If fashion is of-the-moment, what is the runway’s “see-now- buy-now” movement? Of-the-second? The nanosecond?
This story first appeared in the September 7, 2016 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
This phenomenon of immediacy is forcing designers to rethink the meaning of terms such as “trendy” and “seasonal” and upending long-established production cycles. Brands are pondering the shelf-life of style when fast fashion has become the global currency. In an age when runway images are instantly transmitted around the world to consumers craving immediate gratification, is there any other way?
There are naysayers for sure, but many designers and brands say pumping fashion through a high-speed pipeline is a fait accompli, not a question of if, but when — and how. Brands such as Burberry have thrown out the traditional calendar in favor of a buy-now-wear-now model. Tommy Hilfiger will launch on Sept. 9 at the Seaport District “Tommy at the Pier,” a carnival-cum-fashion extravaganza that promises to highlight the designer’s showmanship as well as his design prowess. Others, such as Tom Ford, Chromat, Milly, Alexander Wang, Tory Burch, Rebecca Minkoff and Michael Kors are among those incorporating various immediately-available items — everything from a single handbag to a capsule or even broader line — into their upcoming collections.
Which begs the question, is all this urgency a fundamental structural change to the fashion system, or much ado about next to nothing? During Banana Republic’s spring presentation on Sept. 10, about a dozen items — outerwear, tops, pants, dresses and accessories — will be available for immediate purchase at the brand’s Flatiron store in Manhattan, where the event will be held, and at bananarepublic.com.
But a dozen items does not constitute a revolution. It’s apparent that buy-now-wear-now is a concept and business model best achieved by the vertically integrated, which is why Zara is so good at it.
Thakoon Panichgul has been moving closer to a design studio-to-consumer doorstep approach. His real-time runway or New Now, as he calls it, offers new limited-time and limited-quantity releases about every two weeks. Panichgul says his model isn’t exactly see-now-buy-now, but is the designer splitting threads? His goal of instant access to fashion is clear: “Newness reigns and time is of the essence.”
Aside from the fact that her yarns are sourced in Italy, knitwear designer Lindsay Degen has a vertical operation. “We are our own factories. I have a core team of five people and a network of hundreds of knitters I can call upon at any moment. I’m able to make to order. Why not make it immediately, as there is demand?”
The immediacy suits Degen, who’s designed pieces for Rihanna and Nicki Minaj, and capitalizes on the buzz created by celebrities and influencers wearing her styles on social media. She’s also created capsules for retailers such as Colette in Paris. “It’s a mini-release that’s immediately available through the retailers,” she explained. “To me, the smartest idea has always been to make something available immediately and infinitely customizable. Slapping a monogram or taking intricate measurements and doing a bunch of colorways doesn’t cut it.
“I don’t know how the big brands are going to deal with [buy-now-wear-now]. They have to figure out how they’re going to stock inventory,” Degen added. “I don’t have any limitation on the number of styles I’m able to use. I am unbounded and completely free. I don’t even need a line plan.”
Nonetheless, Degen is conforming to the construct of showing her collection during New York Fashion Week. She’ll present her spring line at the Seaport on Sept. 9 from 6 to 8 p.m. Promptly at 8 p.m., when the event is scheduled to end, the collection will be posted at Degen-nyc.com. “All of those items are already on a downward-ticking clock to be up at 8 p.m. on Sept. 9,” she said.
Hilfiger’s “Tommy Pier” will have a 40-foot Ferris wheel and carnival-type snacks like pretzels, French fries and ice cream sandwiches. If the 2,000 guests — half of whom will be consumers — can think of anything besides food and rides, they’ll be able to take in Hilfiger’s fall 2016 runway show featuring the Tommy x Gigi Collection designed in collaboration with Gigi Hadid. A shoppable live-stream on tommy.com will begin at 7 p.m., the same time as the show. “Tommy Pier” will open to consumers on Sept. 10 from noon to 9 p.m. replete with Tommy x Gigi pop-up shops and a vintage Tommy Hilfiger shop and record shop.
Rebecca Minkoff has swallowed the concept of buy-now-wear-now whole. In February, she showed her spring collection to an audience of industry, press and consumers, calling it #SeeBuyWear. The handle #RunwaytoRetail was created for Minkoff’s Sept. 10 event, which will be held on Spring and Prince Streets in front of her SoHo store. The show will be filmed using 360-degree virtual reality and live-streamed to smartphones and Nasdaq’s screen high above Times Square. Ceo Uri Minkoff said 75 to 80 percent of the collection will be available after the noon show ends at Minkoff’s store.
“We see the importance of letting the customer see what she hasn’t seen before, but not give fast fashion enough time to react,” said Minkoff. “The important thing for us is that there isn’t a six-month lag from showing the product to when it becomes available.”
There’s an entertainment value to having a mix of celebrities and influencers in the audience, Minkoff added. “You’re giving something fresh and unique and it’s being amplified and there’s a sense of urgency.
“We can’t move the whole industry ourselves and change all the schedules and align everything, but we can decide what to show when,” Minkoff said. “Full-price retail has been having a very hard time and fast fashion has grown so much. This is a way of not letting in the copycats. We really want the customer to buy the bulk of our collection, so we sell out of our products as fast as possible at full price.”
Minkoff insisted he’s not trying to change the behavior of buyers or editors: “We’re showing spring 2017, so the buyers will see the product at the normal time. If and when the buyers and press decide they’re going to shift the calendar in some way, that’s great. We’re trying to be respectful of their calendars and time lines in the meantime. Last year we gave our retailers tickets to invite their customers. It changed the whole dynamic. They were the enablers and the customers became ambassadors for that brand.”
Alice + Olivia’s creative director Stacey Bendet is no buy-now-wear-now maiden. Bendet will be taking a multipronged approach and showing eight pieces that will be instantly shoppable and customizable during Alice + Olivia’s spring presentation.
“It’s a vignette where you can customize everything with embroidery,” she said. “You can have skinny jeans embroidered with initials or ‘I’m with her.’ We’re doing a couple of exclusive pieces for our own stores and partner retailers.
“The tricky thing about September is that we still need to show the rest of the season to our international partners and retail partners,” Bendet added. “We don’t want to do things that we’ve already shown, so we’ll show exclusive items people haven’t seen.”
Alice + Olivia in October will present a completely shoppable consumer-facing event showcasing Bendet’s collaboration with the Basquiat Foundation. “The pieces will look like art and the whole gallery will be shoppable,” she said. “I feel like events are the way to go. There’s so much going on during fashion week. It’s not my customer.”
With retailers and editors attending Alice + Olivia’s fashion week presentation, Bendet noted, “it made sense to do [buy-now-wear-now] partially, but it didn’t make sense to do it completely because it’s not an event I’m promoting to the public. I’m inviting my top customers to the Basquiat event.”
The bifurcated approach is warranted, Bendet said, because, while social media coverage of the spring presentation will create sales, buyers and editors will be in town from all over the world “and they’re not just interested in [buy-now-wear-now]. From my perspective, [buy-now-wear-now] is really dedicated to the consumer and that’s how you have to manage the event. We benefit from all the press around the spring presentation, but let’s see how it does as a capsule of things you can personalize.”
Kate Spade New York president and chief creative officer Deborah Lloyd said the brand made a decision to streamline its spring presentation at the Nomad Hotel on Sept. 9. “It’s about continuing to talk to the right people at the right time, based on the shift in our customer’s shopping habits.”
And there’s been a significant shift in how Kate Spade’s consumer shops. “We remain customer-centric, continually in conversation with our customer,” Lloyd offered. “The time line of when she begins thinking about what she wants to wear in a particular season and when she expects to be able to purchase those pieces, has shortened.”
Lloyd believes there’s “a certain joy in experiencing the world of Kate Spade New York” at one of the company’s stores. “We want to not only continue to tap into that and celebrate that with our customer, but also meet her more immediate purchasing impulses.”
The brand hopes to get people talking about its fall collection, which will hit stores during New York Fashion Week, and is focusing its social and digital efforts on the branded shoppable content series it created, “Miss Adventure” (#missadventure), which features Anna Kendrick.
“With the see-now-buy-now conversation the industry is having, we thought more about how we’ve been addressing that since season one, episode one,” Lloyd said. “We’re doing it with engaging, shoppable content that people want to watch, similar to a TV series.”
Kate Spade will introduce “Miss Behavior” (#missbehavior), a spin-off series that takes a comical look at Miss Adventure from behind-the-scenes. “It will provide another storyline and heroine to showcase the pieces available in stores and online,” Lloyd said. “There’s an actual scene where we have fun with the idea of see-now-wear-now.”
A partnership with Mik Mak will make certain pieces under $100 instantly shoppable through mini-mercials hosted by “Miss Adventure” characters. In another bit of consumer-facing marketing, Kate Spade will run a contest on Instagram where a winner will get items featured on “Miss Adventure” within 24 hours of liking or viewing them online.
Lloyd wouldn’t say how many items will be fast-tracked through the production cycle. “We’re trying not to be heavy-handed with press embargoes, etc.,” she said. “However, we’re refraining from revealing too much until the product is available for purchase.”
“Fall 2016 is our first season and we felt it was important to share with both consumers of the brand as well as our retailers, buyers and press, the fact that we stand behind our design and production and are confident that our product is as good, if not better, than the samples we put forth,” said Laura Siegel, president of Becken, a new collection designed by Angela Beck.
A pop-up shop at 807 Greenwich Street will be Becken’s vehicle for selling the fall collection to the public, while showing the brand’s resort and spring collections to buyers and the press. Incidentally, consumers will be able to preorder items from the future collections.
“The seasonless component is very important,” Siegel said. “When you’re in the pop-up and have fall sitting alongside resort and spring, one side won’t feel heavy and onerous, it will feel like a natural flow and progression. We’re not creating something for a fictitious customer and following a production cycle just because that’s how it’s always been done.”
But business is not forging on as usual. Consumers have spoken and designers and retailers are heeding their restless call. Just how they’re doing that depends on everything from a label’s size and distribution to a designer’s proclivity for change — and the expected responses don’t always line up as one might imagine.
“Everyone’s reacting to the shorter time frame,” said Alice + Olivia’s Bendet. “It’s less about the production cycle and more of what you’re producing during what month. Instant Fashion is making the selling cycles shorter. It’s a shift that everyone’s trying to figure out.”