bergdorf Goodman: “We should all start with the customer at the center of our collective process. We’ve lost sight of that. We give her shearling coats in June when she’s just starting to think about shorts. We spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to create excitement and buzz for beautiful products and brand image with runway shows, allowing fast retail to copy it within weeks, while it takes us five months to get deliveries to her. By then, she’s tired of it because it’s been seen in too many posts and images. If you described the fashion cycle from a marketing, seasonality, desire/fulfillment perspective to anyone with any common sense, they would look at you like you were crazy.
“Clearly, retail could use every advantage at its disposal right now, and sometimes challenging times are exactly the motivation we need to hit the reset button. There would absolutely be a big uncomfortable ripple effect of changing the age old status quo of the show cycle and cadence, but the lives of fashion industry denizens are predicated on change. We will adapt. I see it as a win-win for the business and consumer alike.”
Anna Sui: “It takes the wind out of your sails. To me, I like doing a show. I like the excitement of it. I don’t know if you’ll get the same energy [showing an in-season collection]. In order to do a show for the consumer, it has to be a production — really a production.”
She compared it to the biggest houses that do spectacular gala fashion shows. “Designing for a show is very different than designing a collection for the showroom. For the runway, you have to create a whole look. You won’t sell everything that goes into that look, it’s a different math problem, and it’s a different thinking process. It’s a good discussion. Something has to change.” She thinks the markdown schedule is a bigger problem. “They’ve trained the consumer to wait for it to go on sale. Why do you want fall in June and on Dec. 15, it’s 65 degrees? There are other issues besides that that we need to look into. Changing that fashion delivery and markdown cycle. Delivery is one of the most important things that don’t make sense anymore.”
Andrew Rosen, ceo of Theory: “I think the world is being reimagined, so why shouldn’t the fashion industry reimagine how it does things? Everything in our lives is being reconceived. I think it’s great that there’s this energy around looking at this. I’m sure that things will change as they always do. Nothing stays the same.”
Ralph Toledano, president of the Fédération Française de la Couture du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode: He said he was aware of the CFDA initiative and acknowledged that there is always room to improve the system — especially as fashion has evolved dramatically from a more “artisanal” pursuit to a global, omnichannel, consumer-responsive and financially powerful business, with many players above the $1 billion threshold. However, “as far as we are concerned, the system is not broken. The fashion industry is a huge success, our companies are growing very healthily and business is excellent.”
Toledano acknowledged the revolution the Internet and social media have wrought. Yet “this revolution has to be used, managed and controlled by the companies. We are not going to be ruled by technology or bring the industry behind the technology,” he explained. “We are embracing it, using it better and better. And yes, there is room for improvement, but it is a tool. It is not going to rule us.”
He asserted that Paris reigns as the capital of the fashion world, whose points of differentiation include innovative design, creativity and craftsmanship. “They are values, these are our assets and these will always prevail,” he said. “Processes, systems and technologies are at their service.”
As for the show system, Toledano said: “When you talk about presentations, there is something we should never ignore. Our collections are made by human beings, by creative people — and there is passion and emotions behind them. There is no way you can freeze a collection for six months. Everyone in this industry knows that the day after the show, designers hate their collection.
“Every company has its own characteristic, so we have to be careful before dictating a rule,” he added. He also noted that “copies existed before the Internet” and that images, however poor, would leak out from showrooms or private presentations.
As for consumers being bombarded with images of clothes six months before they hit stores, Toledano said the same confusion existed before when newspapers published reviews of collections as they were unveiled in Paris, Milan, London or New York. “So this is nothing new. At that time, nobody cared about it,” he said.
Ditto for fashion shows that were open to the public, with Toledano noting that Thierry Mugler pioneered that in the Eighties with his high-voltage shows at the Zenith in Paris..
“I think it would be much simpler if stores didn’t insist on going on sale in mid-November, when it’s 17 Celsius [63 degrees Fahrenheit] in New York, and instead did that at the end of February,” he said. “This would be effective and it would be simple.”
Carlo Capasa, president of the Italian Chamber of Fashion: He said the Milan-based association is always open to discuss new proposals, but he expressed a few doubts. “First of all, creativity must be preserved, fashion must not become marketing, and the system should not penalize design,” said Capasa, underscoring that the chamber’s views are in sync with those of the French fashion association.
“As the brother of a designer [Ennio Capasa of Costume National], I know that, after six months a collection could have been changed three times,” he said with a laugh. “Second, it’s impossible to hide anything today, photos come out anyway, and third, what will newspapers and magazines publish and show? I understand the need for technology, but we must use it, not be used by it.”
Capasa said he would wait to see what the study by Boston Consulting Group would present before taking further steps. “The system is not all wrong. It works: A lot of companies have grown in the past few years. It’s a matter of fine-tuning rather than revolutionizing it. Also, let’s think of the small and medium-sized brands, they must also be protected as they can’t afford to produce the collections right away and it may be difficult for them to sell without a show.”
Caroline Rush, chief executive, British Fashion Council: “In London we have had a consumer fashion week – London Fashion Weekend for several years. Over recent years there have been many conversations about how we blur lines between London Fashion Week and London Fashion Weekend, as designers increase consumer engagement in shows through social, live streaming and for a select few, the show experience. There is no doubt in future seasons these lines will blur even more as designers opt to do in season shows, however we need to ensure those businesses that rely on platforms such as fashion weeks to reach new wholesale partners and media continue to have the opportunity to do so.”
Robbie Myers, editor in chief of Elle: “I’ve been having these conversations with designers for I don’t know, six months. I think it would be great if there would be very small shows for buyers and long lead press…we would sign an NDA [nondisclosure agreement], there would be a look book, you wouldn’t put it up on social, we would shoot things that nobody has seen, so we can bring the readers something they haven’t seen. It’s a question I’ve brought up. The designers are enthusiastic about it [small show, closed].…I think some of them would welcome the intimacy of a small show or presentation.”
As for whether the industry would be going backward if shows were closed in that way, she said, “It still takes X amount of time to make and deliver the clothes. Anything that smacks of going backwards, nobody wants to go back to that. We are on the same schedule as the retailers…It takes X amount of time to get it in a store.”
Asked if the fashion shows became more consumer-facing, would it disrupt print magazines, she said, “We can shoot something immediately…there are a lot of ways for it to work. I don’t think it’s about hewing to an old media schedule. And I’m not saying shows wouldn’t be for daily media. Short lead media is pushing consumer desire for right now.”
She said “Project Runway” has “democratized” fashion….”It made people feel like they could have a one-on-one relationship with fashion… since ‘Project Runway’ was launched and fashion editors became celebrities. It is my belief that fashion is one of the pillars of pop culture. Michael Kors is very smart and funny on this. He says, ‘you see it, you buy it, you want to wear it.’ The economic pressure will make things change, but also if you can actually prove that show-it-now, buy-it-now can drive the market, then it will go that way, intentionally.”
Elie Tahari: “I agree that fashion week has to evolve with the times, the industry has changed so much because of e-commerce and social media and fashion shows have to be more relevant to the customer. Right now they are getting frustrated by not being able to purchase what is on the runway in real time and we need to find a solution. We are continuing to have internal discussions about the best way to present our collection and talking about the best solution for our business.”
Fern Mallis, industry consultant and creator of 7th on Sixth: “I think it’s a terrific idea that’s long overdue. It’s an idea I’ve been proposing for a long, long time, even when I was still at 7th on Sixth.”
She said she went to the fashion festival in Melbourne, which was a consumer week and saw how well it worked. “I talked to various reps in the city several times, but I wasn’t getting any traction then. The amount of hype, expense and publicity generated should be directed to the consumer. That’s the one who is putting their hands in their pockets and buying the clothing. Better to get them excited and feeling part of it.”
Asked what type of show designers would present, she said, “It should be everybody putting their best foot forward.” She said for the theatricality, they will put some spectacular pieces in there. In Australia, she said designers and retailers do shows. She can see Neiman Marcus, Barneys New York, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdale’s selling tickets for show, or packages of shows, and key press would be invited. “I think it’s the way to go. I’m still really proud of what I did, but there’s a time and place. Everything’s changed. Social media has changed all that. It’s a new ballgame. The bottom line is you want customers to buy this stuff.”
She said designers would show the upcoming season in smaller shows that are less frenetic and through a look book.
Dennis Basso: “It’s a great idea, but everyone has to be aware of the fact that showing their collection to consumers in season, they will have to schedule private appointments in advance to show their [upcoming] collections to the press and their clients. There needs to be enough lead time to manufacture everything. Since I started showing in 1983, I have always had about 50 percent consumers at my shows. It gets the customers excited and gives them some incentive to buy.” As for the prospect of staging a show for consumers and another for media and buyers, Basso said, “Two shows becomes too much. That’s a big deal.”
Jeffrey Kalinsky, founder of Jeffrey New York and Jeffrey Atlanta: “I do not think the system is broken the way it is now. When we’re talking about true luxury fashion, there has to be something still that remains a bit of a mystery. The whole idea of direct-to-consumer benefits are minor compared with the desirability of a world” that is a little bit out of the reach of ordinary consumers and “only for people in the industry.”
“The consumer who’s really interested in fashion loves seeing it on social media and reading about it. But it means so much more that it’s a very special world that exists. If you take that away, the gains you’re going to get for the true luxury fashion market aren’t going to be worth changing the ‘system.’”
Kalinsky doesn’t think social media has proven itself to be a great source of commerce for buy-now, wear-now. Rather, “social media acts as something inspirational to customers. We all have e-commerce sites. I don’t think sell-throughs in stores are going to be any healthier.”
Kalinsky said there isn’t a clear definition for what’s in season these days. “There is no such thing as a season anymore. For a global luxury customer, it’s winter somewhere 12 months of the year.” If you make something available to customers far in advance, the chances of her changing her mind are very great, Kalinsky said. “My customers are interested in a different kind of experience. They’re very happy with the current setup.”
However, when Kalinsky wears his other hat, as executive vice president of designer merchandising at Nordstrom, things are a little different. “The [Nordstrom] luxury customers have all different kinds of access. Some are happy to wait and some want an advanced preview and the ability to buy in an advanced way. I’m not sure anybody wants to see spring clothes on runways in February and buy [those clothes] in February. That takes the romance our luxury customer wants a bit out of the equation.”
Marcus Wainwright, co-owner and co-creative director of Rag & Bone: “I think you have to think all the way down the road. Let’s say you’re doing a consumer show or a consumer-focused show. You’re spending a ton of money on reaching the consumer. The question is going to become, ‘What’s the validity of a fashion show? Is it valid as a way of reaching a consumer? Is it the best way to show you guys the clothes?’ Maybe it is. I’m not saying it’s not. That’s the inevitable question. Because when you take the retailers out of it [because they will already have seen it], you’ve made the clothes you’ve got your money invested in. You’re hoping for a return. What’s the best way to make sure those clothes move?”
Asked whether retailers would want to see the show, he said, “The retailers want to see how you put it together. They want to be inspired. They want a show look to publish. You could do that all in advance, but they have to see [the collection]. Seeing it [in the showroom on racks] is completely different in terms of the music, the lighting of the show context. You’d have to get a retailer to see it before they bought it. They would have very little idea about runway trends unless everyone styled their shows for the retailers. They would go to Paris or Milan and know what’s trending, but really they’re just going to have seen all the commercial collections. So at some point, they have to be presented with a point of view. It’s very complicated. You could do lots of different things, but the devil is going to be in the details.”
John Varvatos: “With the pace the consumer is changing, we are not talking down the road. The future is now.”
Nicole Fischelis, group vice president and fashion director at Macy’s Inc.: She said any calendar changes would have to make provisions for buyers to see the collections ahead of time. “Even if it’s not a show format, the buyer would still go to the showroom two or three months in advance to place the order so that the brand has time to produce the garments.”
Fischelis said reworking the fashion schedule is “a very interesting concept. It’s something France had talked about years back. I think it needs to be clarified.” One benefit of a change is that brands would have more protection from being copied. “In that sense, it’s a good thing. Brands wouldn’t be facing fast-fashion retailers selling looks from the runways a month or more before the products are in stores.”
Fischelis said something needs to be done to rein in the runway shows, some of which have become big, over-the-top productions. “It’s gone to the extreme. It’s getting to be exhausting.”
Tomoko Ogura, senior fashion director of Barneys New York: “It would be a challenge to seamlessly make this transition for the entire industry. The transition period could prove confusing. But if everything were reset, it wouldn’t impact the buyers as we’d still have to buy the product months in advance. The syncing up of delivery and shows would be instrumental in driving sales and satiating the customer’s appetite for immediacy. The shows remain impactful in exposing a brand and designer’s creative vision to the industry. But with the introduction and continuous advancement of social media and digital marketing, the consumer is also part of the audience now and it would be a missed opportunity not to try and lessen the gap between shows and delivery.”
Bud Konheim, ceo of Nicole Miller: He noted that there is now 46 square feet of retail space for every man, woman and child in the U.S. And unsold inventory secured for e-commerce that isn’t even accounted for. “And now the CFDA is going to figure it out? No, they’re not. The panic has set in or it is about to set in. Jargon and clichés are flying fast and furious pretending to be knowledge, information and thoughtful analysis. Everybody’s got words and commands that they can throw out to seem like they are thinking the thing through – no. Who is going to settle the problem? The buying public, when they get interested in something, they’ll buy it. Have you ever heard of Apple? They didn’t subscribe to the general accepted wisdom of how you sell electronics.”
Lisa Sugar, founder and president of PopSugar: “Totally makes sense to reevaluate and adapt for both the designers and consumers changing needs. The current setup is taxing on designers and confusing for consumers so we applaud the direction the CFDA and Diane [von Furstenberg] are leading the industry. Through our PopSugar and ShopStyle businesses, we are seeing an ever-decreasing gap between inspiration and action. When our audience sees something they love on the runway or spectacular street style, they expect to be able to buy it right away. In fact through our proprietary research PopSugar Insights, 71 percent of our audience have made a purchase immediately upon reading about a new product online.”
Eva Chen, Fashion Partnerships at Instagram: “We’ve already seen designers making strides via Instagram to embrace this consumer-facing movement. Last season, DKNY used Instagram Direct to share videos from Maxwell and Dao-Yi with their followers; Proenza Schouler collaborated with photographer Landon Nordeman to visually tell the story from inspiration to the runway of their previous collection, and Misha Nonoo forewent a show altogether to host an InstaShow. Designers know that sharing their inspirations and perspectives on Instagram means reaching their audiences instantly — and thereby engaging their consumers on a deeper level.”
Leandra Medine, founder of Man Repeller: “Fashion should feel, I think, a little bit like a privilege, even though it is not and as a matter of fact, it is wholly a right for whoever chooses to engage with it, but there is something about its feeling kind of hedonistic and indulgent that keeps its wheels in motion, I think. I am curious to see what happens, and overall supportive because everyone deserves to feel like they’re inside. The thing is…if everyone’s inside, aren’t we also all outside?”
Nanette Lepore: “I think it’s a great idea. Something needs to be done. The public is following fashion and they love it. We need to ignite consumer excitement, but putting on a consumer show in February for spring merchandise is still early. It should be in mid-March. There are so many broken parts to the way we do things now. We need a big symposium of retailers and designers. That’s one of the problems that spring is in the store before people are ready for it. That’s another issue. Coats land in the store in June and July, and by October, it’s marked down. People are overloaded with everything right now. It’s a big problem and a hard thing to work out. It should be every designer’s choice.”
She said if editors see the line in the showroom “they might feel more empowered to give it a fresh look [in styling]. People will collaborate on looks. If we did something really different, it can put a fresh eye and fresh sense of ownership on how you represent your magazines and your designs.”
Erin Hawker, owner and founder of Agentry PR, which organizes fashion shows for emerging men’s wear brands: “I think it is an interesting idea, especially since social media puts the coming season’s runways in front of millions of eyes in a split second. My concern is that it will degrade the idea of New York being the fashion capital, since other fashion weeks [internationally], as far as I know, are sticking with the traditional showing of collections in advance of the season. Also, this concept makes it difficult for smaller designers who, rather than produce a sample collection, would then be required to create retail-ready collection. It sort of takes away the magic and inspiration that has traditionally been what fashion runways have always been.”
Michael Bastian: “I’m super excited. This is really significant if this can be pulled off. But I think it’s one of those things that it’s either all or nothing. Everybody’s got to be on board with it or the message gets weird. But I can’t imagine why a designer wouldn’t be on board with that. I think everyone on some level has felt like the system is broken for a while now, but no one could conceive of a way to change it and this is the first suggestion that to me sounds practical. Ever since social media has exploded it has exaggerated the ridiculousness of showing six months in advance and getting everyone excited for clothes they can’t purchase until much later.”
Timo Weiland, creative director of Timo Weiland: “I believe that the current system must be updated to address changing times with fast fashion, global warming and the more buy-now, wear-now consumer behavior. We are always evolving our format in terms of market and fashion week — thus we would be open to exploring new methods of presenting to buyers, editors and consumers in a way that would catalyze growth in reach across those channels.”
Stella Bugbee, editorial director of New York Magazine’s The Cut: “I think that would be an excellent improvement on the situation. I think everyone should make everything available online. I’ve often thought the system [fashion industry] was slow to adapt. A lot of brands should question whether they should have a fashion show at all.”
Asked why it’s taken so long for the industry to change, she said, “I think you’re asking people to alter the way things have been done for decades…it’s not about getting used to a new technology or platform like Snapchat.”
She said opening fashion shows to the public “is a very creative solution. I don’t think it would work for every brand.” She cited the recent Marc Jacobs show, in which models came out to the public before going into the theater for the show. She said if the industry changes, the role of the critic will also adapt, as will the role of the retailer. She said designers and retailers are going to have to change “in tandem.” She called out Thakoon, Bill Blass and smaller brands that have begun to adapt. “I think it’s very threatening to people to think of an upheaval to this industry because it has operated in a codified way. Most of the fashion industry is set up to serve a print dynasty,” she said, noting that “it doesn’t apply” the way it had before.
Shimon Ovadia of Ovadia & Sons: “We think converting to consumer plays is a great way to disrupt the traditional formula. It may be time for something new. Times are changing and people want to see things they can buy instantaneously. Most men’s shopping habits are buy-now, wear-now. The majority are not looking at runway shows and planning their wardrobe for next season. They’ll buy a new coat when it’s cold out and not in July. I think the move can directly result in retail and e-com sales.”
Karen Murray, president of sportswear at VF Corp.: “Our industry is evolving with the constant introduction of new technology, the increase of fast-fashion options, and the instant awareness that social media creates. Through Instagram, Periscope, Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook and all other social apps, consumers get real-time access to fashion shows and see product months before it hits stores. They are now used to instant gratification and being able to get what they want at the touch of their finger on their phone. No longer are fashion shows a platform for just buyers — they now cater to press and consumers; editors and bloggers post immediately, creating instant demand for consumers. This season, we will be doing a test of being able to purchase some of our items straight from the runway.”