LONDON, United Kingdom — As the the fashion industry grapples with the radical change that’s reshaping our business, there have been precious few opportunities to step back and discuss what it all means for the fashion system at large.
The third edition of Miu Miu’s “Musing” salons, themed The Pace of Fashion and hosted by Shala Monroque, enabled industry leaders from across the fashion spectrum to sit back and try to make sense of an industry undergoing rapid disruption and transformation. “We wanted to gather people of like minds to have a conversation,” said Monroque. “We’ve done it twice already in New York and the one topic that kept coming up was the pace of fashion.”
Following “Musing” events in New York, moderated by Andre Leon Talley, it was The Business of Fashion’s very own Imran Amed — seated between Monroque and the International Herald Tribune’s Suzy Menkes — who opened and led the conversation this time. “We all know working in this business everyday, that things have been going faster and faster and faster,” he said, citing voracious demand for new products (from both retailers and consumers) and the intense pressure for fashion businesses to deliver revenue and profit growth as two underlying causes of this overall acceleration.
But it was the impact of a third key driver, the rise of digital media, which dominated much of the evening’s dialogue, sparking a collegial debate between some of fashion’s most influential figures including Grazia’s Paula Reed, Yoox CEO Federico Marchetti, The Times' Lisa Armstrong, blogging star Susanna Lau, and Harvey Nichols buying director Averyl Oates.
One key thread of the debate centred around the fact that the pace of fashion communication is out of sync with the pace of fashion production. Today, desire for fashion products is created instantly during (and immediately after) runway shows, as fashion consumers take in the collections at the same time as buyers and editors, but long before these products are available to purchase.
Referencing Tom Ford, who held a very private and intimate fashion show last September in New York, withholding the images from his show until his collection was actually available in stores in January, Monroque said that Ford “thought overexposure would kill the desire for the garment.”
“I think it depends on the customer,” countered Lisa Armstrong of The Telegraph. “There are still a huge number of people who are still very influenced by celebrities" who create product demand via paparazzi shots that are circulated online. Indeed, Averyl Oates of Harvey Nichols followed up by describing how consumer desire can actually increase over time, bolstered by online conversation. “The build-up of that desirability is actually very important, as well. We have customers who come into the store and put their names down who actually want to wait those three or four months,” she said.
Given the number of editors in the room, it’s not surprising that there was also much discussion about the future of fashion communication itself, especially in regards to print magazines. Held back by long lead times and old media mindsets, the consensus was that monthly magazines will face the greatest threat from digital publishers who are treading on the monthly magazines' traditional turf of fashion news and trends.
Paula Reed, Style Director of Grazia, a weekly mass-market magazine with incredible selling power spoke of the benefit of working on a weekly basis. “To actually get stuff out there quickly … feels to me like the most incredible freedom and that’s what readers are responding to,” she said. In contrast, slower paced, artistic bi-annuals often become collectible fashion items in and of themselves, due their timeless nature and physical beauty. Penny Martin, editor of The Gentlewoman, who returned to print after eight years in the digital world said: “I am interested in the word quality. There’s a great deal of opportunity with a bi-annual to think a lot about the content.”
“I think the answer really is that there are different speeds that relate to different things,” said Ms. Menkes. “That’s what I’m taking away from this evening,” commenting that the conversation was much more positive than she had expected. “The beautiful images that have taken a great deal of work and have long been thought out, in bi-annual magazines, are part of the mix … but you also want the very speedy things. Now, we’re talking about having different layers and levels, and different speeds. I personally think that’s rather good.”
Leave it to Ms. Menkes to tie a multi-faceted and complex conversation into a succinct, neat little bow to conclude an extremely enjoyable evening. BoF was delighted to be a part of it all.
Robert Cordero is a Contributing Editor at The Business of Fashion.