Backstage at Khaite RTW Fall 2020

LONDON — Buyers have had to go back and look at the fall 2020 collections presented during fashion month last February with different eyes, taking into consideration the looming recession and the dramatic lifestyle changes the world was forced into with the spread of the coronavirus.

There are expected shifts, like the rise of casual over formalwear and an even bigger focus on minimalism and wardrobe staples over trendy, seasonal styles.

But most retailers are forging ahead, mapping out the fall trends they will stand behind and continuing to onboard new brands, albeit at a slower pace. Some of the names standing out are the ones offering sustainable solutions or minimalist favorites at sweet-spot price points: The Frankie Shop, most loved for its contemporary-price oversized blazers, and stylist Christine Centenera’s label Wardrobe NYC, which is filled with all-black ensembles, being some of the most frequently mentioned names in luxury retail circles at the moment.

For Munich-based e-tailer Mytheresa — which is not part of the Chapter 11 proceedings of Neiman Marcus and will continue to operate independently — the most noticeable shifts in buying strategy include the growing importance of the lounge and activewear categories, as well as the delays in delivery schedules. The latter will likely prompt the shift in seasonality a big portion of the industry has been rooting for, meaning fall collections might be delivered in stores when the fall season actually begins.

“We haven’t made a massive change in our buying since the lockdown [began]; however, brands have shifted the delivery timings to more of a ‘buy-now-wear-now’ strategy, so we need to adapt to this,” said Mytheresa’s fashion buying director Tiffany Hsu. 

Virus-induced changes aside, Mytheresa is keeping a sharp focus on its core strategy of delivering tightly edited selections with megabrands featuring heavily in its buys — an approach that could benefit the retailer even more during this time, when consumers are favoring classic items and the heritage names they are most familiar with.

“Our strategy remains the same to offer a more edited brand assortment, therefore making sure that each brand gets enough airtime. The big luxury brands are truly important as our anchor and yes, customers tend to spend more money on the brands they trust,” explained Hsu, adding that she sees stronger consumer appetite for new names in the swim and activewear categories. 

Among the key fall trends retailers will be standing behind, a dichotomy between minimalism and maximalism is evident. Hsu pointed to the ongoing prominence of the tailoring trend — renewed for fall by way of boxy blazers or dramatic sleeves — and minimalist favorites like leather-on-leather and austere, all-black looks, as well as loungewear in neutral hues and investment pieces like puffer jackets and trenchcoats.

Givenchy RTW Fall 2020

A fall look from Givenchy.  Giovanni Giannoni/WWD

London-based boutique Browns, which is known for its more experimental approach, is choosing to stand behind the minimalist wave, with its fall buy putting the spotlight on “forever pieces” such as Burberry trenchcoats, Jil Sander separates or suits by the likes of Bottega Veneta, Givenchy and Copenhagen-based Remain.

On the other side of the spectrum, the retailer will be looking to keep the party spirit alive by backing trends like statement eveningwear by the likes of Alessandra Rich, Khaite and The Attico; latex that was championed by Saint Laurent; Princess Diana-inspired romantic dresses, like the Rodarte’s polka-dot pieces, or Eighties party dressing as seen in the plethora of minidresses by Miu Miu, Self Portrait and Khaite, among others.

For Hsu, there’s likely going to be an urge to dress up and celebrate once lockdown measures are lifted, so it’s key to ensure that “there is enough newness in [the retailer’s] party assortment, but overall the scale might weigh in favor of minimalism — just like it did after the economic crash of 2008.” 

“Both [aesthetics] have their functions, they service the same customer, just for different occasions. But post-quarantine, recession might play in favor of the minimal aesthetic, as products are more versatile and long-lasting,” said Hsu. 

Alessandra Rich RTW Fall 2020

A look from Alessandra Rich for fall.  Courtesy Photo

Browns is also keeping its party dressing edit updated as customers have been expressing “a longing to dress up.” But lounge and casualwear will remain top priorities, as the work-from-home culture is likely to stay around even after lockdown measures are lifted and Browns has been backing the likes of Asceno, Desmond & Dempsey and Les Tiens in the category.

Other products that have been performing well for the British retailer also fell into the timeless category and included fine jewelry, watches and heritage bags.

“We are continuing to invest in these areas where we are seeing interest from customers. We also revisited key brands within these categories and placed top-up orders to meet demand,” said Ida Petersson, men’s and women’s buying director at Browns. She added that she sees the categories remaining strong all the way to the December holiday period, unlike the skiwear category, which is likely to suffer this year as fewer consumers take trips.

When it comes to new names, retailers’ choices were once again reflective of this leaning toward minimalism. Mytheresa highlighted the likes of Peter Do, The Frankie Shop, Deveaux and Wardrobe NYC, which are all known to play with neutral color palettes and minimalist silhouettes.

“The trend is moving toward that way and anything that is too seasonal fades out. Customers want to buy things that stay in trend for a little longer, investment and timeless pieces are always smart, even more so now during uncertain times,” added Hsu. She applied the same thinking to the retailer’s fall accessories buy, which features a wide range of classic, logo-free boots, from utilitarian styles by Valentino to Western boots by Bottega Veneta, as well as timeless bag styles like Loewe’s roomy top-handle totes or Bottega’s intrecciato leather hobo bags. 

For Browns, minimalist champions like The Frankie Shop, Wardrobe NYC and Stockholm-based label Our Legacy will also be making a big portion of its “new in” designers. But the retailer is continuing to invest in a series of young, sustainable names to expand its Conscious range, such as Cloe Cassandro and Peony, which both offer Econyl swimwear; new footwear label Piferi, which offers vegan leather shoes, as well as upcycled T-shirt collections by Victor & Rolf.

Peter Do RTW Fall 2020

A fall look from Peter Do.  Courtesy Photo

“Historically, there is evidence that customers do turn toward investment purchases. However, I can also see amongst our customers there’s still a thirst for discovery and it’s every retailer’s duty to support this talent during the crisis,” said Petersson.

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