LONDON, United Kingdom — Can three Zoom calls trigger industry-wide change? A group of brands and retailers, led by Belgian designer Dries Van Noten, have used the video-conferencing platform to assemble a “forum” that, after three productive meetings, is pushing fashion to rethink its traditional calendar, addressing two of the most pernicious issues facing the sector: the timing of collection deliveries and discounts.
Today, they released an open letter calling for the industry to realign fashion deliveries with real-world seasons and delay markdowns. Specifically, the group wants to set the full-price Autumn/Winter selling season for August to January and set Spring/Summer for February to July, placing less emphasis on pre-collections.
They also want retailers to delay end-of-season discounting to January and July and refrain from major mid-season sales, which could mean doing away with money-spinning events like Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Singles Day that help to drive traffic and sales but erode profitability and brand equity for labels and retailers alike.
Luxury fashion has long suffered from a suboptimal industry calendar. The timing of collection deliveries is out of sync with seasonal weather patterns, meaning spring dresses arrive in the middle of winter and winter coats hit stores in summer. What’s more, major US retailers have become over-reliant on frequent and early season discounting, inadvertently training customers to expect perennial markdowns and, in recent years, the rise of e-commerce has turned what was once a largely American issue into a global concern.
Signatories to the letter include a cross-section of industry players, big and small, from designers including Marine Serre and Tory Burch to major retailers such as Selfridges, Nordstrom, Lane Crawford and Mytheresa. Notably absent are brands owned by luxury supergroups LVMH or Kering, and players that operate outside the luxury sector, including fast fashion giants and mid-market retailers. Saks Fifth Avenue — which recently urged the industry to postpone collection deliveries to better align with widespread consumer preference for “buy now, wear now” — is also missing.
Van Noten characterised the letter as a starting point and expects others to sign up to the initiative, including Paco Rabanne, Carolina Herrera and Nina Ricci, three labels owned by Puig, the Spanish fragrance giant that also controls the Dries Van Noten label.
Leading the group along with Van Noten are Altuzarra CEO Shira Sue Carmi and Lane Crawford President Andrew Keith, who said the Hong Kong-based retailer was committed to “discounting at the end of the season” and would “not do any full-line discounting through the season,” calling the letter a “statement of intent from a number of people across industry” rather than a rulebook.
The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted the luxury supply chain, delaying collection deliveries and presenting what Van Noten said was an opportunity to initiate a reset. But the crisis has also forced store closures and crushed demand for fashion goods, giving retailers little choice but to hold what analyst Luca Solca has called “the mother of all end-of-season clearances” and raising serious questions about how quickly the industry would be able to adopt a pause in early discounting.
There’s also the matter of whether the proposed discounting policy, if widely adopted, could raise eyebrows with government regulators enforcing antitrust laws, which prohibit price fixing and collusion. But for now, the letter reflects only a small slice of the fashion industry and the organisers made clear that there is no formal agreement in place, just a set of principles that will need to be customised by each brand and retailer to suit their own strategies.
“I’m not so naïve to believe that we are going to impact how Zara and Primark are going to work,” said Van Noten, who added that the perhaps the most valuable outcome thus far was the realisation that, in a time of crisis, “we’re not just competitors, we’re also colleagues.”