Seismic changes are happening to fashion week and it’s split the industry into two rather adamant camps: in one corner we have team “see-now, buy-now”, where the clothes shown on the catwalk at industry events will be immediately available in stores, for that season. In the other corner, team “status-quo”. These are the brands and individuals who want to keep the process to the current six month waiting period between first showing and the high street.
This desire for a shift came as a result of what many, including CFDA president Diane von Furstenberg, are calling “a broken system”. The way fashion weeks currently run reflects a time before things like social media and live streaming. The current system, as some see it, is in desperate need of a contemporary revamp.
Of course the fact that not everyone is on board with the idea isn’t a surprise — the fashion set haven’t always been at the forefront of embracing change. The issue of diversity within the industry, for example, has been an uphill battle for years and, in some cases continues to be — as we saw with Vetements’ and Balenciaga’s AW16 shows in the recently concluded Paris Fashion Week. But once in a while, this sceptical nature can be a good thing, particularly if the see-now, buy-now concept, is at the expense of the creative process.
Somewhere along the line, the clothing and the collections seem to have taken a back seat to the noise of VIP sound bites, campaigns and hashtags. You notice this a lot at fashion weeks where it’s gone from focusing on what the designer is showing to who is sitting front row and who has what access. I understand that fashion is a business and anyone who says otherwise is frankly naive. But we cannot forget that among the sales numbers and marketing strategies, at the centre of it all, is still the clothing. Without this, there is no point to everything that follows. For many this see-now, buy-now method is a way to drive sales and meet the demands of the contemporary consumer. But at what point will the push for profits result in less creative risks taken by designers, resulting in collections that are purely commercially inspired and entirely soulless?
With this push to meet the demands of the modern customer, this new method seems to be pandering to the instant gratification that has transformed many consumers into impatient children. Rather than waiting and basking in the anticipation of well-made clothes, they’d rather have it now, quality be damned. A large part of this is down to social media. We see pictures of a gorgeous jacket on the Instagram account of the brand or some “influencer” and think, “I want this now”.
For high street brands, the see-now, buy-now method seems slightly more plausible, as many of them already have a quick turnaround period, and quality isn’t necessarily what you’re paying for. For luxury brands, however, the price tag reflects the number of hours spent to ensure the garments are of a higher standard.
Then there’s the issue of affordability. The majority of Top Shop’s followers, for example, can afford much of the merchandise they see on social media. So yes, making these collections readily available as they’re being shown on the catwalk is more likely to generate a certain level of impulse buying. For luxury brands, however, I’m not entirely convinced this will be the case. While they might have social media numbers that exceeding millions, how many of their followers are in the position to buy what they’re viewing? There’s a reason these brand’s have an air of exclusivity and it’s certainly not down to availability of stock. Where a dress at Burberry can cost upwards of Dh5,000, I’m sceptical that making these collections available immediately will yield higher profits. If a person can’t afford a brand’s dress six months after the show, why do designers expect this to change simply by making it obtainable now, rather than later?
Those in the industry who are pushing for this move seem to have also overlooked, whether intentionally or not, the small, independent brands who rely heavily on this six month period. During this time, these designers, who depend on wholesale distribution, will show the collection, take orders and produce the stock. Taking the six months away will force them to anticipate what the customers want and run the risk of losing money, as a result of excess stock.
The drive to to keep up with the times is understandable, and though I personally would love to go back to the old days where mystic and anticipation surround a fashion week event, I know now this isn’t possible. There needs to be some kind of midway point, between pandering to the ever-changing consumer, while keeping that creative edge that introduced so many designers to the world of fashion in the first place. What that midway point is, I’m not quite sure. What we can expect, however, is a certain level of polarisation within the fashion industry, particularly with regards to luxury brands. How this will pan out, in terms of fashion weeks, will indeed make for interesting times ahead.