The main takeaway from AW16 fashion month, was not that we can expect to see more fur, velvet and off-the-shoulder tops in boutiques this winter, but rather that fashion’s leading brands seem to have simultaneously arrived at the conclusion that the current fashion cycle of a runway show followed by a collection drop six months later is no longer sustainable in today’s fast-paced digital environment.
Although the current business model has been under scrutiny and discussion for a few years, brands are only now actually taking action. Major players including Burberry, Tom Ford, Tommy Hilfiger and Michael Kors all announced changes to their business cycles, within days of each other. Burberry are planning to show collections that will be available at all their POS the day of the show from September onwards.
This will be supported by digital and print advertising campaigns, which will launch as soon as the show ends.
Tom Ford will do the same, with both his women’s and men’s collections showing in September with a collection drop straight after. Tommy Hilfiger will stage consumer facing fashion shows twice a year, with products available just after. Michael Kors and Proenza Schouler will select certain pieces that will be available through their direct channels directly after their shows.
Luxury fashion executives have been painfully aware that the consumer interest they raise during their runway show dies down months before the clothes in question are available to buy. This has created disconnect between the collection reveal buzz and the collection drop in store and actual sales. The model seemed impossible to shift, because of the Fashion Week schedule and the well-established purchasing cycle of wholesale retailers, as well as material sourcing and collection production. Changing the cycle closes the gap between runway and retail but poses increasing business risks for the brands, who will now need to invest in collection production before seeing the audience’s reaction.
With these announcement we are also seeing a move towards ‘deseasonalized’ collections, which should at this point really be a given: today’s consumer base is global, so it’s always going to be summer for one client and winter for another at any given time of the year.
The industry still seems divided between brands who share the sentiment of ‘change’ versus those who still have faith in the old model.
Francois-Henri Pinault, CEO of Kering, however said to Bloomberg that these straight to consumer initiatives “negates the dream of luxury”. The Fédération Française de la Couture du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers unanimously voted to keep the old system in place in France. Their president Ralph Toledano said to WWD “As far as we are concerned, the present system is still valid.”
We’ve previously seen brands such as Moschino experiment with “straight of the runway” initiatives, where selected pieces would be available online just days after a show. What we are seeing now is a collective shift in a model that previously seemed set in stone. With all these brands arriving at similar decisions independently, lasting impacts on the overall fashion industry remains to be seen.
Ultimately, the key question is whether these brands will succeed in driving more sales.
Will the possibility of instant satisfaction drive more footfall to boutiques and increase consumer spending?
From a communications and advertising perspective, supporting these collections mean considering a whole new timing. It certainly opens up for greater digital opportunities to amplify the catwalk event excitement and quickly help push the consumer down the CDJ and turn it into actual sales.