Fashion Week: Is this the beginning of a new era?

‘See now, buy now’: a topic that has been fervently brewing for the last few seasons, it feels like we are reaching a tipping point. Certainly, the very nature and purpose of Fashion Week is entirely up for question, and as we have seen this season and last, its interpretation is different for each brand. The showing model has changed entirely, no longer about enticing buyers and consumers with what’s to come after six months of anticipation. The age of fast-fashion and Instagram has forced the industry to keep pace, with creativity responding to commerciality, rather than the other way around.

Nowhere has this been more visible than the last fortnight in New York and London, traditionally more experimental than their continental European counterparts of Milan, which concludes today, and Paris, which starts next week. As last season saw the seeds of the ‘see now, buy now’ trend being sown, this season New York and London have been largely expanding, tweaking and refining their approaches to the new reality, in so much as their resources may allow. Clearly, this is not merely a short-lived trend, but a period of transition for fashion at large, and it is driven by business.

After a year’s hiatus, Tom Ford debuted his collection during a lavish dinner party at the Four Seasons restaurant, on an elevated stage above 24 dinner tables. The collection was available to shop immediately after, having been secretly sold to buyers (who were under NDA) ahead of time. Lauded as ‘feel now, see now, then buy now‘, the label integrated the setting and its digital strategy in a way that allowed it to sell immediately without selling out. Similarly, Ralph Lauren showed his newest collection on the sidewalk – as did a number of other designers – in front of his Madison Avenue flagship location. Immediately following the show, the entire collection became available for sale online and through the company’s flagship stores, with Ralph citing the label’s desire to change “with and for” its consumers as its reason for adopting the model.

NYFW designers Ralph Lauren, Victoria Beckham and Alexander Wang

While these larger brands have the resources to put on the big money, high-impact shows and adapt to a new model within a single season, younger and more contemporary labels had to get creative. Taking over Pier 94 in New York City, Alexander Wang presented his S/S 2017 collection, but rather than sell ahead of time to buyers, he surprised the industry with a secret collaboration with Adidas and a series of pop-ups to sell the collection – which sold out immediately. Another innovative approach was that of Alice Temperley, who teamed up with social platform Vero to sell a trio of designs right off the runway following her London show. Victoria Beckham has found a middle ground, showing a brightly-coloured collection featuring draped, heavier fabrics for S/S 2017 – but won’t be available to buy until summer stock hits the shops.

Fashion brands have long had to address the issue of the simultaneous rise of fast fashion and social media, and adapt to the instantaneous nature of both. But what of the potential risks of ‘see now, buy now’? As fashion cycles speed up to maintain relevance, the months of anticipation between shows and product drops have been superseded by a need to sell, with an obvious impact on the creative process. Design teams are now rushing to create all-season collections that are churned out faster than before, stifling the process, and many of the creative directors and designers we’re speaking to are not only complaining about how burnt out they are, but are even considering roles outside of the industry as they yearn to return to a freer, more creative existence. 

Within the retail industry, buyers (and consumers alike) are forced to make snap judgments on which parts of a collection to buy, leaving room for buyer’s remorse – quite literally – but on the other hand, retailers will benefit from seasonally-appropriate stock, meaning consumers are less likely to hold out for sales. However, customers who now watch the shows are slowly losing their ideas of separate seasons, perhaps making it harder to pick out what they like. With many labels stuck in a transitory period between the classic model and ‘see now, buy now’, there is a high level of overlap and extra work, and a rush to get it all done. As a result, compared to before, the shows can now look a little confused, with some collections lacking coherence and vision. Luxury brands that go overboard catering to the social media generation risk stepping over the line into a world of two-dimensional ridiculousness, as parodied by Jeremy Scott’s paper dress up dolls at Moschino yesterday. Rather cleverly and somewhat ironically, these images are probably the most Instagram-worthy takeaways of the season.

LFW shows Burberry, Erdem and Alice Temperley

On the other hand, some labels are sticking to tradition – either by choice or necessity, and although it is yet to be seen, there isn’t a huge expectation that the Paris behemoths will succumb to the new reality, though I’m certain we will see some subtle adjustments. Mulberry’s London show, its second under new creative director Johnny Coca, was highly regarded among critics with its brilliantly British collection that won’t reach stores until February, despite ticking the ‘see now, buy now’ box last season. A number of smaller labels, such as Delpozo and Sies Marjan, both of which showed their new collections in New York two weeks ago, perhaps lack the resources to do anything different, but being so wonderfully creative and desirable perhaps this matters less to them right now.

In Milan, even Max Mara, a more traditional luxury house known for beautifully crafted coats, chose to show bold, tropical prints making it more appealing to the social media generation – but it remains to be seen whether this strategy will carry over into its shops. Other of-the-moment brands, such as Gucci and Fendi, have declined to join the club – their sheer popularity, desirability and Instagram appeal is enough to ensure the sales keep climbing steadily. I suspect that we’ll see the same at Paris, where consumers will be expecting the regular routine – and the high concentration of luxury labels will be providing that.

As in most cases, we will reach some kind of happy medium, and the industry will settle into a new groove: some labels will pick when and how to show outside of the traditional calendar, perhaps adapting their calendars to allow time to create prototypes, get them in front of buyers under NDA, and get product into their stores – once a new cycle is established they will get into a more regular flow. Others will of course stick to the status quo. The fashion showing calendar itself will have to react to cater to these changes, as it accepts its new role as purely a marketing vehicle for the bigger brands. As unpredictable as the industry has become, I sense the new reality will soon be upon us.

@TheMBSGroup | TheMBSGroup