PARIS — Fifty one.
That’s the tally of brands staging coed shows during the fall women’s calendar across London, Milan, Paris and New York. It’s the equivalent of an entire men’s week or more. Which, as the industry twists and turns, raises questions around the longevity of men’s-only fashion weeks.
It’s especially the case for fledgling showcases like London Collections: Men, which launched in 2012, and wobbly New York Fashion Week: Men’s, which kicked off with the spring 2016 collections. Already the Council of Fashion Designers of America at the start of the year revealed plans to push back the dates of New York Fashion Week: Men’s slightly to Feb. 5 through Feb. 7, immediately preceding the women’s shows that start on Feb. 8 — and creating one big 10-day dual-gender event.
New York’s tactic could be a sign of things to come, with buyers calling for a streamlining of the weeks to better reflect the evolution of the market, although many would prefer to tug calendars in line with early bird buying schedules. At the whim of the brands, men’s buyers are having to accommodate the shifts. But despite major gaps in the men’s show weeks following the exit of brands including Gucci, Bottega Veneta, Balenciaga, Givenchy, Saint Laurent and Burberry from their respective city’s men’s weeks, it doesn’t seem to be impacting results.
“There is research for new, disruptive languages and this is not impacting the men’s wear business, which, on the contrary, is growing. Buyers adapt to the changes, and the shows do not really coincide with the buying. There are 800 showrooms in Milan that are open seven months a year and sales are not confined to a specific moment in the year,” said Carlo Capasa, president of the Camera Nazionale della Moda, which counted around 10 coed shows during Men’s Fashion Week in January and five during Milan Women’s Fashion Week a month later.
“[Italian] Men’s fashion week starts in Florence at Pitti and ends in Milan, they are very much linked. Brands now flee a marked categorization, there is a desire to communicate a lifestyle and create a community that goes beyond a division between men’s and women’s. This mirrors the moment we live in, which is more fluid. Also, many brands show women’s pre-collections together with their men’s wear, intersecting during the sales moment,” added Capasa. “It is a photograph of what is happening, and not imposed.”
Pascal Morand, executive president of the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode, echoed that the coed movement has brought about “a greater flexibility” and “more freedom” for brands.
“There might be some porosity between men’s and women’s fashion weeks, but the gravity centers remain well distinct. This double enrichment doesn’t induce a converging process, and we do not see any shrinkage for Paris men’s week, though we have to carefully control its development in an open perspective,” said Morand. For him, the challenge for show week organizers lies in “harmoniously understanding these trends without losing [the identity of the weeks].”
“With men’s fashion getting stronger, the overall impact of the movement is positive,” agreed Morand, for whom the evolution also follows the business model and organization of brands. Houses looking to strictly correlate the date of the show and the commercial calendar can opt for a coed presentation during the men’s wear shows. But they can also separate the two sequences and focus “on the creative and imaginary universe of the brand during the formal show while anticipating pre-collections at a much earlier period,” he said.
Some buyers are approaching women’s-led coed shows as an additional drop for their men’s departments. “We now need to consider the coed show collections as an additional and very important market which commences a month or so after the historic close of men’s market,” said David Aquilina, head of men’s wear buying at Harvey Nichols.
“We have had to review how we plan the drops into store and how we carve our open-to-buy….as effectively, this is an additional market for men’s. To put this into perspective, our current format focuses on two main deliveries (pre-collection and main collection), which all wrap up toward the end of the men’s fashion month,” he added.
Damien Paul, head of men’s wear at Matchesfashion.com, who finds the movement has made the buying schedule more manageable — “rather than having these huge peaks and troughs, it’s becoming a bit more balanced” — echoed: “Obviously, if we’re seeing the men’s collection in March with the women’s wear, that’s much later than normally we would be committed to with our budgets…but our customer is so connected with runway product that they’re always waiting for it — in February, March or whenever. And sometimes it has a better connection to the weather relevance.”
Ultimately, however, it would make more sense to push the collections earlier, he argued.
“Joining them together [in women’s weeks] can create a strong message, but timing-wise it can be challenging….From an industry perspective, and especially from a global online retailer, it would make more sense for the shows to happen earlier rather than later,” said Paul.
“At the end of the day, we’re now buying men’s collections for women and women’s collections for men. It makes total sense to try and combine the fashion weeks in some way — I don’t know logistically how that would work, especially for the houses that have separate men’s and women’s designers. But everyone’s talking about androgyny, everyone’s talking about collections for guys and girls, and it’s the way the customer is shopping as well,” said Paul.
For Roopal Patel, senior vice president, fashion director, at Saks Fifth Avenue, what is challenging “is the not knowing.”
“Designers are showing men’s and women’s without really sharing the information, the weeks are blurring,” she said.
For the Saks men’s buying team, the shift has meant either viewing collections early, before they hit the runway, or traveling back to Europe. What stood out at the women’s weeks, said Patel, was the absence of key men’s editors and buyers — “those making the decisions for the men’s market.”
For some, the men’s wear message gets diluted when presented as part of a women’s show, with certain men’s buyers and editors possibly reluctant to sit through a run of women’s looks before getting to the men’s. Others see it as beneficial to the industry.
From a data standpoint, showing men’s during women’s, which traditionally has received bigger play than men’s, only serves to boost exposure for the men’s designer market, which is expected to generate about $29.61 billion in global sales in 2018, up 1.6 percent year-on-year, according to Euromonitor International.
Presenting collections side by side fits with the growingly transversal nature of fashion and consumer behavior.
Take, for example, Jonathan Anderson — who, during fall London Women’s Week, combined his men’s, women’s and pre-collection in one show. According to Floriane Le Louarn, head of data at Tagwalk, the men’s looks so far have attracted 14 percent of total views of the collection versus 12 percent for the brand’s spring season. But crucially, 94 percent of views were made through the site’s women’s portal.
For Salvatore Ferragamo, which presented its first coed show in February, men’s so far represents 10 percent of views of the collection versus 4 percent for spring, with 90 percent of views made through the women’s portal.
With women’s-focused publications, blogs and outlets representing more than 50 percent more of the media landscape than men’s, Michael Jais, chief executive officer of Launchmetrics, agreed that — from a data perspective — “there is a lot to support that [the women’s-led coed trend] is a winning strategy for brands today.”
“Brands showing the two lines together already have an opportunity to reach a larger audience. When looking at brands that showed men’s versus women’s separately, we see coverage for women’s can be up to four times higher in Media Impact Value than their male counterparts,” he said.
“Even though the two are sharing a piece of the same pie, sometimes coverage for men’s during women’s can mean brands are getting up to 50 percent of the show’s share of voice, which during women’s fashion weeks is usually the same or more Media Impact Value than if they had showed separately during men’s fashion week,” added Jais. “The key for brands moving forward is to ensure their outreach and attendees represent both media landscapes to maximize their exposure and coverage.”
“Having one clean message across genders is a great way to solidify the DNA and values of a brand….Any exposure generally has a positive impact on the industry. Additional channels of communication will drive further awareness for men’s collections, so for the overall business, this is a positive step forward,” commented Harvey Nichols’ Aquilina.
That said, it’s important that the brands continue to present a comprehensive collection of men’s looks, “and they’re not just designed to complement the women’s looks, and in turn, the press continues to comment on the men’s looks as [though they] were [part of] a solo show,” he stressed.
Bruce Pask, men’s fashion director of Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus, agreed the additional awareness that coed shows bring to the men’s market and customer is a good thing, especially at a time when the designer market is hot “and certainly topical with major shifts in some of the leading houses.”
Runway shows are certainly a main focus of the various fashion weeks but they are also augmented by important trade shows like White in Milan, London Showrooms, Man and Capsule in Paris and New York, he said. “There are also many very important multibrand and designer showrooms showing collections during shows in each of these cities. The value of men’s wear show weeks has to be seen in the aggregate, inclusive of each of these important elements adding to the overall experience.”
The orientation of show plans for Hedi Slimane for Céline and Riccardo Tisci at Burberry are still under wraps, while Virgil Abloh at Louis Vuitton and Kim Jones for Dior Homme — as two houses that keep men’s and women’s distinct — will add meat to the next edition of Paris Men’s Week in June. Balmain’s Olivier Rousteing said a coed show is not in the cards, although a new women’s capsule featured in his men’s show in January. “I have a lot of men in the room when I do a women’s show and a lot of women at the men’s — they can pick what they want,” said the designer. “Women fight so much for the role of women in the world that I want to give a moment just to women, and I want to give a moment just to men.”
For many, a combined show only makes sense when it involves a single creative director.
“It does make sense when we’re at Gucci or Saint Laurent, to see men’s and women’s on the runway, it’s within the same creative space,” noted Patel, adding that the trends converge. “There is a real return to tailoring in both men’s and women’s wear; the whole Eighties, romantic-New Wave direction we saw in both men’s and women’s. You are starting to see these crossed lines, and I think it’s also helpful for the houses from a business point of view, just as they’re starting to see traction in men’s on certain items, it’s a natural translation to women’s.”
But there are no rules. During Milan Women’s Fashion Week in February, Paul Andrew for his debut collection as creative director of Salvatore Ferragamo’s women’s line shared the stage with men’s designer Guillaume Meilland for the house’s first coed show.
While Tom Ford’s addition to New York Fashion Week: Men’s gave a much-needed boost to the showcase, meanwhile, with Raf Simons and and Hugo Boss among other big-name participants, the reality is the week’s focus has shifted to emerging brands. That’s indicative of the way things seem to be moving for men’s weeks at the moment. Some see it as opening up opportunities for the new guns.
“Some of our younger, newer, inspiring designers have been given a much better airspace. With all the big brands moving out of men’s week, the schedule is less crowded….and actually the strength of London is all these really young, cool designers that are changing the way men’s wear is,” said Paul. “In London specifically, you’ve got the likes of Craig Green and Grace Wales Bonner getting more exposure, with more coverage in the press. And that’s what I see as a big opportunity.”