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How ‘See Now, Buy Now’ Is Rewiring Creativity

To keep up with ‘instant fashion,’ fashion creatives — from photographers to casting directors to visual merchandisers — are changing the way they operate.
For Tom Ford's Autumn/Winter 2016 show, photographers Inez van Lamsweerde & Vinoodh Matadin created 14 campaign images, six videos and a string of celebrity portraits of front row guests in under 24 hours | Illustration: Costanza Milano for BoF
By
  • Lauren Sherman

NEW YORK, United States — Fourteen campaign images. Six videos. A string of celebrity portraits. All in one day.

"It was a large list of deliverables," says photographer Inez van Lamsweerde, who, along with partner Vinoodh Matadin, was tasked with turning around all of the above in less than 24 hours. The client? Tom Ford, who staged an in-season runway show at New York Fashion Week in September. Ford was one of the first designers to adopt the "instant fashion" approach, making his clothes available to purchase immediately after they debuted on the catwalk. "The project itself seemed sort of daunting," van Lamsweerde adds. "Before we were actually shooting."

But by the time the duo set a small studio up within the show venue — tapping the same hair and makeup artists that would prep the models for the runway — “it was a wonderful, easy process,” van Lamsweerde says. “It’s a super-fast way of working. We’re lucky that we have an incredible team around us doing print retouching, video editing and video colour in-house.”

The day began at 10am, and they were finished shooting by the 4.30pm show rehearsal. They spent the time before the show editing photographs and videos with 10-or-so members of the team, and by the time the first model hit the runway, they were done. At the show, the photographers were on hand to capture the celebrity front row, snapping more than a dozen black-and-white portraits of A-listers including Tom Hanks, Rita Wilson and Julianne Moore. Just a few days later, a shot from the campaign ran on a full page advertisement in the print edition of The New York Times. “We had to be extremely prepared going in,” van Lamsweerde says. “It’s a different way of thinking.”

There's not room to over think and there's not room to question anything. There's no time, you just go.

Operationalising "see now, buy now" has implications across the value chain, from design to sales and marketing, rewiring the way not only designers, but fashion's broader creative class do their jobs, from photographers and stylists to casting directors and visual merchandisers.

For photographer Mario Testino, who has long shot Burberry's advertising campaigns, working in-season has meant reversing his creative process. "I was really at odds with myself at the end of the [Burberry] show because we usually meet afterward to discuss what we're going to do. But I had already done it... Before, I would go to the shows to discover the collection," Testino told BoF in a recent interview. "It's interesting, because I find that the shows are no longer for the trade, they're for the consumer. Anna Wintour already had an article in Vogue and the advertisements are in this issue."

And yet, Burberry's campaign and runway concept were perhaps more closely linked than ever before. Along with the more expected lineup of young British it-models — this time dressed in garb inspired by Virginia Woolf's "Orlando" — Testino also captured Burberry artisans at work. "Orlando" served as a starting point for chief executive and chief creative officer Christopher Bailey's collection, which was complemented by a week-long, consumer-facing installation at Burberry's show space, which the brand christened Makers House, where artisan weavers, bookbinders, calligraphers and saddlers — all linked to London concept store The New Craftsmen — were on hand. Burberry also hosted in-store viewing parties of its runway show at stores across the globe, where the collection was unveiled moments after it was shown on the runway, underscoring the importance of visual merchandising to the "instant fashion" concept.

At Tommy Hilfiger, which turned a pier at New York City's South Street Seaport into a carnival-like spectacle for its #TommyNow runway show, global creative services and visual merchandising head Trent Wisehart had to coordinate the turnover of visuals at hundreds of stores across the globe. (The show featured TommyXGigi, the capsule collection designed in collaboration with model and personality Gigi Hadid, as well as select items from Hilfiger's Autumn/Winter 2016 ready-to-wear lineup.)

The switch happened overnight, immediately following the show the evening of September 9th, so that the brand would be ready for business on the morning of September 10th. (The TommyxGigi collection was available at 280 doors in 70 countries.) “I was getting messages from Tokyo, Munich, London... it was really interesting to see all of the teams coming together,” Wisehart says. “Now, we’re working in tandem, not behind, the rest of the group. It made the process more dynamic and fun because we were able to feed off the energy of the show. It’s no longer about re-invigorating a story six months later.”

It's no longer about re-invigorating a story six months later.

Wisehart says the feedback from instant sales has also informed future merchandising decisions. For instance, as of mid-September, four out of five of the best sellers from the TommyxGigi collection were outerwear styles — including a long wool military coat and a nylon bomber jacket — indicating that shoppers were undeterred from purchasing cold-weather gear when temperatures were still high. “From a store design perspective, we want to create concepts that are more modular and that can evolve and change quickly,” he says. “We’re asking ourselves, ‘How can we react from a visual merchandising perspective?’”

While creating a compelling offline retail experiences is crucial in this age of fashion immediacy, communicating online is equally important, if not more so, for many brands. For Thakoon, which re-emerged in August as a direct-to-consumer concept backed by Hong Kong-based Bright Fame Fashion — the investment vehicle led by Vivian Chou, daughter of billionaire textile mogul Silas Chou — this meant employing a whole host of new creative partners to help execute on the designer's in-season vision. "Our website is visually refreshed on a weekly basis, and on a product level there is a constant stream of newness," explains Thakoon creative director Jisoo Hong. "We've had to be much more nimble about the way we choose our partners. Just in terms of variety of content creators, we are branching out a lot more."

For Thakoon’s September runway show, which took place on a rooftop in Brooklyn’s DUMBO neighbourhood, the company enlisted the app Fashion Scan to create a shoppable lookbook, and hired creative services agency Alldayeveryday to make Instagram stories. “I was working at the venue to get many of those assets up immediately after the show,” Hong says. “It’s actually very exciting to work more closely to the product. It feels fresher, more relevant.”

The new retail reality — in which product is being delivered weekly or monthly, not quarterly — has pushed designers and their creative partners alike to constantly deliver accompanying content to consumers in a drip-like feed. At Burberry, casting directors Barbara Nicoli and Leila Ananna, who had been scouting models for the show for more than six months, were also tasked with plucking the right faces out of a runway lineup of more than 90 models to create digital assets. “It was important to have a rich casting,” Ananna says. “For Burberry, we focused on finding British talent, working with them all year long, shooting a lot of e-commerce, a lot of look books.”

Indeed, what has perhaps changed the most is the sheer scope of work fashion creatives must now undertake each season. Van Lamsweerde, for one, welcomes the challenge. “In the long run, it’s important to communicate a real lifestyle and a real idea. I think any brand would benefit from the kind of working relationship where each month [the same team] does a shoot and creates a lot of imagery so you are able to keep refreshing,” she says. “We’ve been trying to find ways to provide clients with what they need, but still keeping it on the same level so that your Instagram feed looks just as good as print advertisements. Once it gets out on the web, it’s forever.”

“We have a lot of experience. I can imagine for a newer photographer, it could be too intense,” van Lamsweerde adds. “There’s not room to overthink and there’s not room to question anything. There’s no time, you just go. That has its own charm and creates its own kind of image. To us, it feels really rewarding.”

Related Articles:

How Burberry is Operationalising 'See Now, Buy Now'
How Tommy Hilfiger Is Rewiring For Fashion Immediacy

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