NEW YORK, United States — What is the future of New York Fashion Week?
Those expecting a single solution or set of clear recommendations from the much-anticipated report published today by the CDFA and the Boston Consulting Group on how to address the issues of a ‘broken’ fashion system — including the misalignment of the industry’s show and retail cycles, as well as retail drops that are out of sync with seasonal weather patterns — will be disappointed. What the report does offer, though, is a menu of models which designers can use as a starting point for developing their own solutions.
“We knew the end would not have one giant a-ha moment,” CFDA president and chief executive Steven Kolb told BoF on the phone from Paris. “Rather, the idea was to take the conversation that people have been having and amplify it into a bigger industry conversation.”
“This report is the first step of something that should not be a revolution but should be an evolution,” added CFDA chairman Diane Von Furstenberg, in a separate interview from her base in New York. “The CFDA has to give [designers] the freedom to do what is right for them.”
The study drew from formal interviews with 50 fashion industry leaders — the majority of whom are based in the United States — including 20 designers and executives, eight retailers and 15 editors, both traditional and new media. The question of how to reduce the gap between runway shows (heavily mediatised and increasingly consumer-facing events) and retail drops, delivering fashion immediacy in a bid to reduce customer fatigue with collections lacking in perceived newness was at the heart of the discussion.
The study also addressed issues with the timing of retail deliveries, which are out of sync with seasonal weather patterns. As it stands, Pre-Fall clothes are delivered from April through July, while Autumn/Winter clothes are delivered from July through October. Heavier items like outerwear and knits are often deeply discounted in January when cold weather finally hits the United States. Today, retailers rely on markdowns to drive foot traffic and sales, resulting in a vicious cycle.
In response, the CFDA report outlines two new models for evolving the way brands show: (1) an “in-season” model whereby designers completely shift the timing of their runway shows, turning them into consumer-facing events synced with retail deliveries and (2) a hybrid model whereby designers stage ostensibly industry-facing runways shows for next season’s collections, as they do today, but integrate a limited selection of product that’s available for immediate purchase.
Solution #1: ‘In-Season’ Model - Designers stage in-season runway shows, holding private appointments for industry constituents like buyers and long-lead press.
- Designers host private, salon-like appointments for select press — mostly long-lead publications — and buyers four to six months before collections arrive in stores. During that period, images would be embargoed.
- Bi-annual runway shows become “consumer-relevant activations,” a.k.a. marketing events.
- These consumer-facing events don’t have to follow a typical runway format. “Examples could range from digital campaigns to small parties/events to short films to large-scale, high-production entertainment shows,” says the report.
According to the CFDA, the benefits of this approach include: boosting full-price selling, increased perceived newness amongst consumers and more timely press moments. The report emphasises that this model does not force brands to compress their production timelines or purchase additional inventory because samples will still be shown to buyers before they are put into production. Indeed, several major designers have already announced their belief in this approach. Tom Ford, for instance, announced that he would stage direct-to-consumer shows starting in September. Burberry and Tommy Hilfiger have also announced similar initiatives.
At a smaller scale, New York-based contemporary brand Rebecca Minkoff shifted her approach this season, showing “in-season” Spring 2016 clothes during New York Fashion Week in February, while holding private appointments for long-lead press and buyers for her Autumn/Winter 2016 collection. The approach led to bigger business, said Minkoff. On the day of the designer’s in-season show this past February, the brand’s New York City flagship registered its highest grossing sales ever. In the last two weeks of February 2016, sales at the brand’s top five whole sale accounts were up 221 percent versus the same period in 2015, while direct sales were up 150 percent year over year during that same period.
“The success of a spring collection that was available to be purchased immediately surpassed our expectations,” said the designer. “The excitement around showing a current collection rather than one available in six months dissolved any doubts or potential challenges.”
On the flip side, the approach requires designers to work presentations for two collections more or less simultaneously — one for the public, and one for the industry — which comes with its own logistical challenges and time demands, not to mention the possibility of creative confusion.
Solution #2: Hybrid Model - Runway shows present next season’s collections, but feature limited in-season capsule collections available to purchase immediately.
- Designers still show their Autumn/Winter collections in February, but would offer a selection of instantly shoppable items (in particular, accessories) for immediate purchase.
This approach addresses “the demand for more immediacy with the capsule while keeping the show at the culmination of the design process and still building excitement for the future collections,” according the report. “This would avoid the potential complexity of decoupling the trade event from the consumer-relevant event.”
Brands including Michael Kors, Proenza Schouler, Coach, Prada, Alexander Wang, Paco Rabanne, and others experimented with this model for the Autumn/Winter 2016 season. But the model does, however, require designers to manufacture some product before orders are placed, requiring additional upfront investment, a cause for concern for emerging designers with small budgets.
Of course, these are only two models. There are others in play: European brands like Vetements and Cédric Charlier have announced they will collapse their pre- and main collections together, showing only in June and January, instead of four times a year. And then, of course, there is the option of doing nothing at all and staying the course, as many in France and Italy are advocating. Just this week, statements from the Chambre Syndicale in France and Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana rejected the idea of in-season fashion shows.
Ultimately, the CFDA report says that solutions should be brand-specific, rooted in considerations like price point, product offering and a label’s stylistic point of view. “It’s not an organisation that will decide. It’s the gravity of what is right,” Von Furstenberg said. “That’s what will make it right. It’s about raising all the issues. When I was a young girl, the couture shows lasted for three months. Then the couture shows became something entirely different.”
The CFDA report also addressed the cadence of retail deliveries, urging retailers and brands to work together to push back drops to better synchronise with seasonal weather patterns, deliver more seasonless items and to deliver more special-edition items that “create excitement, scarcity and desire.” To be sure, bringing this topic to the surface may end up being the report’s greatest contribution.
Going forward, the CFDA has promised to support designers by “continuing the dialogue,” liaising with international fashion councils and organising a fashion calendar that makes it easy for brands to determine their own future. The organisation plans to release a guidebook on CFDA.com within the next two weeks that will help designers “make the transition and mitigate some potential some potential risks or concerns expressed by interviewees.”
As Kolb conceded, “It’s going to be a messy couple of seasons. Some people will have clarity quicker than other people.”