Why fashion weeks are no longer the hottest ticket in town
Kanye West can’t play by the rules.
When West decided to preview his latest Yeezy clothing collection during New York Fashion Week (NYFW), he didn’t bother consulting with the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), the fashion calendar’s overlords. The result: A serious scheduling snafu that pitted the timing of the Yeezy launch against several others. The CFDA snapped back at the rapper— it called his actions disruptive and unfair to other designers— who gave in to rescheduling his show.
But, experts say, with 24 million Twitter followers and a media glued to his every move, Kanye could have walked away from Fashion Week without damaging his brand. And he’s not alone: Once the hottest tickets in town, fashion weeks are struggling for relevance as designers question the value of expensively staged shows that take weeks to organize. This week, Proenza Schouler, the fashion brand favored by Michelle Obama, announced that it would stop showing at NYFW, joining designers like Tom Ford and Tommy Hilfiger who have opted out of the traditional schedule. The CFDA is so concerned about losing relevance it commissioned the eggheads at the Boston Consulting Group to study the future of NYFW.
“It is rare that a show does not list though the Fashion Calendar. In most instances, it is because the designer is unaware of the process,” says Steven Kolb, president and chief executive of CFDA, in an email about the Kanye snafu. “The Fashion Calendar remains as relevant as it was when it was founded decades ago.”
Traditionally, clothes shown on the runway hit stores six months later, after buyers and top fashion editors like Anna Wintour have time to digest the aesthetics. But as consumers have become impatient in an age where brands livestream their shows and immediately post snaps on Instagram, that model isn’t working. “Fashion week used to be a closed, insider experience,” says Fern Mallis, the founder of NYFW. Now. “people are seeing hundreds of pictures of things they like on the runway and wondering why they can’t buy for six months.”
Nimble fast fashion retailers like Forever 21 and H&M now also have access to once closely guarded images and can rush similar designs to market before the originators have even rolled out their clothing racks. “Old Navy and Zara get to beat you,” says Kelly Cutrone, the veteran fashion publicist who is organizing four shows at NYFW this year.
That’s led to brands pondering the utility of shows that don’t immediately boost their bottom lines. Labels like Tom Ford and Burberry have adopted a “See Now, Buy Strategy”—that is, showing clothes that are immediately available for sale. Designers like Jeremy Scott sometimes even sell runway tickets to fans. “You never see a fashion person buy Givenchy at full price, so why not sell tickets to the cool gay guys and women who do?” says Cutrone.
But it’s difficult to stage shows for both industry folk and customers simultaneously. “The messaging is confusing…who are you doing the shows for?” says Mallis. Since fashion shoots require some lead time and buyers don’t want to order clothes that customers can easily buy online now, an identity crisis ensues. Ergo, brands like Tom Ford are staging more intimate, but less extravagant shows, for a selected crowd, while otherwise using a social media-first promotion strategy.
While pared down shows don’t really affect customers, some of the fashion world’s magic is lost. “It’s really beautiful to see a 17-year-old from Middle Rock, Arkansas standing in $5,000 of clothes looking unbelievably gorgeous,” says Cutrone. “But the industry has always been unpredictable. It’s a high-risk business to begin with.”
This story was originally published on MarketWatch.
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