In mid-December, the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) announced that it had hired the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) to analyze the current Fashion Week calendar in order to determine changes that needed to be made. This came at the end of a wild year of upheavals that had everyone predicting the worst and claiming the impending collapse of everything. At the very least, it became clear that the industry needed a reboot. The current ahead-of-season calendar was no longer viewed as sustainable, and the globalization and democratization of fashion had taken its toll on the very people who created the most exciting collections in the industry. Instead of adapting to the zealous consumer demand for instant gratification, fashion just stacked more dates onto the calendar, leading to pre-fall and resort seasons, thereby permitting very little lead or prep time for designers and their teams who were scrambling to keep up with growing demand.
In an op-ed I penned after the CFDA’s announcement, called Rebooting the Fashion Industry Model – How to Adapt and Why, I discussed a few courses of action for the industry as a whole. One of those courses – the most glaringly obvious one, in fact – was that the industry should adopt an in-season model where runway shows are presented at the same time as the retail season. This means that spring/summer would show in the spring and fall/winter would be shown in the fall, which would bring retail cycles and presentations into alignment with how consumers are shopping now. Consumer fatigue as the result of social-media overexposure meant that what we saw on the runway would be a tired story by the time it actually arrived on shelves. In the modern era, we want it all and we want it now.
In the modern era, we want it all and we want it now.
Over the weekend, both Burberry and Tom Ford announced that they will be adopting an in-season model going forward, which means the fashion revolution has officially begun. Tom Ford is a brand that has been particularly keen on innovating new ways of presenting its collections, namely Ford’s decision last season to submit a video starring Lady Gaga that highlighted his Spring/Summer 2016 collection instead of a traditional presentation at Fashion Week. Burberry has also been trumpeted as the fashion industry’s leading early adopter, with constant ahead-of-the-game digital innovations that have reoriented how other high-fashion businesses have approached Fashion Week presentations. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that Burberry and Tom Ford were the first to take on the in-season model, but now that the fashion revolution is underway a new crop of questions arises.
In a statement to the press regarding his decision to show collections in alignment with the retail cycle, Tom Ford said, “In a world that has become increasingly immediate, the current way of showing a collection four months before it is available to consumers is an antiquated idea and one that could no longer make sense. We have been living with a fashion calendar and system that is from another era.” Antiquated is the right word. When Fashion Week was first established, the ahead-of-season calendar was a necessity. Before the internet granted us magical access to immediate views of collections, Fashion Week was originally known as Press Week, where designers showed to small gatherings of media elite so that they might review, describe, and editorialize the presentation for the masses. Slowly, buyers were added to the mix, transforming the presentations into industry conferences where media and buyers in turn would influence the public by summarizing dominant trends, which led to buying decisions. This method was aligned with how the public shopped, where the majority would plan and buy wardrobes according to season in one fell swoop. Nowadays, we shop for clothes at roughly the same rate as we buy groceries, which means you aren’t buying your entire seasonal wardrobe twice a year, but buying pieces here and there all year long.
With the internet came the democratization and globalization of fashion. Suddenly, we were all granted a private view into a rarefied world, and, instead of pressing our faces against the windows like outsiders, we demanded to be let in. This demand led to collaborations between high-fashion brands and big-box retailers, beginning with Isaac Mizrahi’s collaboration with Target, which offered the illusion of affordable luxury for the first time. Scott Schuman of The Sartorialist and the rise of fashion bloggers like Susie Bubble of Style Bubble and Leandra Medine of Man Repeller were further catalysts in displaying unique and enticing new fashion perspectives by reflecting street style and personal preferences. This, in turn, led to changes within the fashion industry as street style looks started popping up on the runway. For the first time, the everyday person had a voice in fashion. Instead of being dictated to, we were the ones giving the industry direction as to what we wanted to see more (or less) of. This factor has had an enormous effect on fashion, one that is both positive and negative. Some critics argue that the democratization of fashion gave rise to homogeneous collections that favored middle ground rather than outré creativity, as designers bent to the whim of the public in order to appease a wider consumer base. On the positive side, fashion’s journey to the middle meant that style was more individualized than ever, such that socialites could sport H&M and college students could wear Balmain x H&M and neither side would be ridiculed for their sartorial choices.
For the past year, the industry has been poised on the precipice of radical change, but no one knew for certain which direction things would go. With Burberry and Tom Ford’s respective announcements to shift shows into alignment with in-season retail cycles, the direction is now clearer. If this sounds like an impossible feat, it’s only because it’s such a new idea. Even Burberry CEO Christopher Bailey admits in an exclusive interview with Business of Fashion, “This is not something that we’ve done before and it’s not something where we can follow a best practice.” It will take a lot of work for Burberry to adapt internally, but Bailey is optimistic about the future. Burberry will be pushing new collections straight into its stores at the same time as the collections show on the runway, which takes masterful orchestration of its supply chain. Yet, there is one glaring problem with this that might make the whole shift stumble before it even gets off the ground.
The products shown on the runway are not the exact same products that end up in the commercial line. What goes into the commercial line is decided by media and buyer response to the collections. This information is absolutely necessary for the brands, because it tells them what products are worthwhile enough to end up in production. By putting the entire collection into production before this feedback is obtained places the brand at immense risk. What if no one wants to buy what they are selling? Missteps at this point in the process could be potentially devastating to the bottom line. Burberry’s answer is to bring its buyers in as it is creating the collection, allowing them to form a buy that influences what is put into production and on what scale. Wholesale accounts will also be invited in for early previews . However, so far, there is no answer as to how this new process will affect media influence. Will they be lending for editorials ahead of time too? If not, the media’s influence on the consumer relationship to the brand has been left entirely out of the equation.
If it is to be adopted worldwide, this process would essentially erase the democratization in fashion.
The other problem is that this new process, if it is to be adopted worldwide, would essentially erase the democratization in fashion. Instead of the people informing the brands of what they want to wear by voting with their dollars or by having influence on designs due to street style displays, the decision as to what is available to buy is made completely by buyers and wholesalers. This type of business-side dictation might benefit shareholders and their bank accounts, but it may cost the consumer the freedom of choice that comes with the influence it has enjoyed so far.
Although there remain many unanswered questions, one thing is certain: This is an exciting time to bear witness to. The fashion revolution has begun, but there are many years ahead before a full picture can be formed as to whether or not this is the right path to take.