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What Does Burberry's New Strategy Mean for Men's Fashion Weeks?

As fashion brands large and small opt to combine their menswear and womenswear collections, is unifying men's and women's fashion weeks the next logical step?
Burberry's Spring/Summer 2016 menswear show | Source: Burberry
  • Imran Amed

LONDON, United Kingdom — It could be the move the industry has been waiting for. On Thursday, in an in-depth conversation with BoF, Christopher Bailey revealed that Burberry will be radically shifting its entire operating model to better align the company's fashion shows with its retail cycle, showing its men's and women's collections together at two annual runway events to be held during London Fashion Week, in February and September, with clothes instantly available for sale after the shows, both in stores and online.

Interestingly, this is a topic the BoF team has been examining in some depth over the past few months, speaking to designers including Vetements' Demna Gvasalia, Paul Smith and Esteban Cortazar about their own plans to fix the 'broken' fashion system for our latest limited-edition print issue, The New World Order, out on Monday, 8th February. (To pre-order your copy now, click here.)

While big brands like Burberry and Tom Ford have both announced their strategies to show collections in September and February, immediately available for sale, not all brands have the scale or ability to pre-produce their collections — especially if they are mostly wholesale businesses such as Vetements. As Demna Gvasalia revealed to BoF, while Vetements will also combine its men's and women's collections, they are electing instead to show in January and June.

So, our view is that, going forward, there will not necessarily be a single operating model that the entire industry employs, but rather a variety of ways in which designers will address the question of how to connect and transact with consumers in the digital age. We could go from one way of doing business, to multiple ways, each catering to the different strategies, end customers and business goals of a given brand.

Still, today's move by Burberry foreshadows the direction other megabrands may take and, in doing so, also raises an interesting question for the menswear sector in particular. In recent years, new men's-only fashion weeks have further crowded the fashion calendar, which now includes dedicated men's fashion showcases in not just Milan and Paris, but also in New York and London. But for how much longer will brands be willing to stage separate men's and women's shows at different times of the year, especially when the collections are often seeded from the same inspiration and will ultimately be sold together?

Indeed, while there has been much talk (and no shortage of hype) about the blurring of gender lines in fashion, a key plank in Burberry's new strategy suggests that Christopher Bailey, for one, no longer sees the logic in showing men's and women's collections separately.

"As I'm going through the process of creating a collection, I have a spirit in mind — I don't really ever think in terms of what's specific to a gender," he said in an in-depth interview with BoF. "We've shown men with the women's collection, and the last year we've been putting women in the men's collections. It feels like it's a natural evolution. You're able to create more of a story when you get your men's and women's collections together, because it reflects one mood and one season. We often have women buying the men's coats and some of the men's pieces. Everything just feels a little bit more blurred, rather than having things in little boxes."

As we reveal in our latest special print issue, which goes on sale next week, both Vetements and Paul Smith are also combining their men's and women's collections. (Smith has integrated his menswear and womenswear design teams but, for now, will continue to show the two collections separately.) What this all means for men's-only fashion weeks remains to be seen. Certainly, there are many single-gender brands that need only stage one show per season, but the way Burberry is thinking might be the spark that sets off a shift in strategy at other mega-brands which cater to both men and women.

Indeed, in New York (Michael Kors, Coach, Tommy Hilfiger), London (Burberry, Paul Smith and Alexander McQueen) and Milan and Paris, many brands on the show schedule offer both men's and women's collections. And staging two shows is especially onerous for smaller businesses — like Public School in New York and JW Anderson in London — who may feel industry pressure to do separate shows even if there is no clear business rationale to do so.

To be clear, Burberry will maintain a brand presence at London Collections: Men as a show of support, but without the brand's blockbuster runway spectacle in Hyde Park, will international buyers and press still be as motivated to attend? This week at New York Fashion Week: Men's, which currently lacks a Burberry-like "anchor" show, some observers noted that, in the absence of a major event by a major advertiser, the men's-only showcase has struggled to generate adequate international attention.

The British Fashion Council is supportive of Burberry's new strategy, saying that other LFW brands are also considering a consumer-focused approach. Meanwhile, the CFDA has hired the Boston Consulting Group to reevaluate the purpose of New York Fashion Week. Unifying men's and women's fashion weeks should certainly be part of these discussions. It seems forward-thinking brands are already moving in that direction.

Imran Amed, Founder and Editor-in-Chief

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