By Laurie Brookins
This article first appeared in our September/October 2016 issue.
Today’s consumers are no longer content to wait months between collections appearing on the runway and being available to buy. More and more designers are offering their clients instant gratification.
Coming soon to a computer near you: fashion you’ve never laid eyes on until the moment you purchase it. (No, really.) While you mull that over, I am reminded of a joke often traded between a good friend, who works in the beauty industry, and myself. It revolves around the notion that the internet has ruined everything. Such a premise is meant in jest, but a case can be made for the idea that the immediacy of online viewing has wreaked havoc on the fashion industry. It’s now de rigueur for designers to livestream their shows, but I am as culpable as any other journalist, blogger or buyer at those presentations: In our thirst to be first, posting images direct from the runway onto our various social-media platforms, we have created a monster – that is, a consumer is no longer content to wait six months between a collection’s debut and its arrival in stores.
Of course, we’ve been hurtling towards this outcome for years. Back in 2008, Karl Lagerfeld sounded only matter-of-fact as we discussed his six collections a year for Chanel (not counting two haute-couture collections), a seemingly non-stop cycle that ensures a fresh crop of clothes and accessories arrives in the French label’s boutiques every two months. Raf Simons found a similar schedule at Dior far too taxing, chief among the reasons he stepped down as creative director almost a year ago. Maria Grazia Chiuri, formerly of Valentino, will present her first collection as Dior’s creative director in a spring/summer 2017 presentation tentatively set for September 30.
What is most true about the current fashion-show schedule – women’s fall collections in February and March, spring collections in September and October – is that it simply no longer makes sense and designers are rebelling. Prada and Gucci have led the charge in integrating men’s and women’s collections into one show, a practice that started at least three years ago with the June men’s collections, each presenting shows that split between men’s and women’s clothes. As in the case of Prada’s most recent outing in Milan in June, these dual collections typically comprise men’s spring, which ships to stores in February, with women’s resort, which arrives the previous November. Confused? You’re not alone.
So we arrive at the simple solution: see now, buy now. The second a collection hits the runway, it’s available to buy. Designers from Ralph Lauren to Versace have offered consumers instant access to select pieces from shows – a hot handbag, a must-have jacket – but never an entire collection. In February, Burberry was the first to announce this new model: twice-yearly shows, simply dubbed September and February, combining men’s and women’s collections, and immediately available.
It kicks off with Burberry’s London presentation on September 19. No more winter coats in store in July, said Christopher Bailey, Burberry’s chief creative officer. Instead, the label is focused on “a closer connection between the experience we create with our runway shows and the moment people can physically explore the collections for themselves,” Bailey says.
Other designers quickly followed suit. In February, Tom Ford confirmed a September 7 ‘intimate showing’ of a see-now-buy-now collection. Tommy Hilfiger, Matthew Williamson and Thakoon Panichgul have said they’ll adopt the model as of this season.
But what about the department store’s role in this equation? The see-now-buy-now collections make sense for company-owned boutiques, but how do buyers at retailers such as Saks Fifth Avenue or Bergdorf Goodman factor into this? As buying plans have to be confirmed months in advance, they surely will be permitted to preview collections in traditional market appointments, which means new pieces are likely to be shielded only from the eyes of the press and the public. Then again, if Anna Wintour wishes to showcase any see-now-buy-now fall collection in Vogue’s September issue, how could a designer refuse?
Soon enough we’ll know whether see-now-buy-now works. Then one question needs to be answered. Is this the future of fashion or a seductive fad?
Laurie Brookins is a New York-based fashion journalist and stylist.