When Tom Ford announced in February that he would be cancelling his fall ’16 presentation in favour of showing and selling simultaneously in September, the fashion world was stunned. Sure, some design houses, like Moschino, Versace and Loewe, had experimented with the see-now-buy-now model before—a couple of pieces here, a capsule collection there—but no one could have predicted that Ford, a scion of the old school, would join the revolution. In a release, the designer called the current fashion model “an antiquated idea,” saying, “our customers today want a collection that is immediately available.” That’s pretty innovative talk from a man known for his proclivity for disco-era jumpsuits.
Until recently, the industry had been blithely going along the same way it had been since the mid-fifties: showing spring and fall collections in September and February respectively, with clothes hitting stores four to six months later. It’s a system that made perfect sense when fashion week was purely an insider racket—retail buyers would place orders for the approaching season, and magazines could plan in-depth coverage and high-gloss photo shoots for upcoming issues. But then the Internet happened. Today, fashion month is one of the most covered events online and has evolved—or devolved, depending on your POV—into a powerful marketing tool more than anything else (actual buying and previewing happens behind closed doors at showroom appointments). Increasingly, designers are even opening their shows to the general public: take, for example, Givenchy’s spring ’16 presentation, for which Riccardo Tisci invited 800 students and locals, or Kanye West’s recent Madison Square Garden extravaganza attended by 18,000 paying fans.
Social media has, of course, played a huge part in inciting this change. Many runway shows are now live-streamed, and those that aren’t may as well be, thanks to Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. “Fashion editors and buyers used to have exclusive access to shows, and they would dictate what was in,” says Shareen Pathak, managing editor of New York–based media and marketing company Digiday and luxury fashion website Glossy. “Now, consumers can check their feeds and know immediately what the trend is. They don’t need to be told. They just want to go out and buy it.” It is the ultimate democratization of fashion. Eva Chen, former Lucky editor-in-chief and current head of fashion partnerships for Instagram, says the photo-sharing platform has abolished the velvet rope that preserved fashion’s exclusivity: “What was once the milieu of a select few is available to over 500 million Instagrammers globally.”
In this brave new world of fashion coverage, many designers are realizing that the wait time between show and shopping is beyond what our instant-gratification-obsessed culture can bear. “When our customer is watching our presentation, she’s seeing all of these new pieces and she’s falling in love,” says Michael Kors, who dipped a toe in the new model in February with an immediately available capsule unveiled on his fall ’16 runway. “I think it makes sense for her to be able to sprinkle some of these items into her wardrobe right away,” he says.
Kors is joined by the likes of Burberry, Thakoon, Alexander Wang and Rebecca Minkoff, along with Canadian label Pink Tartan—all of whom have jumped on the buy-now bandwagon in some way this season. Minkoff, who was one of fashion’s earliest social media adopters, was among the first to put the model into play when, instead of showing fall ’16 in February with the rest of her designer comrades, she decided to restage spring ’16. “Fashion week is broken,” she says. “There is a certain image fatigue happening where, by the time the collection is available in-store, our girl has already seen it all, and she’s tired of it.” Why not give customers what they want while their fashion lust is at its peak?
“Think about how many times you have been excited by a collection only to have the feeling fade by the time it hits stores,” says Suzanne Timmins, senior vice-president and fashion director of Hudson’s Bay; the company tested the approach with the Versus and Moschino collections last year to “great success.” “Fashion is all about timing, and what we are witnessing is a much needed rethinking of that process.”
The detractors—including Chanel, Saint Laurent, Gucci, Dior, Hermès and Dolce & Gabbana—oppose it, they say, for one simple reason: the consumer doesn’t want it. Ralph Toledano, president of the French Fashion Federation, is spearheading the opposition and claims the true fashion lover understands production schedules and is willing to wait the four to six months that creating a designer garment requires. “Our clientele is educated and informed on how the system works,” Toledano told Women’s Wear Daily in February. “There is not one person who said it was a problem. As far as we are concerned, the system is not broken.”
“There will always be a consumer who appreciates the luxury of a beautifully handcrafted product and the added value in the time it took to make it,” Timmins says. Even Kors isn’t ready to go all in just yet. “When it comes to our collections, some pieces can be made available immediately, but others can’t be rushed,” he says. “You can’t make all of the embellished, detailed pieces overnight.” Similarly, Donatella Versace, who embraced the new schedule for her secondary line, Versus, doesn’t see it working for Versace. “I believe in it for lines that are less important,” she told WWD. “For quality, you need time.”
But buy-now doesn’t ask designers to postpone production—only the show itself. Tom Ford may be presenting fall ’16 in September, but private showroom appointments were held as per usual last February, and the collection—completely handcrafted, embellished and detailed—will have received the benefit of a full production cycle before hitting the floor.
“The intent is not to jeopardize creativity nor quality; rather, it’s to maximize the excitement of the runway for the consumer immediately,” says Steven Cook, senior vice-president of buying and merchandising at Holt Renfrew, where Tom Ford’s fall collection will be available directly after the show. “Designers, including Mr. Ford, continue to design with craftsmanship. I don’t think the calendar change has compromised these collections.”