Culture, Fashion Week

Speeding up fashion to shop the runway

The trend of late in the fashion industry is to comment on its existing state and its changing tides. In particular, the issues are addressing the discrepancy between runway shows and retail, sameness and appropriation, and what I feel is in relation, the aspect of “burnout” on big label designers, and even in spectator attitudes at fashion shows.

As humans, we’re inundated with information everywhere at all times these days. There’s a prevailing attitude that in order to be successful, one needs to always be doing something: producing, writing, watching, showing, et cetera. It’s apparent in our most clichéd maxims: early bird gets the worm. You gotta be in to win. Just do it.

Equally, it’s safe to say we’ve been raised on a TV media diet of 3-11 jokes per sitcom minute and up-to-the-minute news, so we expect a certain level of activity from our interests in order to sustain our interest. Of course with an overarching attitude that rewards continual creation and activity, it requires a certain level of energy to contain and sustain, which according to the second law of thermodynamics applies that entropy causes all energy to dissipate and disperse—over time, things eventually fall apart.

In an industry like fashion—one reliant on change, creativity and fresh new ideas—it’s hard to come up with new ideas, but when one does, capturing the market and ensuring the best environment for change and reception of those new ideas translating to sales often requires careful planning and execution.

Some think that by allowing the market more immediate and convenient access to purchasing during or shortly after a show will improve fashion’s financial business, due to the entertainment spectacle pull of fashion shows and the interest media and an audience itself can encourage. In effect, to capture the interest right from the get go (and before the counterfeiters copy your designs!).

Chanel Fall Winter 2014 Ready to Wear Karl Lagerfeld Supermarket
Photography by Bertrand Rindoff Petroff / Getty

To simplistically look at fashion (or any industry) as that only a few rules should apply to the whole would insult it. Fashion has a spectrum of entities whom operate on different levels: small/medium/large labels, slow/moderate/fast production techniques, cheap/average/luxe fashion brands all fulfil different roles in the fashion ecosystem, and how they relate and communicate with and to their markets (production or consumption) is a precious balance contained within their own ecosystem. The current general attitude that brands, whatever size, should switch to a calendar that shortens the perceived time between show and shop is an interesting idea for experimentation, and may even yield some favourable results. But it seriously makes one question as to how luxe brands who operate on exclusivity and quality (or even other smaller independent brands operating on a lower operational cost) could ensure quality of production and management of time and costs—of goods made and of the livelihoods of those involved in their production—to deliver on such an upheaval to the existing calendar system that allows about 3-6 months from show to shop.

Burberry & Tom Ford have both recently announced fashion calendars that align the runway with commercial availability. By consolidating men’s and women’s collections and introducing “season-less” collections, Burberry hopes to capture any immediate interest a show may have with a demanding public. Tom Ford is essentially doing the same, saying:

“In a world that has become increasingly immediate, the current way of showing a collection four months before it is available to consumers is an antiquated idea and one that could no longer makes sense”

Funnily enough Esteban Cortázar has been doing this for the last 3 seasons now, and its not without its challenges. The biggest challenge gauging significant buyer and consumer interest in the designs on show and whether those designs will reap enough return on investment.

Rihanna Cara Delevingne Chanel Fall Winter 2014 Ready to Wear Karl Lagerfeld Supermarket
Chanel Fall Winter 2014 Ready to Wear / Image source: Reuters

Of course, this new idea of calendar change is all to do with the expanding accessibility of shows to the general public. Previously, fashion shows were more exclusive affairs, being reported in magazines rather than available on insta-snap-and-post social media and blogs like nowadays. The media environment then facilitated a slower message, which in turn allowed for slower production timelines. And it seems with a faster pace world now, rather than the original two seasons (spring/summer, fall/winter) and haute couture there are more commercial inter-seasonal collections like resort/cruise and pre-fall, which were devised to help shorten customer wait between runway and shop.

The pinch a lot of fashion brands have been feeling is probably due to fast fashion producers like H&M, Zara and the like being able to turn around design-to-shop in about 3 weeks, with simpler designs and lower cost (and quality) production, which can often involve worker exploitation. These fast fashion companies are quicker to respond to fashion trends, and even environmental changes, capitalising on the quick turnaround in a changing creative market. For those brands who rely on traditional artisans in countries like UK, France and Italy, the cost of production is more, as is the time to produce. Carlo Capasa, president of Italy’s fashion chamber has recently been quoted saying:

“The difference between creating a desire and satisfying a need is the difference between slow fashion and fast fashion […] New York has always been the land of branding and marketing. [Italy] and France, we are more the area of creativity and manufacturing. I think the logic is different. They follow their interest, we follow ours.”

Karl Lagerfeld, who continues to impress and entertain me the more I read and find out about him, says:

“I can show my collections and sell them and give people the time to make their choice, to order them and to make them beautifully produced and editors can photograph them […] The world is changing — not always for the best — but we have to follow the changes and the Internet, but there is a way of doing it, you know? It’s not just about talking bullshit.”

Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel Fall Winter 2014 Ready to Wear Fashion Show / Photography by Bertrand Rindoff Petroff, Getty
Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel Fall Winter 2014 Ready to Wear Fashion Show / Photography by Bertrand Rindoff Petroff, Getty

Either way, the divide between fashion brand, media and consumer is now so minimal, one could say its shoulder-to-shoulder with many other bits rubbing. Fashion brands can directly interface with their consumer audience, and vice versa. Media still plays a pivotal role in industry critique and advertising, alas they are are not what most tech-savvy consumers entirely depend on when researching latest trends or watching the latest shows, as an increase in celebrity bloggers and social media savvy designers (eternal sucking-in-of-cheeks Olivier Rousteing of Balmain, for instance) act as marketing mouthpieces that consumers in a celeb-fetishised world watch on Instagram and Snapchat. Kanye West’s Season 3 was an excellent and unique example mixing the music promotion models of album release and live performance with fashion spectacle.

As for my opinion on the whole matter, change is good—it’s exciting and inspiring figuring out how to innovate, and it often makes perfect business sense to disrupt and influence the market. It involves taking the dissipated energy of the old ways of doing things and funnelling it into a new way, to better facilitate the evolving needs of the marketplace, refortifying against the forces of entropy. If change does or doesn’t happen, entropy will continue doing its thing, regardless.

Equally, or rather of more importance, I feel brands need to stay true to their convictions and operate and change in a way that is respective to their values and respectful to those other important constants such as financial and environmental sustainability, and of improving their designers/workers’ quality of life. Do consumers really need that immediacy to buy, or could a longer production time and exclusivity actually increase one’s anticipation and value of a piece and reduce the stress on a traditionally slow system, in ways which reward a business beyond quantifiable financial reasons?

Meanwhile, where’s the virtual reality wardrobe app where someone from the public watching a show could simulate trying on the clothing as it appears on the runway, to then place a pre-order from there? Why does consumption from payment to delivery have to be immediate in a world where pre-orders are the norm for other consumer industries? There are still many interesting factors to question and experiment with, rather than just changes to the calendar.