MILAN is underway and Paris looms, and the only “trend” to have materialised – or, in the case of the latter two, not materialised – this fashion week is the conversation of the see-now-buy-now restructure that seems to be playing out in fashion right now: a domino effect instigated by Burberry, followed by Tom Ford and then everyone else who wanted to throw their two cents variation into the ring. Rebecca Minkoff, Thakoon (though these two actually announced a change in business model at the end of last year), Michael Kors (who is experimenting to begin with), but the list goes on and on. Fashion just got faster. Can you keep up? Can the designers keep up? Can anyone keep up? Questions, questions – that’s what this whole shake-up seems to be creating more than answers answers.
What's all the fuss about? We're having a Virtigo moment. (visual by Greg Kohler for NOWFASHION)
“Small designers cannot follow this new system,” pointed out London-based designer Jackie Lee of J. JS Lee, who opened the capital’s recent fashion week. “In reality, as a small designer, it is impossible to do financially and because of time. Designers who do not have their own retail space or platform can’t keep stock like that because it is too risky, and even so, many designers have had to close their labels because they haven’t been able to afford a catwalk show,” she said.
The next year, at least, is going to be a very interesting one in fashion, as what was once clear from an industry perspective (the six-month cycle with “pre” coming later, and, sometimes begrudgingly, thrown in), though not necessarily from a consumer one (“It’s summer, why can I only buy a coat in the shops?”; “It’s winter, why can I only buy a bikini in the shops?”), irons itself out. Or at least attempts to.
J Js Lee Fall/Winter 2016 ready-to-wear show, London (photography by Diulio Marconi for NOWFASHION)
New York and London are the frontrunners of the movement, as over the past week both Milan and Paris have said they will not join the consensus, Kering CEO Francois Henri-Pinault noted as saying that within the luxury sector it “negates the dream” of fashion. Meanwhile Ralph Toledano, president of the Federation Francaise de la Couture, du Pret-a-Porter des Couturiers et des Creatuer telling WWD the present system was still “valid” and is working just fine for Paris. It becomes a question of patience, power and production.
Toogood Fall/Winter 2016 presentation, London (photography by Diulio Marconi for NOWFASHION)
London label Toogood, run by designers Faye and Erica, have an off-piste approach to creating their outerwear and inhabit something of their own microcosm which doesn’t correspond to that of any kind of fashion system. But they put a positive spin on this emerging shift. “It suits them [the labels that have decided to make the change]. It’s probably a good idea to allow brands like us to work in a more independent way; you have to make your mark; it creates a separation and differentiation for those who can and those that can’t. We produce as and when, when it’s finished and when ready,” they explain. And so it creates a sense of brand loyalty. If you want, you wait.
Of course, that is the model upon which they have built their label and from which it grew – it works for them.
Hermione de Paula is a London designer who was producing collection after collection until two years ago she decided to hop off the proverbial hamster wheel and focus on what was making her money and fulfilling her creative needs. The designer decided to work in a more season-less fashion and expanded into bridal – her couture creations enabling her to fulfill the best of both worlds, professionally and personally.
“For me it was about understanding my brand and tearing up the rule book. Buyers really only bought into one of my seasons anyway, which was summer, so why create all of these collections when the buyers are not buying?” she reasoned. Which is essentially the thinking that it comes down to with these new frameworks coming into place: working out who the customer is, what they want and when they want it. It’s about people and product.
Thakoon's latest runway offering back in September with his Spring/Summer 2016 ready-to-wear show, New-York (photography by Régis Colin for NOWFASHION)
“Fashion is about change and moving forward, and the decision to make shows customer-facing makes sense in today’s hyperconnected digital environment,” says Sarah Rutson, vice president of global buying at NET-A-PORTER. “The shows are not for the trade any longer, and customers want what they see on the runway now, if not sooner.”
And this is where the “problem” – or “issue”, call it what you want – lies. Social media lifted the lid on a world that previously was edited, presented seasonally. Now the grand wizard in all its glory has been revealed and the editing process boils down to: I like that, I want it – over any three-page story that’s been put together telling you you want it and why.
Burberry February 2016 show, London (photography by Giovani Staiano for NOWFASHION)
“It’s very much a decision that’s been made based upon social media,” considers fashion journalist, fashion features editor at The Edit, Emma Sells. The other decision it’s been based upon, she flags, is the weather. And how we do like to talk about the weather – but it turns out for good reason. It’s the key also to a better-working wardrobe. After all, there’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes. And of course the weather wherever is always different, globally speaking. “This isn’t necessarily going to fix that,” she says. She also notes the difference between seeing now and buying now and buying now and wearing now – and perhaps that’s really what it is about.
But this instant sense of need and gratification has sprung from a social media millennial generation. Patience may be a virtue but they are yet to get to that.
“Swipe, swipe, click. People are impulsive, they don’t want to invest, they’ll spend more if they can get it now,” elaborates De Paula. “It’s about instant gratification and pleasure-seeking. We live in an ‘over-it’ culture,” she adds. Our tastes change by the second – even from when a look makes it first catwalk exit to the time it takes its finale bow, you could find yourself going from: “Ooooh I have to have that prairie dress” to: “Oh god, another prairie dress, what am I thinking?”.
Tom Ford, Los Angeles show (Courtesy of PR)
The fashion landscape is in flux, as is the fashion media landscape – and it’s about understanding the psychology behind that. “At NET-A-PORTER, we are built on immediacy, speed and buy now, wear now, so we understand this dynamic shift in fashion today and welcome it,” continues Rutson.
Indeed, most note it makes sense to sell in season; it’s just a question of logistics and production. But as Henri-Pinault threw up, it’s also a question of luxury. Fast fashion, back in those initial Primark days, seemed to carry a similar embarrassing burden, as if you snuck into McDonalds for a cheeky burger. I’m not entirely suggesting the same here, but you get the gist. Does having something now, immediately, cheapen it? Because where’s the appreciation of process? Isn’t the whole point of luxury that it’s an experience, one you salivate over, enjoy every moment of – from the wrapping of the product in tissue and bag to carrying it out of the store? To knowing how many people took how long to go into creating it and making this moment special for you? Or is the ultimate luxury actually saying “I want it,” and having it 10 minutes later? Again, it’s those questions that are being thrown up.
And more will continue to arise throughout this fashion season: we’ve already had the landslide of brands hopping on the bandwagon, though we’re unlikely to see more as Milan and Paris – and their aforementioned declarations – steer us through the remainder of the Fall/Winter 2016 season. Of course, the notion of the show and how important that is is one that has rumbled on for seasons now – again stirred into action by the role of social media. But this secondary selling structural question looks like it will ultimately be the one that answers the former. But of course, the thing to remember is that every brand is different and every customer is different. And just like trends (or what once we called trends, because do they even exist anymore?), just because they are one doesn’t mean it’s necessarily relevant for all or that everyone will adopt. It’s simply space-watching time.