We spend an enormous amount of money and energy to stage an event that creates excitement too far in advance of when the collection is available to the consumer. –Tom Ford, WWD
Are Fashion Week runway events still relevant? Is this model in crisis mode and what role does it really play in the fashion industry? With today’s hyper “what’s new” fashion culture [fast fashion], instant online accessibility, and crowded fashion media portals, is this really where the fashion industry wants to go? Retailers rarely attend fashion week shows, do you know why?
As a buyer for a major department store, I never attended fashion shows of any kind in any city. I usually placed my buys weeks and months prior to the Fashion Week schedule, so I was familiar with what was being presented. It wasn’t cost effective for me to go back to those cities for a theatrical show. I had a business to run. More importantly, buying was making a personal contact with the designer/brand, meeting them either at their showroom or my office, total engagement. It was a given to see the line up close, touch, feel, engage in strategic conversations about the “buy”, the positioning of the brand in my store, the targeted consumer, how would we educate the sales team, marketing materials, etc. It was a full experience and none like it. Brands that could afford to do this had models booked all day for their buyer appointments so you could see how garments fit and looked on a live person.
Retail buyers continue to buy as I described. The unknown fact is that a very few will attend Fashion Week. Fashion Week [of recent decades] has always been about gaining exposure from the press/media. The original fashion show concept was to show to long-lead press, such as magazine editors, and buyers. In today’s environment the press/media has extended to online fashion journalists, bloggers, stylists, and, of course, the front row celebrity placement [which tends to get as much publicity as the runway looks].
Technology has opened the doors even further with the consumer watching live-stream fashion shows. What they see, they want and are confused about the seasons. For example, they may be watching a show in the Spring that is a Fall/Winter collection for later that year. Fashion that won’t be in stores for 6 months.
With each show available for the viewing public, digitally, designers question where is the magic, the engagement, the intimacy and exclusivity? They go on to say ‘the physical show goes by so fast and we are backstage’. They miss it all. They miss the engagement, the reaction, and mostly the dialogue with industry professionals.
Do designers and producers really benefit after a 10-20 minute catwalk? Do they make money at it? It’s a branding, marketing push, and social media buzz. Many emerging designers that EDGE talks to say that although ‘the ROI [return on your investment] is not there, it is difficult to shy away from this exposure when you are starting out’.
These days, fashion shows cater more to the audience online than the one physically present. Let’s be very clear on this point: brands don’t make money on fashion shows – no matter how many people attend. Between elaborate sets and prestigious venues, the shows themselves are no longer profitable. – Kelly | The Insatiable Margin | Runways and Growing Pains.
Designers are reacting against the hype and looking to alternatives to the typical runway show. EDGE has seen a trend towards a more artistic and intimate approach, something more interactive and engaging that generates conversation and cannot be recreated digitally. Most press and buyers, of course, don’t need a full blown show and prefer an intimate showroom presentation. In these settings, you hear more from the design team about the “story” and the “why” behind what you see and touch.
EDGE has attended more static and atmospheric presentations and I find it more intimate, memorable, up close and personal with the designer.
The fashion industry is drowning in a sea of the same [season after season] lacking innovation, artistry, originality, and quality. Can it be due to a broken system that is questioning the relevancy of fashion week and the “in-season” relevancy that goes along with it? What about the overexposure [and confusion] to the consumer who expects “see now, buy now, wear now” fashion? Will fast fashion continue to drive mainstream fashion, along with its non sustainable practices negatively impacting the earth? Is today’s current system from another era?
I think the fashion industry is experiencing a wake up call. The good news is that they are talking, doing studies, and testing their markets. There are productive, strategic, meaningful platforms and conscientious changes happening across the globe. It’s a big ship to turn around and each brand will have to develop what is best for them.
My advice? Do not go along with the masses. Do your own homework. Stay true to your vision and brand integrity. Listen to your customer [retailer] and targeted consumer and do what’s best for your market.
Fashion is by definition a reflection of what is going on in the world. We live in a moment of total disruption as our tools change and the speed increases. Everyone is surfing a tsunami, trying to understand how to deal with waves of so much information, so many images. As always when in periods of change, clarity and quality become imperative.
Photography: Jason Young