The fashion industry is at a crossroads. Designers must decide whether to continue the age-old tradition of previewing their collections during Fashion Week four to six months before they are available in stores (with fall looks shown in February and spring looks shown in September), or buck tradition in favor of providing instant retail gratification to consumers. In a previous post, we wrote about how the shifts in technology and consumer demand were prompting designers to rethink the traditional Fashion Week format. At the time of our last post, the Council of Fashion Designers of America (“CFDA”) had recently released a report examining the challenges of the Fashion Week format, citing as a potential solution “in-season relevancy” – the concept that a designer would time fashion events to when collections hit stores to maximize sales. In the ensuing months, it appeared that every day brought a new headline on how designers were deciding to change their Fashion Week format to achieve “in-season relevancy.” With all of this experimentation, have designers finally found the right Fashion Week formula?
For some brands, the answer is yes. Designers that showcased immediately shoppable looks during the February New York Fashion Week (NYFW) have already reaped the rewards of “in-season relevancy.” This past February, designer Rebecca Minkoff re-showed her spring collection, which she previously debuted the prior September, to consumers who were able to purchase the pieces immediately. This strategy resulted in a 211 percent increase in year-over-year sales for Minkoff. This September, Rebecca Minkoff will be trading in the traditional Fashion Week stage for the streets of New York City, where she has invited fashion bloggers to model her collection outside of her retail boutique at which looks will be immediately available for purchase. Minkoff joins designers Tom Ford, Misha Nonoo and Tommy Hilfiger (with a carnival-themed runway at the South Street Seaport that will double as a pop up shop), who will make the revolutionary move of showing fall fashions during their Fall NYFW shows. Consumers are expected to make up half of the audiences for the shows of both Minkoff and Hilfiger.
Other industry stakeholders are capitalizing on the trend with more consumer-facing events. IMG, the producer of NYFW, is following the lead of designers who have chosen to show immediately shoppable looks by setting up two pop up shops for the duration of NYFW aimed at making a trade industry event open the public. Shoppers will be able to purchase items that designers have made specifically for the pop up shops, some of which may appear on the runway. Even non-social media is seizing on the idea of immediacy in fashion. Google will be launching an initiative during Fashion Week that will allow designers to control what appears at the top of search results for a particular designer or brand with content from their NYFW shows, messages from the designer about inspirations and behind the scenes videos of show preparations. One can imagine that a curated medium like this could easily lend itself to “shop now” links in the future.
When NYFW kicks off tomorrow, what can retailers expect? In light of the growing trend toward showing in season collections during NYFW, retailers and shoppers alike can expect in season collections to translate into higher full price sales. Disrupting the traditional runway-to-retail calendar that delivers parkas in August reduces the likelihood that retailers will have to mark down those shipments during what should be peak selling periods in the winter months. However, despite the trend, some of the industry’s largest stakeholders, like Diane Von Furstenberg and J. Mendel, have not committed to showing immediately shoppable looks and are opting instead for more intimate, one-on-one appointment showings, while fashion conglomerate Kering is remaining a stalwart of the existing regime. Due to the varying sizes and budgets of brands that show at NYFW, it is not clear whether a singular approach will ever emerge as the new Fashion Week format. However, the fashion industry can count on “in-season relevancy” being in season for at least the coming week.