Ariel Foxman

The see-now-buy-now debate was just one of a multitude of subjects discussed at Tuesday morning’s “Control Shift Command: The Keys to Fashion Success Today” talk in Manhattan.

Former InStyle editorial director and People StyleWatch editor in chief Ariel Foxman moderated the discussion with Castanea Partners’ operating partner Ron Frasch and Hilldun’s co-chief executive officer Gary Wassner. The breakfast was the first in a quarterly series of discussions at The Skylark on West 39th Street.

Afterward, Foxman wouldn’t offer any clues about his next career move, but earlier he led an in-depth look at fashion’s seismic changes. Having seen about 90 shows during New York Fashion Week, Wassner wasn’t sold on the see-now-buy-now prospect. “It’s a fast-fashion concept. At the high-end of the market, it’s not quite as relevant,” he said.

“We need to change our fashion calendar. We need to deliver product that is more appropriate to the climate and the time of the year. The biggest complaint I’m getting from retailers when I walk into stores and talk to the salespeople is, ‘We have heavy fall product in the stores in August. Nobody wants to try it on. It’s 110 degrees,’” Wassner said. “It makes no sense and then we force ourselves into this promotional cycle. By September, we have to mark it down and it’s hurting everybody.”

Frasch said see-now-buy-now is better suited for contemporary brands or ones that compete with fast fashion. “They should be much more sensitive to it than a designer one where the supply chain is different, the development of ideas, creative materials, shapes, is not something that should be immediately replicated and put out for customers,” he said. “The challenge that is driving this is short lead-time press versus long-lead press.”

Social media’s influence was also a recurring point of discussion. Foxman mentioned he told others he was sitting out NYFW, in hindsight it occurred to him that he hadn’t thanks to social media. Looking back, Frasch praised NYFW’s greater diversity. “We’re finally waking up to the fact that we have a diverse population. Designers were much more respectful than they’ve been in the past. That to me was a very important social message.”

Wassner said he enjoyed Rebecca Minkoff’s show, but Opening Ceremony “was the most exciting” for its diversity on the runway and “product for the people.” He helped his friend Whoopi Goldberg check a runway walk off her bucket list.

Discussing Instagram’s indomitable force with Millennials, Wassner said, “We’re not dependent on one magazine to make or break a designer anymore, certainly it helps. But the whole model has changed. You can generate excitement by doing great presentations on Instagram.” He added that Alexander Wang is spot-on with his branding on the social platform.

Frasch continued, “Getting on the radar with Instagram is like getting on the radar with an online site — the competition is absolutely fierce. You have to pay to play. The days of free social media are pretty much gone…”

In regards to the great chase for brand awareness, social programs and influencers, Foxman asked if there is anything that is an out-and-out waste of time or money. Wassner said, “If you don’t have great product, it’s a total waste of money.”

The crowd of 75 or so, including The Skylark’s cofounder David Rabin, also learned some surprising insights from Wassner. While “the bigger the marketing spend, the bigger response to e-commerce,” some clients are also saying “the marketing spend is so high that the net winds up being the same,” he said.

Counter to the longstanding tenet that department stores believed the more product on the sales floor, the greater the sales, the future is a more curated specialty store approach, and not a ton of product, Wassner said. Saks Fifth Avenue’s well-curated Brookfield Place store won points from both executives. “This is the future of department stores not these big boxes where you have every brand in the world,” Wassner said.

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