The winds of change are blasting New York Fashion Week, that biannual fashion frenzy that virtually takes over New York City. Unlike seasons past, it’s not so much about where Fashion Week is held, although that is a problem, but mainly about the entire concept: the timing, the business cycle, the format and, most revolutionary, dramatic and far-reaching, the growing movement to give consumers what they want when they want it.
The big problem, says designer Diane von Furstenberg, chairwoman of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), is, “Fashion shows were originally created for trade, long lead press, newspapers and buyers. With technology’s ever-pervasive role and the huge power of social media, the contents of these shows now goes directly to consumers, frustrating them as they cannot immediately shop what they see on the runway.”
As it stands, most of the clothes that designers present starting Thursday will hit the selling floor in six months. So when, for example, Michael Kors’ models parade down his runway Feb. 17, they’ll wear clothes that will be sold in stores the following fall and winter. And the lion’s share of the official 140 shows at Fashion Week, which runs Feb. 11-18, will, for now, go that route. But there’s an epic storm brewing, with more than one designer bucking the system and showing clothes available to consumers right after the show.
Rebecca Minkoff is arguably the leader of that pack in what is being viewed as a radical departure from business as usual. At her Feb. 13 show, dubbed #SeeBuyWear, she’ll be presenting the very same cool girl Marianne Faithfull-inspired spring collection she showed in September, just styled a little differently. In the audience, along with the usual suspects (editors, influencers, buyers), will be some of her best customers. And instead of having to wait months for the lineup to hit the selling floor, it will be immediately available in stores and online.
“We have seen that the current fashion show system isn’t working,” says Minkoff, the brand’s creative director and co-founder. “Through social media and the Internet, our customer is seeing the product at the same time as the editors and influencers; by the time the product has hit retail shelves six months later, they are over the item they were coveting when it originally walked down the runway.”
Social media is viewed both as fashion’s hero and villain, says Steven Kolb, the CFDA’s president and CEO. “We’re operating in a different world now with technology and social media and the instant output of content and it has changed the reach for designers, good and bad. The good? “The depth and reach of it is amazing and has opened up the fashion show like nothing else.” The bad? “Those assets can work against them like getting into the wrong hands of copyists, and creating consumer fatigue and confusion,” he says.
To help figure it out, the CFDA has engaged a study by the Boston Consultant Group to look at the current model of fashion week and to examine “the potential to change it, and to reflect more the way business is done and the way we live our lives now,” says Kolb.
Some, such as Proenza Schouler and Chloe, have tried to harness the flow of information on social media channels by embargoing photography or completely banning it at their shows, but it isn’t a good solution, says Marylou Luther, editor of the International Fashion Syndicate and the Fashion Group International’s creative director. “I do understand the buy now/wear now concept, but you can’t have it both ways and tell the press to cover it and then insist they release the information when you want them to.” While she doesn’t think it’s the end for Fashion Week, she says, “This is a great moment of change.”
Designer Misha Nonoo, whose swanky looks are coveted by the likes of Cate Blanchett and Amal Clooney, won an industry award for the “Insta-Show” spring collection she presented last season, done entirely via Instagram. “I’d been doing a traditional runway show for two years, and I was amazed that people sitting in the audience were viewing the show through their mobile devices,” said Nonoo, who was troubled by her inability to control the images the world saw, many blurred. Though it cost the same amount of money as a traditional fashion show, her Instagram presentation received more than 15.1 million views. “The reach we had was broader than a traditional runway and we had amazing conversion on our website,” says Nonoo.
This season she’s opted out of the NYFW schedule completely, instead planning to focus on selling her current spring collection on her e-commerce site. “I believe in a consumer calendar. No one says I’m dying to wait six months to buy what I need or desire. People want their demands satiated immediately. They want to click and buy it,” she says.
Apparently Banana Republic got the instant gratification memo as well, and will be introducing a direct-to-consumer program that enables customers to shop a curated collection of items as they debut on the company’s Instagram (@bananarepublic) live from the brand’s presentation Feb. 13.
The consumer-first model is rapidly gaining ground. Most recently, two major design houses — Burberry and Tom Ford — announced that in September they will show collections that will be immediately available to customers, according to Women’s Wear Daily.
Finally, Fern Mallis, who created New York Fashion Week in 1993, says, “It was my formula, and while I’m happy to be a part of it, it’s time to rethink it all. This is an industry that’s all about reinvention and change.” And she, too, believes the moment is right for the consumer to reap the benefits. “All the hoopla, energy and information really should be funneled to the people who put their hand in their pockets and buy the clothes.”