NEW YORK – Trying to resolve the question of “How do you solve a problem like fashion week?” five industry insiders suggested changing the fashion calendar, improving retail partnerships and offering more buy-now runway looks.
Moderator Katharine Zarrella kept Andrew Rosen, Gary Wassner, Rachna Shah and Sarah Rutson in check during Thursday morning’s “Fashion Week Problems” panel at the inaugural FCD Fashion Culture Design conference at The New School. Afterward, FCD organizer Simon Collins told the crowd that students don’t care about fashion week because they’re going to do what they want to do, and unlike in Paris, New York-based designers can rewrite the fashion week rules.
Wassner said, “We have to share responsibility in order to move forward. It’s kind of a Hegelian dialectic. We have to synthesize our ideas and come out with a better future. We’re not doing that. The retailers are standing up against the wall. They’re our vendors. They’re supposed partners and they’re pressuring for markdowns and such that they bought, and they chose.”
Rutson said, “The reality is we all want to make this work. It has to be a win-win. It’s not about who can screw the most out of anybody. The dialogue now is we’re all overworked, we’re all overstretched, but we’re all passionate enough to make this work.”
Fundamentally speaking, Shah emphasized the need to not address the situation as “a problem,” noting that people will see what works for them and will change accordingly. “Just constantly saying something is a problem has a negative impact. People are working hard and have spent a lot of money on it.”
Rutson also noted how Net-a-porter’s buying team will spend 65 percent of its budget during the current two-week resort season. “Yet, come September I’m out on a six-week dog-and-pony show to spend 30 to 35 percent of the budget. It doesn’t add up. The whole system has stayed and yet we’ve created more-more, now-now deliveries for all of these things,” said Rutson, adding that stores are marking down items after six weeks on the floor, which only ratchets up the demand.
In the midst of buying 2017 cruise collections, Rutson said, she recently thought, “’There are going to be a lot of sweaters hitting our site in June, July — oh great.’ I’d like more buy-now-wear-now please, not see-now.”
Shah of KCD noted that fashion shows for some brands are the one thing they do year after year and each company has its own reason for doing so.
“At the end of the day, companies have to do what they think is their authentic voice and how they want to portray their collection. It’s their choice,” Rosen of Theory said. “But the consumer needs to be stimulated. The big problem is consumers are seeing clothes that aren’t going to be delivered for many, many months. That also gives fast fashion companies the opportunity to get inspiration from runway shows and other people.”
Working with about 450 brands, Wassner of Hilldun Factors estimated that 90 or 100 of them show during fashion week. “For them, that is a real decision. They are not the mega brands. They are the smaller brands, the entrepreneurs. Their decisions and struggles are very different from the major and European brands. Their budgets are very different as well as who they are trying to reach. In many cases, Instagram is the most effective way for them to tell their story. Look at brands like Alexander Wang. He’s got an incredible Instagram feed. It tells who he is, what he’s about. It’s so succinct but is that more effective than Alex’s show?”
“The reality is going to the showroom is what matters. … Shows can look amazing in a picture and actually be a disaster in real life. Or I can consider a show a nightmare and then go into the showroom and it’s magic,” Rutson said.
Many of the brands that Hilldun consults with aim to have direct-to-consumer sales account for 35 percent of their total business within the next five years. Their goal used to be 5 to 10 percent, Wassner said. “That is a huge shift. What does that do to the retail climate? This is all tied together — how consumers shop, when they want to shop, what they want to buy. And we’re not catching up to them.”
While both Wassner and Rutson use Instagram for sourcing, Wassner argued that Millennials are “so flooded with images that they have broken down. They’re not shopping at all except from their phones. But even then there is just too much imagery. You don’t want to buy in cycles that department stores have in place. You feel foolish.”
Designers, meanwhile, are facing a different kind of burnout, Rutson said.“When you’re dealing with creatives who are on this nonstop hamster wheel, and you’re constantly expecting extraordinary things, something has to break,” Rutson said. (Wassner cited Raf Simons’ departure from Dior as an example.) “You can’t push a creative soul to the extremes without something breaking. Everyone is lasting [at one company] three years, and they’re exhausted. Alber [Elbaz] talked a lot about this constant need for more. It never stopped.”
Further complicating the situation is the fact venture capital firms are pushing brands to grow quickly, often in three years, Wassner said. As a result, growth is no longer organic and labels are being overdistributed to try to meet those numbers, Wassner said. “We need to change that and support brands for the bigger picture and longer period.”