Let’s hear it for the…girls?
To rewrite the song lyric, that seems to be fashion brands’ new tune as more and more designers opt for coed shows, most often putting men’s wear in with their women’s collections in February/March and September/October.
The movement toward the strategy is leaving some buyers and editors in what Euromonitor says is the $414.2 billion men’s wear industry feeling a little spurned, since few retailers or publications have the budget to send their teams over to Europe or the U.S. four times a year.
No doubt having one show instead of two allows brands such as Burberry, Gucci and Vetements to cut costs while simultaneously presenting a cohesive message that works for many labels in an increasingly unisex, gender-fluid world. But many other brands have also embraced the coed movement including Etro, Calvin Klein, Bottega Veneta, Kenzo, Paul Smith, Dsquared2, Moschino, Vivienne Westwood and Cédric Charlier, shaking up the system.
Despite the shifts and potential controversy, show organizers are taking it in stride.
“I would not dwell on a rigid separation between men’s and women’s calendars, as the situation is much more fluid than in the past,” said Carlo Capasa, president of the Italian fashion body Camera Nazionale della Moda. “The mission of CNMI is to allow each brand to tell its story in ways that are more consistent with its own vision.”
“Our job is to coordinate,” echoed Pascal Morand, executive president of the Fédération Française de la Couture, du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode. “We observe that some brands prefer to show in January, some in March, but the global balance remains the same. We also know that the fashion show is not strictly correlated to the time of selling. Take the importance of the pre-collections, which, despite representing an important share of total sales for brands, quite often are disconnected from having a show during fashion week.”
Still, the coed momentum is leaving the men’s calendar in many of the leading fashion capitals looking a little sparse in terms of major brands since most designers have switched to the women’s calendar. Take, for instance, Yves Saint Laurent, which under Hedi Slimane’s reign was the hot-ticket closing show of Paris men’s week. But since the arrival of new creative director Anthony Vaccarello last April, the label has been absent from the men’s calendar. And only eight men’s looks were featured as an interlude in the women’s fall show presented last March.
“Let’s be honest, these shows, while being branded ‘coed,’ are actually part of the traditional women’s wear calendar,” said Damien Paul, head of men’s wear for Matchesfashion.com. This comes at a time when analysts have predicted men’s will have greater growth than women’s, albeit from a smaller base, he said.
“There are also designers who only work in men’s wear. I certainly feel it is an important part of the fashion calendar. Men’s wear certainly needs space to breathe and to be appreciated and critiqued and I am interested to see how this will be impacted by being part of women’s wear.”
Where it works, said Paul, is when it feels authentic to the brand. “It makes complete sense when seen at Vetements, for example, or in the case of Gucci where they have blurred the lines, it almost feels genderless. But for most design houses there does tend to be a differentiation in the men’s and women’s collections,” he said, “I do think for some brands they have to be careful about trying to ‘marry’ them in one catwalk presentation.”
For Stavros Karelis, founder and buying director of independent London-based concept store Machine-A, the coed movement is simply part of an overall shift at play for the industry.
“Gosha Rubchinskiy this season chose to show in Kaliningrad, and on a tricky day on the calendar as it was during Pitti Uomo, so possibly clashing with other designers. Times have changed dramatically since men’s was first introduced and designers are choosing different ways to present collections and engage with the customers, press and buyers,” he said.
Tom Kalenderian, executive vice president and general merchandise manager of men’s for Barneys New York, said from the designers’ perspective, blending shows often makes sense. “The creative directors for men and women often have a central theme and vision,” he said. “They work hard to make a cohesive statement so there’s value in showing the line together. It completes the story.”
But retailers generally don’t have the budget to send their buyers to shows twice and so must pick and choose.
“It’s really not necessary to be at a show,” he said. “The bottom line is that it’s very possible by the time it’s shown on the runway, we’ve already written the order.”
While attending a show does provide some perspective, “it’s a matter of necessity and in these days, expense,” Kalenderian added. “We are running a business and it isn’t critical to see a runway performance to do our job.”
Nick Wooster, a veteran of retailers such as Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman and men’s fashion director for Forty Five Ten in Dallas, believes women’s wear should go onto the men’s calendar: January and June rather than February and September.
“The dates are earlier and it’s better for production,” he said. “If men’s is shown in October, it’s relegated to second-class status. Most retail companies are not sending men’s buyers four or six times a year when it was traditionally done in two. I would have loved to have seen Gucci and Saint Laurent, but I work for an American retailer who sends the buyers two times a year. I’m just sad men’s wear is getting the short end of the stick.”
Fiona Firth, buying director for Mr Porter, said the biggest impact for her company is “the timing of when we view and order the collections — in essence waiting a little longer versus the past. Our orders haven’t suffered as the true buying takes place in the showroom, where there is a much greater depth of looks available to view. Also, a growing proportion of our brands create pre-collections, allowing us to confirm the buy and have the added benefit of early deliveries.”
And in the future, things could change yet again, she said. “Certainly the power of Instagram and live feeds will continue to change this over time. And who knows, advanced technology such as virtual reality could soon be the industry standard of showcasing the men’s calendar in the future.”
Freelance fashion journalist Angelo Flaccavento, a key figure in the tight-knit men’s wear community, said that from the point of view of the fashion critic, coed shows are “problematic.” “For sure, this strategy weakens, or endangers, the existence of men’s fashion weeks,” he said. While it makes sense to review collections rooted in gender fluidity such as Gucci and Helmut Lang, in other cases, “I don’t think it’s going to work.
“For me, it’s really hard to focus on both the collections on the runway and it’s pretty natural that women’s wear steals the attention from men’s wear,” he continued. The case of Etro, whose first coed show will be held in September in Milan, is “pretty significant: it will require a big effort also because there are two creative directors involved. It’s true that we are living a moment where boundaries tend to blur, but men’s and women’s fashion have different parameters, which should be considered.”
Massimiliano Sortino, fashion editor at Italian Vogue, agreed. “I think it’s crucial to keep different fashion weeks for men’s and women’s wear otherwise the London, Milan and Paris fashion weeks would be too long…Never-ending schedules and shows with more than 100 looks.”
Guy Trebay, fashion critic for The New York Times, said: “Though I haven’t traveled to the women’s shows to review those that roll men’s wear into the mix, my sense is that, in those settings, men’s wear gets lost. Probably the blending is useful for marketing, since labels can economize by consolidating imagery for a variety of platforms.
“Is men’s wear in the shadows? Sure, the market has always been a fraction of that for women’s wear. Yet it remains for me a compelling area to cover because the men’s wear shows — I include trade shows here, like Pitti — function as a kind of laboratory for experimentation in what masculinity means. Even with a slightly reduced roster there’s still plenty to think and write about.”
In contrast, Michele Ciavarella, deputy editor fashion features at Corriere della Sera, is “very positive about the idea of unifying the men’s and women’s shows, which can really show the whole vision of a designer. The men’s fashion weeks will be surely weakened, but this might be a stimulus to rethink the system.”
Nick Sullivan, fashion director at Esquire, believes it’s “not really constructive to bleat about these monumental shifts in the way the industry functions. The reality is that these brands are taxed with the challenge of reaching a global market. So the calendar is a fact to which we should adapt just as we have to the advent of social media, celebrity styling and fashion bloggers, with all the changes they have brought to the editorial process.”
And while it requires his team “to wait longer to see certain brand offerings, they are important to us because they often tend to have a defining influence on the mood of a season. So they’re worth the wait.”
He stressed, however, that getting a preview would be helpful. “It would be useful to have some access to a collection at the same time as [the men’s shows] even if that means seeing a precursor of what will show later on the runway. I’m certainly not above rifling along a rack.”
David Aquilina, head of men’s wear buying at Harvey Nichols, agreed that men’s could become overlooked in a coed show, but such shows also might provide an advantage.
“Coed shows held during women’s fashion weeks are also giving men’s wear a platform in which it has the potential to reach a greater audience. If you look to the most recent women’s Chanel show as an example, a rocket was launched in the finale; we just haven’t seen that level of theater at the men’s shows yet.”
Helen David, chief merchant at Harrods, is also convinced that having the men’s collections sit alongside women’s has “shone a brighter light” on men’s wear as a whole.
“With coed shows, there has been a highlight on men’s that we haven’t seen prior. [Harrods has] seen a huge increase in female customers purchasing items from its men’s wear boutiques,” she said, hailing the phenomenon as “an exciting evolution for many of our brands.”
With Gucci, she said, its strong performance of late is being “helped by the fact that their ready-to-wear now appeals to women. With the additional current trend of unisex clothing and girls borrowing from the boys it feels very right and fresh and separate shows feel outdated.”
She suggested a solution: coed fashion weeks, “which would be amazing for all of us. Having one set of coed shows in terms of travel, time spent out of the office, and one clear message per brand would be fantastic.”
Dylan Jones, editor of British GQ and chair of London Fashion Week Men’s, agreed, welcoming the coed trend as a “foolproof way of consolidating the industry,” suggesting that eventually it could serve as a “template for the entire show schedule,” albeit timed with the men’s calendars. “What we need is for everyone to agree to a recalibrated show schedule, one that could reasonably mean that men and women’s collections are shown together in the four fashion capitals of the world in January and June.”
The reaction from traditional men’s wear players, however, is mixed.
For Giovanni Mannucci, chief executive officer of Pal Zileri, sees “ungendered and coed fashion shows” as “an opportunity. I do not see any problem with this and if this is the way forward, so be it.” But this does present “potential challenges on the supply chain, for both producers and retailers,” he said.
For Kiton, coed presentations have served to leverage “the heritage and the attention that buyers dedicate to Kiton’s men’s wear” to “guarantee more visibility to the women’s category,” according to the brand’s ceo, Antonio De Matteis.
For Corneliani ceo Paolo Roviera, “This new cross-pollination has once again changed the rules of the game, as it did years ago with the arrival of creative directors and the use of runway shows,” he said, adding that the movement has prompted a rethinking of the system in general.
For the fall 2018 collection, the company is mulling initiatives such as “Corneliani to You,” which would include consumers and provide easy access to the digital world.
“In any case, it is important for the industry to protect the men’s segment without diluting it excessively, making it dependent on the women’s wear, stripping it of soul and content,” cautioned Roviera. “Men’s wear needs innovations and ideas, because the reference market is important.”
Kenzo’s codesigner Carol Lim explained that one of the driving motives for staging the brand’s coed show on the men’s calendar was eliminating the “different kinds of pain points” regarding how the collection is delivered. “Often the window for the March collection is really, really tight,” she said.
But ultimately it hasn’t changed much.
“We would always have men’s in January and would always design a pretty huge pre-collection that people would come and see but that was never part of the show….we just had another extension of the woman’s collection that we’d deliver way later,” she said.
“For us, it aligns the company on the back end to show the collections together in January, and more often than not, the themes are tied together. There are real-time frames. Custom fabrics take anywhere from six to 12 weeks. It all adds up, when you end up getting the collection so much later.”