In a world where “now” isn’t fast enough, fashion broke through the see-it-buy-it-wear-it promise, dramatically changing the way — and to whom — designers deliver their message. While not everyone is buying in, numerous houses live-streamed in-season runway shows this year so consumers across the globe could see the clothes and buy instantly, online or in-store.
WWD dubbed the movement instant fashion.
The trend swept through New York, faced resistance in Paris and Milan (except for Moschino, which showed a few capsule items on the runway) and got some big converts in London, thanks to Burberry.
Rebecca Minkoff was the first New York designer to show in-season last February and a few companies showed “see-now-by-now” capsules. But the movement picked up steam in the fall when several big names, including Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Tom Ford, Michael Kors and Burberry, got behind it in a big way. Designers offered everything from a handful of items to a capsule to a full-blown collection shown in-season. Whether instant fashion was a gimmick or salvation for a severely challenged industry was debated all year.
The consensus was that instant fashion requires huge organizational abilities and financial muscle, and if the concept really takes off, it is likely to be mainly for larger, more widely distributed brands, like Hilfiger, Lauren, Burberry, Tom Ford and Minkoff. Their shows this past September turned into major events, with the goal of generating excitement via social media (or traditional media) in the hopes of driving consumers to stores or online to buy.
“This is a movement, it’s not just a fad,” said Arnold Aronson, partner and managing director of retail strategies at Kurt Salmon. “It will take different ways and forms. Runway to retail is becoming a real trend, and certainly all of the market is evaluating options. 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.”
Aronson said it’s going to take some time before results can be validated, noting that some companies did it for the publicity and others wanted their customers to have merchandise in the season it will be worn. He said it also helps combat the fast-fashion knock-off artists, and satisfy those people who get bored waiting six months to have something they’ve already seen on the runway.
Designers who embraced instant fashion plan to do it again in February. Hilfiger said the company was already planning what they would do for an encore after turning the South Street Seaport into a carnival, complete with popcorn, tattoo booths, rides and hot dogs. Hilfiger also had the added attraction of Gigi Hadid. The Tommy x Gigi capsule will continue to be produced through next spring. Hilfiger plans to take his “see-now-buy-now” show to Los Angeles in February and stage a runway show at Venice Beach.
September’s results backed up his decision to do it again. Hilfiger reported his brand was 1,000 percent above its average on Twitter and 520 percent above its average on Instagram. Hilfiger had a 300 percent increase in revenue generated in the first 24 hours.
Minkoff’s September results were equally impressive. Sales across its stores and web site increased 168 percent, compared to the weekend after its runway show last year. Minkoff plans to stage its February show at The Grove in Los Angeles on Feb. 4.
“If you believe in change, you have to create change. We did that,” said Ralph Lauren, who turned Madison Avenue into his stage for his “see-now-buy-now” fashion show in September. Lauren closed down the street in front of his Madison Avenue store to present a second fall collection that was available for immediate purchasing. He had earlier shown a first fall line last February. “There was such excitement throughout the whole company to be able to share a big moment like this directly with our consumers, and we are even more excited to do it again with our February collection,” said Lauren, following the show.
Ken Downing, senior vice president, fashion director at Neiman Marcus, who has been an outspoken proponent of “see-now-buy-now,” had some significant success with the concept.
According to Downing, Tom Ford’s in-season show, which took place during NYFW, “was an immediate success from the moment that we live-streamed the collection, with customers responding to men’s product and women’s product, in-store and online.
“We have experienced a halo with our Tom Ford business, from that moment throughout the entire season. And not only with ready-to-wear, also with women’s handbags, shoes, beauty and fragrance, which is already a very powerful business.” He said it raised the brand’s profile and helped drive those businesses as well. “We also saw immediate response to the Burberry show, which was in-season with product that was in-store and online. It is proof that when you show customers what is available to them in real time, they do respond.”
Some retailers weren’t as enthusiastic as others about the instant fashion movement. “It doesn’t make sense to me,” said Jeffrey Kalinsky, designer fashion director at Nordstrom. “When stores get the clothes on the day of a see-now-by-now show, is everyone going to rush into the store and gobble it up? If the customer doesn’t wander into the store for a month, where’s that excitement?
In September, specialty stores including Club Monaco, Banana Republic, Topshop, J. Crew, Burberry, and Coach showed everything from capsules to complete collections of ready-to-buy clothing. The effectiveness of many of these events at retail got mixed results throughout the industry, with some retailers totally up to speed, and others facing numerous glitches with product availability, lack of styles and uninformed sales help.
Logistics undoubtedly posed a challenge for most firms. Brands needed to find ways to compress lead times and change the timing of deliveries.
Thakoon Panichgul decided to forgo a wholesale business entirely so he could sell his collection in-season to customers strictly through e-commerce and freestanding stores.
Gary Wassner, chief executive officer 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 of — or the day after — runway show.
“I think it’s a commercial gimmick for everybody today,” said Wassner. “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.”
Assessing the success last month, Wassner said that very large companies can afford to inventory products and have it available immediately and that makes sense. “But for the industry as a whole and as a business model, I don’t think it makes sense. It’s a very challenging business model.”
Manufacturers agreed that live-streaming instant fashion collections amplified sales across categories.
Burberry’s online efforts to broadcast the show were like a well-oiled machine. More than 40 women’s looks went up online after the runway presentation with shoppable images of individual pieces from each outfit broken out to make it easy to navigate, select and buy. The British label hosted a private event at Burberry’s Rodeo Drive store, where guests sipped Champagne and viewed a live-stream of the runway show and bought merchandise.
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, 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. She added that brands have the 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.”
Meantime, the Europeans weren’t buying into the concept at all. Pierre-Yves Roussel, chairman and chief executive officer of LVMH Fashion Group, said, “I’m not against see-now-buy now, but there has to be some scarcity somewhere. 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.”
Donna Karan has been a huge proponent of changing the fashion calendar for the past 25 years. In her Urban Zen collection, she has always shown in-season and continued to do so this past September. She’s also been outspoken about shifting the calendar. “The biggest issue that I have is come November and December, you see these silk dresses hanging in the store. Fall’s on markdown, which is training the customer to be in the ‘White Sale’ business,” she said.
In her show notes for Urban Zen, she wrote, “Everything is accessible to us — here, today, this minute, not six months from now. Presenting and experiencing our fall 2016 collection in September with press and directly to the consumer, all at once. No delay. I’ve always said that’s how a customer wants to shop and that’s how I’m showing. The new season is in season. Enjoy.”