By and
with contributions from Miles Socha
 on October 12, 2016
Tommy Hilfiger thanks the audience at his fall runway "carnival."

See-now-buy-now — a term as elastic as a waistband in a pair of mom jeans — attached itself during the most recent fashion season to everything from a handful of items to a capsule to a full-blown collection.

This story first appeared in the October 12, 2016 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

But is it a good idea?

So far, even the industry remains divided about the answer to that question, with some designers embracing it wholeheartedly, some ignoring it and others attempting to be half pregnant and doing a little bit of “see-now-buy-now” and a lot of the next season’s styles.

“The world is changing the way women want to live and shop and I am changing with them,” Ralph Lauren said.

Tommy Hilfiger agreed, saying, “Consumers want immediate gratification and want to be able to shop when they want to shop and how they want to shop.” His carnival-atmosphere see-now-buy-now show with Gigi Hadid at South Street Seaport in Manhattan drove huge social media engagement and significant business.

“When it comes to ‘Ready-to-Wear, Ready to Go’ we’re finding that a hybrid blend is really what works for us,” Michael Kors said. “In today’s world, there’s not only one answer. I think women want time to digest something that is new, but at the same time they want a little instant gratification. The truth is, our customers don’t care about the season. They don’t come in looking for ‘pre-fall’ or ‘resort.’ So if we can give them a few pieces that same day, when they’re excited, it’s kind of the best of both worlds. They get to buy something now to sprinkle into their wardrobes and they still have pieces to look forward to a few months later.”

Then there’s the European approach, which generally takes the opposite tack.

“I’m not against see-now-buy-now, but there has to be some scarcity somewhere,” said Pierre-Yves Roussel, chairman and chief executive officer of LVMH Fashion Group. “When you just put things out there and it feels like everything is available all of the time, right away, there’s no sense of something special.”

Loewe, one of the brands under Roussel’s purview, offers one handbag or accessory item for immediate purchase after its show. “I think it makes sense for some items, especially if you do a seasonal variation of the bag that’s one of your iconic bags. Or you do a one-shot thing, you do a sneaker and it’s in the store, you do 300 and then it’s gone,” he said, stressing that there is no one-size-fits-all approach. “I don’t believe that everyone should be doing the same thing. I mean, if people want to try things and it makes sense for them, they should do it.”

Rick Owens is one of those designers sticking to his own thing. “I’m gonna go the opposite [direction]: slower and more expensive,” the designer said. Asked if his customers are not requesting quicker access to runway looks, he replied: “If they are, I’m not hearing about it.”

Asked for his opinion of see-now-buy-now, retired couturier Hubert de Givenchy said: “I don’t see what it’s bringing. Maybe it’s good on the financial level to have things immediately.”

“See-now and buy-now has no sense at all for all the fashion designers who focus on research and innovation,” said Riccardo Tortato, fashion director of e-commerce at Tsum in Moscow and DLT in St. Petersburg and men’s fashion director at Tsum. “I really don’t like this trend and I don’t believe it is going to be successful. It is only made by commercial brands that try to attract more direct consumers, skipping press, buyers’ critics and selection.”

The consensus that did emerge is that see-now-buy-now requires huge organizational abilities and financial muscle — and that if the idea really takes off it is likely to be mainly for larger, more widely distributed brands, as evidenced this season by the likes of Hilfiger, Lauren, Burberry, Tom Ford and Rebecca Minkoff. These designers’ shows in September were as much about an event with a capital E as they were about the clothes. The goal was to generate excitement via social media (or just plain media) coverage which in turn would hopefully drive consumers to stores or online to buy.

“Entire new industries have advanced on the concept of instant gratification and fashion companies could get a boost if they created the same sense of immediacy Millennials are accustomed to,” said Nancy Zhang, vice president and chief operating officer of Otte, with five stores in Manhattan. “As retailers, we struggle with inventory control. Faster product development and sales feedback could make our stock levels more efficient. That would be a game changer for merchandising and expense management.”

Then there is the whole question of finally being able to offer seasonal clothes in season, rather than swimsuits in January and coats in July. That’s something that Donna Karan has been preaching for the past two decades.

“Everyone wants what’s new, what’s new, what’s new. The consumer is saying, ‘Why should I buy it at regular price when I can buy it at markdown during the season?’ That’s the biggest single problem. We’re teaching the customer to buy on markdown,” Karan said. She said by October, people are buying winter clothing on markdown because it was delivered in July and it hasn’t even turned cold yet.

Ken Downing, Neiman’s senior vice president and fashion director, a highly vocal proponent of instant fashion, contends the current system has been suffocating under the weight of wool and tweed when it could be soaring on the shirtsleeves of seasonless fabric. “Designers are considering weather patterns,” he said, praising the outerwear in Proenza Schouler’s recent spring collection.

“It’s a bit of a mixed message to customers when winter finally arrives in January, February and March and there’s no outerwear,” he added (ironically, Neiman’s in the past was one of the retailers that pushed designers to deliver their products earlier and earlier, so that spring collections arrived in January). “I was happy to see outerwear, which you traditionally think of in a fall/winter show, not in a spring collection.”

Barneys New York’s Madison Avenue and Beverly Hills flagships live-streamed Burberry’s see-now-buy-now runway show at London’s Makers House on Sept. 19 to mark the launch of the Burberry x Barneys New York Collection. The collaboration had the immediacy of an instant fashion collection, but Daniella Vitale, the retailer’s chief operating officer and senior executive vice president, said there was more to the exclusive products than just the timing of their release.

“We need to get more customers into the store. We’re giving consumers the opportunity to experience what we’re experiencing,” she said, referring to the runway show. “Everyone is so caught up with the buying in the moment strategy. Brands have an opportunity to make designs more seasonless. Climates are changing; every trading area’s different. We stopped marking coats down in December. It was silly because it’s not even cold. We [as retailers] have as much of a responsibility to make sure the seasons are more balanced.”

But for see-now-buy-now to work, every step in the process has to be aligned — from fabric buying to the shop floor.

Mario Grauso, president of Holt Renfrew, said that for instant fashion to be successful, the delivery cycle would have to change to accommodate the immediate demand. That would mean earlier showings of collections to retailers, who will have to advertise or send a direct outreach to customers online informing them of the see-now-buy-now collection prior to the shows to capture as much business as possible.

“Instant fashion will absolutely further shift the balance of power toward big retailers,” Grauso said, adding that see-now-buy-now will provide consumers with product they would otherwise have to wait five or six months for. “In the interim, she’s buying alternatives to satisfy her needs, which I’m sure is affecting the overall businesses that are shipping during the regular delivery cycle.”

“The biggest challenge for some collections is not being able to scale through large production runs or meet fabric minimum requirements,” Zhang of Otte said. “In order for this model to be more widely adopted, the entire supply chain would have to become more efficient at small-scale, fast-paced production and development.”

Kelly Golden, owner of Neapolitan, a retailer, in Winnetka, Ill., believes that, “collections will become seasonless. They won’t be referred to as ‘pre-fall, spring, etc.,’ but delivery 1, 2 3, 4, etc. Ideally, designers will produce and present two collections per year with six to eight deliveries, so that the product is fresh and there’s a constant infusion of new items.”

The key, observers of the concept said, is for the designers and retailers to work closely together.

Saks Fifth Avenue partnered with Ralph Lauren, as well as Opening Ceremony and Tanya Taylor, for see-now-buy-now collections during September’s New York Fashion Week. Saks live-streamed Lauren’s Sept. 14 show at 8:30 p.m. at its flagship. When the show ended at 9 p.m., the retailer cued the curtains and the merchandise was available without missing a beat.

“The Fifth Avenue windows were set to go live at 9 p.m. after the show and a digital e-mail was sent to customers immediately after show went live,” said Roopal Patel, senior vice president and fashion director. “Ralph was a mega 360-degree approach to bringing a collection to life from the minute it came off the runway. There was a lot of strategy and planning months in advance of the cadence and rollout to make sure we knew what the looks would be and work with our social and digital teams,” she said.

But once the hype dies down and the initial consumer rush for instant gratification subsides, will there be enough newness remaining in stores to make them shop not just for a day, or a week but for an entire season? Does see-now-buy-now become an even bigger headache with even more deliveries needed to keep the customer coming back?

“It doesn’t make sense to me. When stores get the clothes on the day of a see-now-buy-now show, is everyone going to rush into the store and gobble it up?” said Jeffrey Kalinsky, designer fashion director at Nordstrom. “If the consumer doesn’t wander into the store for a month, where’s that excitement?”

Gary Wassner, ceo of Hilldun Corp. and chairman of InterLuxe Holdings LLC, while in favor of see-now-buy-now, stressed that the flow of designs has to be constant throughout a season and not just one big drop the day — or the day after — a runway show.

“I think it’s a commercial gimmick for everybody today,” he said. “People are testing it out and seeing what kind of traction it gets. I think it’s fine to take a few pieces from the runway and have them immediately available if they’re seasonal and appropriate. To have everything immediately available, we’re going to shorten our anticipation and selling season. I don’t think we’re going to increase it. People are going to want new product every few weeks.”

Coco Chan, head of women’s rtw and accessories at Stylebop.com, sees the need to shorten the time from the runway to the sales floor — at least, in theory.

“Customers crave immediacy, especially once a collection is amplified by social media across Instagram and Snapchat,” she said. “But I don’t think the model can work indiscriminately across the board. Some houses require a more complex production process, passing a single item through the hands of many different artisans.

“Smaller brands don’t have the financing or infrastructure to invest in the pre-ordering often required to meet the production demands of see-now-buy-now,” Chan said. “My hope is to see a hybrid model that can provide immediate gratification and also play up anticipation, which is a key aspect of the pleasure of shopping. Inter-seasonal collections can deliver the thrill of the new, while also leaving customers wanting more. That’s very powerful, especially for customers overwhelmed by too much information.”

Even as they may remain divided over the concept, designers and retailers agree that more must be done to excite today’s Instagramming, IMing consumer, whose attention span can be as short as a tweet. One way is to increase the number of limited-edition capsule collections being offered, which injects newness but also exclusivity, observers said.

Nevena Borissova, founder of the seven-store chain Curve, collaborated with Rodarte on an exclusive see-now-buy-now collection that sold out within 48 hours, she said. “Designers need to do limited time collections as capsules for the purpose of see-now-buy-now,” she said. “At least you’re giving consumers a unique product at full price.”

Which is the industry’s ultimate goal — selling more and more at full price. Arnold Aronson, partner and managing director of retail strategies at Kurt Salmon, believes that is the holy grail as more and more designers rush into the see-now-buy-now phenomenon.

“This is a movement, it’s not just a fad,” he said. “It will take different ways and forms. Runway to retail is becoming a real trend, and certainly all of the market is evaluating their options, and depending on the success of those who have been more advanced in the movement, they’re going to be taking notice and reevaluating their position in one way or another.”

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