For close to a decade, talk of changing fashion’s dysfunctional calendar system has been just that — talk. But as the pre-fall collections pick up in New York, the conversation surrounding press previews has been more charged than ever, with at least one American label moving to action. On Tuesday afternoon, Proenza Schouler’s director of public relations called WWD to say the company would not release pre-fall imagery or sanction outside photography and traditional, short-lead reviews of the collection until the clothes, shoes and bags begin to hit stores around April, at which time designers Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCollough would focus on drumming up consumer interest with a yet-to-be-determined “creative project.”
“Obviously the system doesn’t make so much sense anymore,” McCollough told WWD. He invoked the Hollywood movie-release template analogy, wherein films are teased close to the release date. “The way things are set up [in fashion] is part of a bigger conversation, but things need to change for now. We’re just looking at our own situation and trying to find something that makes sense for us. We’re not [instigating] this whole industry-wide shift. It makes sense to release a collection closer to when you can buy it. It’s as simple as that.”
It is and it isn’t. If it were that simple, everyone would do it, and the industry wouldn’t be perpetually engaged in this broken-record conversation. McCollough said he and his partners are putting this plan into action with pre-fall because “pre-collections are a little more malleable, and we don’t have to respect a show calendar that has international repercussions. Why not start this whole thing and experiment a little bit with how it works on a pre-collection level?”
Proenza Schouler opened for market Thursday and plans to hold a press preview in its studio next week for long-lead publications under the honor code that no reviews will be published until the company gives its permission next year. Certain short leads, such as Vogue.com and WWD, are invited to view the collection with the request that they comply with Proenza Schouler’s embargo.
What about those pesky iPhones that tend to point, shoot and post immediately to social media channels far and wide? The plan is to forbid photos and social media in the studio during the preview. Whether that is realistically within the firm’s control remains to be seen. Will the midlevel market editor get the memo? “Images might get out, but it’s not the end of the world,” said McCollough. “We’re not promoting this collection until it’s closer to the time that it’s being delivered.”
Such an approach could present a challenge to journalistic members of the fashion ecosystem. According to a spokesperson for Vogue and Vogue.com, it will cooperate with Proenza Schouler’s embargo. The wrinkle for journalists, including WWD, is that observing news, which includes new collections, without reporting it is a conflict.
“We respect that Proenza Schouler is trying to experiment with a fashion system that is arguably unwieldy, even chaotic, due to the sheer number and scale of shows, presentations, deliveries and press attention,” said Ed Nardoza, WWD’s editor in chief. “But the practical reality is that there is no longer any such thing as long-lead press. Magazines now all publish Web sites that they populate with daily content. With the visual sophistication of mobile, images are often posted instantly, whether on major publication sites or blogger platforms. And let’s not forget established editors — long-lead or otherwise — and their individual Instagram feeds. They often operate according to a new set of ground rules that are based on personal perspective and immediate communication. Will they be willing to withhold? Should they?
“Our experience at WWD is that embargos of this nature are virtually unenforceable, even when all parties agree to the terms in good faith. Once a company or designer has communicated information on-the-record in whatever format to a group of people, especially members of the media, that information is no longer seen as proprietary. Given that WWD is a news-based operation, we will need to make judgments on a case-by-case basis as to how we’ll handle coverage when embargoes are requested. For WWD’s editors, a collection is news the minute we’ve seen it. Several months later, it no longer carries the same news value.”
Supporting retail and staving off customer fatigue triggered by seeing clothes on celebrities and bloggers well before they’re in store is a major prong in Proenza Schouler’s strategy. “Business is changing,” said Hernandez. “Customers are so much more savvy than they ever used to be. Before, these things used to be for editors and buyers and more insider-y, and now the customer is savvier. Their access to information is more vast. By the time [the collection] is being delivered, it’s kind of old news to them.”
His statement echoed that of Neiman Marcus’ Ken Downing, who voiced a similar opinion to WWD last month. His was just one of many industry opinions solicited for that article, but Downing said he has received immense feedback and support for his comments. “I have spoken to anyone and everyone who will give me audience in social events, in showrooms in Europe, here in the U.S., because I do believe it will be a grassroots effort.”
“I’m happy to see two designers who have such an influence doing this, because I believe it’s going to make others think differently and follow suit,” said Downing of Proenza Schouler’s decision to reassess how they’re presenting pre-fall. “I don’t believe we have to shut down all imagery from a reporting point of view. A couple of images can be released, but this constant feeding to the customer and asking them to retain an appetite for six months is not doing anyone a favor in our industry.” He added that he has not had formal meetings with designers to lobby for change.
There’s also the issue of copying. “We have a lot of issues with mass retailers copying ideas,” Hernandez noted. “Why are we going to be their research department? They can produce it a lot faster than we can.”
In that sense, Céline is one example of a company that has pioneered withholding access to images, no matter how much the press protests, until the label wants to promote the clothes. On a larger scale, Tom Ford first addressed the changing realities of the fashion schedule in 2010 by staging a small, glamorous show with house-only photography and no social media. Once the novelty of that event wore off, his attempts to control short-lead press and immediately online coverage were met with enough backlash to make him rethink subsequent presentations.
Rethinking is definitely the order of the moment. “We all collectively have to come to the realization that we are not addressing our industry with modern eyes; we are not looking at what we do with relevance and using social media as a benefit,” Downing said, “It’s becoming not an asset, but a liability. When you look at the power that social media has — and we’re all guilty. I’m certainly on Instagram. But I’m advocating to pull back so we can move forward.”