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Has LA Fashion Week Finally Found Its Feet?

American designers continue to look for creative answers to the 'problem of fashion week.' Increasingly, they’re finding them in Los Angeles.
Venice Beach, Los Angeles, where Tommy Hilfiger's show will take place in February | Source: Shutterstock
  • Hayley Phelan

LOS ANGELES, United States — Despite its best efforts, Los Angeles Fashion Week has never managed to find its footing within a crowded global fashion calendar. This season, however, marks a turning point for the City of Angels with New York-based designers Tommy Hilfiger, Rebecca Minkoff and Rachel Comey choosing to show here rather than their home base.

"Many designers are experimenting with new formats and LA offers a lot of opportunity," says Steven Kolb, President and CEO of the CFDA. "There isn't a cluster around LA but rather it is individual designers showing at select times that align with their objectives."

The rise of fashion immediacy has been a key driver. Indeed, as some designers embrace 'see now, buy now' strategies and their runway shows become consumer-facing events, freed from the limitations of an industry-facing New York Fashion Week, Los Angeles — home to 330,000 high net worth individuals, worth a total of $1.2 trillion — is looking more and more attractive.

"Because a lot of [brands] are 'see now, buy now' it makes sense to show where your audience is, where your customers are," says Vanity Fair contributing editor Elizabeth Saltzman. "It's also a way to expand your customer base."

Both the Minkoff and Hilfiger collections will be available for purchase immediately after their respective shows, a strategy both brands implemented last season. Hilfiger's show, scheduled to take place in Venice Beach on February 8, will showcase the brand's continued collaboration with Gigi Hadid and further its foray into consumer-facing fashion spectacles.

Many designers are experimenting with new formats and LA offers a lot of opportunity.

For her part, Rebecca Minkoff will reveal its latest collection on February 4th with an all-day consumer experience at high-end LA shopping mall The Grove. The event will echo an approach deployed by the brand in September, when influencers and models walked the cobblestone streets outside its Soho flagship, showcasing the label's freshly-unveiled collection, which was immediately made available to buy. According to the company, the event generated 950 million media impressions and a three-hour-long line outside the store.

“It was a phenomenal experience,” says chief executive officer Uri Minkoff. “Experiential retail is all the rage. Building off of last season we kind of had this idea, what if we could create an experience that wasn’t just a show?” The Minkoffs already had a relationship with Rick Caruso, the billionaire owner and operator of The Grove, and immediately thought the “experiential lifestyle centre” would provide a mutually beneficial setting for the label's next show.

Though they’re still hammering out the details, Minkoff says the aim is to provide the customer with a “whole day journey,” which will involve various activations at a number of The Grove’s retailers in an effort to “cross pollinate our customer bases.” Hypothetical examples might include “a yoga class with models in the morning, a book signing with one of our influencers walking in the show at Barnes & Noble, or maybe there is a Rebecca Minkoff menu at one of the restaurants.” The company expects the event to draw 5,000 to 10,000 consumers.

It was a recent westward retail expansion that inspired Rachel Comey to stage her Autumn/Winter 2017 show in Los Angeles. “We opened a store there in June and I just wanted to connect more with an LA audience,” explains Comey, who will present her forthcoming collection at Downtown Los Angeles gallery Hauser Wirth & Schimmel on February 7. “Also it’s cold in February in New York. It seemed like a fun thing for me and my team to do.”

I just wanted to connect more with an LA audience. Also it's cold in February in New York.

Unlike Hilfiger and Minkoff, Comey’s show will not be direct-to-consumer; instead, the collection will be flown back to New York after the show, so that wholesale buyers and editors can see it up close in the showroom. “We’ll start sales on February 10 in New York,” says Comey adding that, “more and more even our buyers are coming to see the collection later during market week, and are just going on appointments between shows.”

“This isn’t to alienate the fashion industry at all,” adds Uri Minkoff on his company's moves. “We would love to have as many people as feasibly possible.” The brand will invite local editors and buyers — many of whom are affiliated with New York-based companies — and is also considering flying out a few “key people." Though Hilfiger’s show is scheduled for the day before the official kickoff of New York Fashion Week, the brand expects 3,000 buyers, press and influencers to attend.

Are these forays into LA further evidence of the city's rising status as a fashion destination? Reports that Maria Grazia Chiuri will be showing her first cruise collection for Dior in the city might suggest so. The West Coast interest is also indicative of a wider trend toward the staging of runway presentations throughout the year and and in a wider range of geographies rather than during the confines of noisy traditional fashion weeks.

While Saltzman thinks certain luxury fashion brands will always have a home on the New York Fashion Week calendar, more accessible brands — like the ones showing in LA this season — would be smart to capitalise on the freedom made possible by livestreaming, social media and runway-to-retail models. “I think it has to change,” says Saltzman. “I don’t have the answer yet as to how. I want that answer. I think we’re on the verge.”

“Personally, I’m ready for fashion week to implode,” says Comey. “It’s too much. And I think it’s pretty hard on everybody. It’s hard to see freshness. Everybody should find a way to do it that’s right for them. So if you want to do a show in May in Istanbul, then I think you should do it.”

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