The fashion industry is a dynamic place. Behind the scenes, away from scrutiny of the public, diverse creative ideas are circulating with speed, evolving from the sketch board to runways and then – modified for daily use – are trickling down to high street stores. That’s how the entire industry used to work until very recently.
Everyone even remotely interested in social media has noticed that the entire world has moved online almost overnight; the fashion industry has followed the suit. With the inventive social media campaigns similar to Burberry – when they live-streamed their entire AW16 show on social media – it is clear that the engagement with the wider audience has become a top priority for even most luxurious brands.
Recently published report by Media Eye has yet again confirmed that today – more than ever – brands seek to engage with general public online and increasingly, using social media influencers. So much so, that today every social media ‘influencer’- often newbie nobodies with bought followers taking the places of real journalists- can get access to front row shows at Fashion Week and publish full low-res no-content pictorial reports of the event. Fashion Week is no longer a closed-shop industry event, but a global consumer spectacle. Fashion Labels who have grasped that early enough have managed to dramatically reduce marketing costs and increased their brand exposure.
In other words, the fashion industry is embracing the change and experimenting. The new ‘rules’ are written ‘as we speak’. Every brand is writing their own history. With so different approaches, I find it fascinating -up to a point- following the latest.
Fashion Week is no longer a closed-shop industry event, but a global consumer spectacle.
This year a few designers voiced their plans to change the way they create, showcase and operate as a business to free themselves from the draining and, arguably, unnecessary race. Last month fashion designer, -and recent graduate of Central Saint Martins-, Tigran Avetisyan presented his new collection in Paris. The collection was titled In loving memory of Spring Summer 2014 by Tigran Avetisyan and consisted of twelve coats form his 2014 collection. On the back of each, over a thick layer of black paint, was daubed “Nothing Changes”. I guess, being unable to sell the stock the designer came up with a brilliant idea – to drive public attention to “the value of creativity in a marketing-driven industry” instead. As opposed to spending days and weeks labouring behind his sewing machine he focused on “creating a strong image that will look nice on Instagram.”
Tigran Avetisyan is not alone in his desire to take it slowly. In April Nasir Mazhar, who’s been supplying London with expensive streetwear since his début in 2006, announced that he is planning to stop selling through his 14 stockists. “We’ll be selling almost 100 per cent directly online”, he said in an interview to LOVE magazine. “And then we’ll have a shop here open every weekend. We’ll have one-off pieces or brand new collection pieces or whatever. We can produce whatever we want.”
Breaking off from retail may looks like a huge risk for any fashion business, yet Mazhar believes it would allow him to create more experimental, good quality product in its own time, instead of producing huge quantities stamped with his logo. Following news of Victoria Beckham’s flagship store £4M losses -as well as so many other designers loses due to high cost of store rental- it is hardly surprising that younger designers want to cut unnecessary overhead costs.
Buy Now Wear Now – Superfast Fashion
Quite contrary to previous examples, some established brands are here to last… and to maintain their retail stores. But even big brands were not spared from new challenges; as a response, the Buy Now Wear Now model was born. The new approach is set to reduce significant lag between when the fashion shows and the retail sales. In the world of super-fast foods we are about to witness the formation of super-fast fashion, when clothing will be outdated as soon as catwalk models have left the stage. On the positive side, fashion copycat and super-fast fashion brands like Zara will finally be beaten -arguably- in their own game. No more stolen designs!
In the world of super-fast foods, we are about to witness the formation of super-fast fashion, when clothing will be outdated as soon as catwalk models have left the stage.
The scheme has already found its avid followers. Among them are Rebecca Minkoff, Tommy Hilfiger, Tory Burch and even Burberry. During the recent New York Fashion Week, Diane von Furstenberg hosted an interactive showcase in her New York studio, where attendees mingled with the models and then chatted with their host — smartphones in hand, ready to buy. Fashion Guru Tom Ford agrees: “The current way of showing a collection four months before it is available to customers is an antiquated idea and one that no longer makes sense.”
Big changes are on our doorstep. ‘Instant’ fashion is of course championed by big brands – from live-streaming catwalk shows to previewing collections on Snapchat, we have already seen it all.
By the same merit, if the catwalk show is no longer treated as an industry preview event, journalists and real industry influencers will need to join the discussion around new collections much earlier in the design and manufacturing process. In the industry that is full of secrecy and unprotected intellectual property, this will be one of the hardest challenges for brands.
The best of both worlds
Somewhere in between are designers who focus on limited production in order to stay in demand and please their stockists. Probably one of the most inventive and agile approach was taken by Demna and Guram Gvasalia. As a few other brands, they aim to show their men’s and womenswear together. But, unlike others, their catwalk presentation will now take place two months earlier than the traditional start of the international shows. Are you keeping up? On top of this, to evade high-street copies, they will show spring/summer in January, not autumn/winter and the product will drop in the stores by February. Deconstructed, it is the same Buy Now Wear Now scheme, but with a bit more time allowed for limited production.
If the catwalk show is no longer treated as an industry preview event, journalists and real industry influencers will need to join the discussion around new collections much earlier in the design and manufacturing process.
Quoted in Vogue Demna stated, “It is always better to sell one piece less to a store and to be sold out than to sell one piece extra and to go on sale. Because once you go on sale, there’s no going back… Because if something goes on sale, it means it was overproduced.”
It will be interesting to see if Demna can persuade his new boss at Kering-owned Balenciaga, where he is now creative director.
Predicting the outcome
While those who embrace the shift face huge hurdles, will the risks be greater for those who refuse? One of the reasons Raf Simons cited for leaving Dior was the challenge of being truly inventive when designing a collection in just three weeks. Speaking to System Magazine, he said, “The problem is when you have only one design team and six collections, there is no more thinking time. And I don’t want to do collections where I’m not thinking.”
Demna has also commented in an interview with 032c.”All the corporate luxury brands are trying to be like Zara, which is absurd and impossible.”
London based fashion photographer and designer Joe Alvarez commented on the topic: “Having a retail store is absolutely non-viable in our day and age. Ikon London Apparel trades exclusively on a recommendation basis. We have a capsule collection that we use for shows; everything else is made to measure. We don’t consider selling through stockists, perhaps online soon for registered clients”.
On the other side of the argument are major brands who are not in rush to let go of the traditional ways. Francois Henri Pinault, CEO at Kering – group that own luxury trendsetters like Gucci, Bottega Veneta, Saint Laurent, Alexander McQueen, Balenciaga, Brioni, Christopher Kane, Stella McCartney, Boucheron among others – has already confirmed they will not be changing the traditional model. Time and skyrocketing costs may make them adapt their stance.
With so many changes ahead and so many uncertainties, only one thing is for sure: new resignations and re-shuffles of creative directors are inevitable. More popcorn is on its way.