Two months before New York Fashion Week started the hand-wringing began. Joseph Altuzarra announced he would be showing in Paris, not New York. Never mind that the move made perfect business sense since the label is growing internationally and Joseph was raised in Paris. Those around New York worried that the move of such a prominent young designer might spell doom for the New York fashion scene.
If New York fashion, or that of any other city, is doomed, though, it is not going to happen because one or even a group of designers decide to show one place or another. All four major cities have more than enough labels showing to fill their calendars. There’s no reason that all four cities, New York, London, Milan, and Paris shouldn’t have very successful fashion weeks that result in amazing returns for their designers.
Yet, at the same time, the various fashion councils responsible for those weeks are wringing their hands, the labels themselves are making some hard decisions. The luxury fashion sector, while on an upswing so far this year, has seen some severe challenges. There are still more labels losing than winning. Many are reconsidering their fashion week involvement and looking at whether those traditional runway shows are worth the investment. More often than not, the answer is no.
In an ideal world, of course, every label and every designer would show their clothes and people would buy them. We like seeing brands win. Reality sings a different tune, though. Some designers are never able to “connect” with the market in a tangible way. Some labels completely misjudge what people outside their group of friends want to wear. Others put on a really bad show.
What does it take, then, to have a better fashion week? How can we move beyond the repeated disappointment we’ve had the past few seasons and create a fashion week experience that produces more winners for a change? The ultimate answers lie with the designers and their houses, as well as the entities responsible for each week; The Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) in New York, the British Fashion Council in London, the Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana in Milan, and the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode in Paris. We have some suggestions, of course, which we hope they’ll all consider. We’ll be tagging them to get their attention.
1. Everyone Has To Be More Customer-Facing
Can we just accept the fact that fashion weeks are no longer an industry insider event? While the need for labels to show design samples to editors and buyers ahead of the season still exists, so does the need to generate and maintain excitement for a brand year-round. Customers and clients want to know what their favorite brands have planned. The fashion-conscious want to know what they’ll have to do to be in style for the next season. Even outliers want to know what to avoid. Everyone who buys clothes, which is 99.95% of us, has an interest in what comes down runways each season.
Consider some of the labels that have continued to show profitability even through economic downturns:
- Calvin Klein
- Tommy Hilfiger
- Christian Dior
- Giorgio Armani
- Louis Vuitton
While each of those labels has distinctly different clothing lines and wildly different approaches to fashion weeks, they are also among the most customer-facing brands on the market and that effort of interacting with customers at every possible opportunity, especially during fashion weeks, is a part of that success. Even to the extent that some of their fashion shows are still invitation-only insider events, they still find ways to make that fashion week experience available to the general consumer, whether through social media, live streaming, or other engagement campaigns.
Sadly, not everyone understands what appears to myself and others as a very basic marketing move. There are still a shocking number of labels with no social media presence whatsoever, not even a website. Their fashion shows occur almost in secret save for their place on the official schedule. By the time their clothes hit store shelves, most shoppers have already decided what they’re going to buy. Is it any wonder these brands struggle?
There are ways the fashion councils can help make fashion weeks more customer facing as well. The British Fashion Council introduced the London Fashion Week Festival this season and while it’s still too early to make accurate assessments, the initial appearance is that it did a good job of involving a larger segment of the London population in celebrating fashion week. Should the concept prove successful, seeing similar programs and attitudes in the three other cities would go a long way toward creating a more customer-facing environment and support for each country’s domestic fashion industry.
2. Pay more attention to contemporary culture
This may seem like an obvious statement, but here’s what happens: New creative director comes into a house and his/her first season is a review of the house aesthetic. The new designer attempts to put his/her twist on old fashion. From there, the designer then proceeds to attempt to make the house heritage somehow relevant and the greater portion of the time it really doesn’t work. The reason it doesn’t work is that the designer spends too much time looking at heritage and not enough time looking forward at contemporary culture. As a result, we get collection after collection that is so incredibly boring that editors and buyers are yawning in their seats by day two!
What we have to realize is that Millennials are the target demographic now and they have practically zero interest in a house’s history. Reviewers and critics like me may go on and on about house heritage and aesthetic, but the people actually buying the clothes don’t care. They want clothes that are contemporary and match their lifestyle. Sure, they’ve gone nuts for almost anything Boho over the past couple of years, but that is because, once again, it fist their lifestyle, not because they have any real interest in what was going on in the late 60s and early 70s.
A good example of someone who is doing this well is Allesandro Michele at Gucci. He has found a unique way to make his designs contemporary, alive, and vibrant to his younger audience and as a result, revenues have been astounding. Sure, he plays fast and loose with the house silhouettes, but he’s not without reference to that heritage in most of his ensembles. He is presenting shows that don’t feel stuffy with clothes that don’t look like a repeat of what we’ve already seen ten times.
Another good example is Angela Missoni. For the past 20 years, she has reinvigorated the Missoni brand by modifying the house’s legendary zig-zag pattern in every way possible. This season, she brought out brighter colors and a new, light-weight fabric that works well for the person who is always on the go, whether from festival to festival or city to city for an actual job. Again, there’s sufficient reference to the house, but she doesn’t let her collections rest on what her parents were doing 30 or 40 years ago.
Even Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel seems to have finally gotten a bit of a clue this season. How many years have I sat through his shows and, while astonished at his amazing runway sets, found the clothes nothing more than slightly modified versions of Coco’s original designs? This season, though, he dramatically changed the looks by finding interesting ways to contemporize the silhouettes and wrap things in plastic. The result is one of the most Instagram-worthy collections we’ve seen from Chanel in years.
Fashion has some great history and it’s wonderful to go and view it in a museum. The runway, however, is not a museum and not where we should see a collection of heritage fashion. Bring the collections into the 21st century and I think we’ll see a more positive response.
Levi’s announced this week that it is entering into 50 new collaborations. Collaborators include fashion influencers from almost every continent and include names such as G Dragon, Chance the Rapper, and Carla Fernández in addition to names more closely associated with fashion, such as Karlie Kloss, Emmanuelle Alt, and Nick Sullivan. The idea is to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the label’s trucker jacket, but the net effect is to bring the 164-year-old brand known predominantly for its jeans more into the mainstream of fashion, emphasizing products that a lot of people, especially that coveted Millennial audience, didn’t realize that Levi’s makes.
Collaborations are nothing new, mind you. The hook up between model Gigi Hadid and Tommy Hilfiger is well into its second year now and has completely revitalized a brand that had fallen into that same-song-different-verse routine. Other designers have had some experience upping their visibility by creating capsule collections for specific retailers that normally wouldn’t find a place on the label’s stock list. There is plenty of evidence that collaborations work.
If we’ve seen this before, though, and we know that it works, why aren’t more brands using collaborations and bringing those efforts directly to their fashion week runways? Designers give a number of reasons but none of them are good ones. Some complain that they’re already too busy, especially if they’re doing eight collections a year for more than one label. The best answer to that problem, though, is to make collaborations a part of the seasonal collections rather than a separate project. We’ve also been told that some designers worry that collaborations might cheapen the brand. That concern might be valid if one is choosing to collaborate with someone whose own brand is in the dumps. Collaborating with a strong brand, though, raises the value of both. Selection of partners makes a lot of difference.
Fashion councils might also be able to help facilitate collaborations between smaller and newer houses and major retailers or other fashion influencers. This could be especially helpful when designers look to collaborate with influencers from pop culture such as musicians and actors. Having the fashion council make the introductions and possibly even provide a framework for how such collaborations could work would benefit both sides.
Many labels struggle to recruit an exciting front row at their shows and collaborations are perhaps the best way to address that challenge. The right collaboration can open brand awareness to new segments of the market and help push portions of a brand that might have been underperforming. Anyone who saw the crowds at the Gigi & Tommy circus in London can attest to how exciting a collaboration can be for fashion week. We should be seeing a lot more of this.
4. Live Stream Everything
Reality check: our world is dominated by video. While I regularly recommend to clients that they use live streaming to their advantage, nowhere does that apply more than with fashion and there’s nothing more important to live stream than fashion week presentations. This is when fashion is at its best and holds the opportunity for creating the largest audience when it is done efficiently and correctly. Live streaming may be the single most important technological advancement in fashion marketing.
So why are there still so many labels that don’t stream anything, anytime, anywhere? The loss of this opportunity absolutely baffles me. I was deeply disappointed this season when, for reasons we’ve not been able to determine, the British Fashion Council stopped carrying the live stream of the London shows this season. The “Live” page was on their website, which seemed to infer that streaming was planned, but outside a partnership with Yahoo! Fashion UK on opening day, nothing else was streamed through that central source. From here, it seemed that the lack of streaming was a disservice especially to designers showing at the council’s show space.
I get it: streaming is expensive. Over the past few seasons, we’ve seen some brand try to get around the high production cost with tricks like having an intern stream a show from their phone or post a series of static photos on Instagram in real time, and while those efforts are better than nothing, they still don’t produce the audience that a high-quality stream can provide. The adage that “you get what you pay for” applies in significant quantity here.
There are a couple of possible solutions to this problem. One is that, as the British Fashion Council has done in the past, fashion councils provide streaming as part of a package when a label uses their centralized facility. Unfortunately, London is the only place where the fashion council owns a specific place. The CFDA has contracts for a handful of places in New York, but those contracts are short-term and vary from season to season. Milan and Paris have no central show space at all.
A better solution might be for fashion councils to help labels find sponsors to cover the cost of live streaming. We already know there are plenty of companies willing to sponsor various events in and around fashion weeks. Providing a streaming partner gives smaller labels a chance to boost their visibility and build an audience while enhancing the partner’s public perception as being fashionable and stylish.
The other aspect at play here is that those who do stream need to do so across multiple platforms, from their own website, and across social media to provide the greatest amount of access to the highest number of people. Playing again to Millennials, today’s potential customer is constantly on the go and utilizes a variety of mobile devices. One cannot assume they will go to one specific place to view a fashion show. Casting a broad net pulls in the highest number of viewers.
FInally, streaming fashion shows allows customers to view the show on their own terms. Many will choose to watch the show live, but the person who is working at that exact time can still come to that platform and view the entire show later. This has proven to be very effective and communicates to busy shoppers that their attention is valued as well.
Live streaming a fashion show should be as fundamental as turning on the lights over the runway. Let’s not see another season without every show covered.
5. Normalize Diversity
We’ve seen a lot of talk in the US especially about diversity on the runway. While the initial focus was on racial diversity and eliminating the endless parades of skinny white girls, it has also become a campaign to include women of different body types and ages. This past season, we finally began to see some positive response to that campaign. New York and Paris led the way with significantly higher numbers of models of color, models of different sizes, and more mature models than we’ve seen in previous seasons.
Fashion has been painfully slow to integrate the runway and even more so editorial and advertising imagery. There really is no excuse for this and no viable argument for not including people of every race, every sexuality, every age, and every body type. None. The global public isn’t interested in hearing any excuses and increasingly is willing to withhold their purchases from brands of any kind that appear to not be accepting of the wide rainbow of people living on the planet.
Moreover, we are increasingly unwilling to accept runways with only token representations. Seeing runways with only two black models, two Asian models, and maybe one latina model is not acceptable when the other 30 are Caucasian in their appearance. This seems to have been the standard formula on many runways this past season and no, it doesn’t fly. Yes, we do notice and yes, we do count. Labels that provide only token representation are more likely to be disregarded and, for me, less likely to be reviewed in a positive manner.
Diversity is a major social issue around the globe and fashion cannot ignore it. Diversity needs to be normal. We need to see more shows like Miu Miu where the opening models were Ange-Marie Moutamou, Aube Jolicoeur, and Adwoa Aboah, all models of color. No one should be surprised. There should be no reason I should have to congratulate anyone for their abnormal casting. Diversity on the runway should just happen, every show, every season, without anyone having to count, without anyone feeling like their merely a token.
This issue has been a blight over fashion for far too long and it is time we stopped the racist nonsense and normalize diversity on the runway. No excuses. No exceptions.
6. Create Experiences Beyond Clothes
Fashion and shopping malls are closely related. Over the past 40 years, shopping malls are where many people go to discover fashion and make their purchases. Major retailers such as Nordstrom and Macy’s have anchored those malls, opening their doors to millions of people who might otherwise never see a Dior or a Yves Saint Laurent. For roughly 30 years, the success of one fed the success of the other.
Now, we find both struggling to survive and perhaps, once again, fashion might do well to look at some of the transitions malls are making to create experiences that go beyond what we might consider traditional shopping. We’ve known for some time now that the current generation of shoppers are more interested in creating and sharing experiences and where we see fashion labels creating experiences out of fashion week presentations they have been more successful than those that merely send models walking down a runway.
Specifically, fashion needs to create experiences that are more than just clothes. I realize that may sound counterintuitive on some levels but look at the places where we are already seeing that approach in action. For example, how many fashion shows now have live music? I found it amusing when one person said of Michael Kors’ show this season that they weren’t sure whether they had stumbled into a fashion show or a Sara Bareilles concert. The presentation had more meaning because it was more than just fashion.
Similarly, Tommy Hilfiger’s circus was just that. After models were done walking, acrobats took to both the ring and the air with performances that were astonishing and entertaining. Whether those in attendance remember more about the clothes or the acrobats I can’t speculate, but be sure the majority will forever associate the Tommy Hilfiger brand with a positive experience and positive experiences lead to positive cash flows.
So little has been done in this area that the door is wide open to experimentation. Creating experiences with home furnishings (which some labels have branded), food, film, and possibly even sports are all potentially possible. Making fashion shows a memorable experience translates into positive feelings about clothes when they show up six months later. Fashion needs that positive vibe.
7. Share The Runway Aesthetic In Stores
One of the more interesting runway sets this season belonged to Elie Saab. As the room darkened and the show began, large pieces of canvas around the room came alive with scenes from a rainforest, a theme that was then echoed in the clothes being shown for this season. The effect was very appropriate for the collection and a very memorable aesthetic. Similarly, the Chanel set, which is always large and impressive, recreated a canyon and waterfalls from a gorge in Southeast France. The aesthetic was so realistic that models’ hats were blown off by the resulting breeze.
Now, imagine if those dynamic aesthetics could be duplicated, at least in part, directly in the store. One of the challenges that face fashion labels is that too much excitement wains between the runway and when clothes actually appear on the shelf. While the runways may be exciting, all too often the stores themselves are nothing short of boring and tedious. No matter how wonderful the personal service may be, the aesthetic leads one to yawn.
There is an opportunity here to extend the excitement of the runway and revitalize the brick-and-mortar retail experience at the same time by recreating at least a portion of the runway experience in stores. Yes, I’m talking more than just banners and photos that are swapped out in a few minutes. The ability to re-create the full effect would take away the abject boredom that often accompanies clothes shopping. Imagine walking into a store and experiencing something like Elie Saab’s jungle. Then, next season, perhaps a visit to the same store might resemble a walk in the snow (not that I know what Mr. Saab is planning for next fall). The same aesthetic that makes the runway exciting has the ability to do the same for the shopping experience.
Yes, this is a little extra trouble, but no, it doesn’t have to be expensive. Saab’s jungle is merely a projection onto canvas, something that could be easily duplicated with a high amount of precision across stores. Add to that perhaps an offer to customers of tropical drinks and not only does the experience become more pleasant but the customer’s opinion of the brand is more likely to improve.
This may seem like a relatively small solution to a large problem, but sometimes the smaller solutions are the best place for a brand to start changing. There’s no reason why wandering from store to store such be such a blur of off-white walls that one can’t distinguish one from the other. Extend the life and excitement of the runway by duplicating that aesthetic and everyone is likely to be more happy with both.
8. Embrace The Extravaganza
If there’s one marketing takeaway from this season it is that extravaganzas work. Big productions draw big crowds that buy more clothes and are more likely to result in favorable recommendations to friends. Sure, they’re expensive to produce. Yes, they’re incredibly time-consuming to set up and execute. They’re big, flashy, and don’t necessarily do that great a job of presenting the clothes. If we’ve learned one thing from the extravaganzas of the past couple of seasons, though, it is that they work not only for the label but for all of fashion week. People who come for the really big shows hang around, get tickets to smaller shows, and ultimately expand their fashion consciousness.
Big extravaganzas, such as Tommy Hilfiger, Burberry, Gucci, and Chanel have plenty of challenges. In fact, we saw Burberry pull back on the size of their show this season as they try to re-focus the brand. That doesn’t mean the concept won’t work. If anything, what we saw in London this season is that the added extravaganzas of Tommy Hilfiger and Emporio Armani lifted the atmosphere for all of London Fashion Week. Everyone had an opportunity to win.
How do we improve on the extravaganzas as they currently exist, though? If big shows have the ability to draw positive attention and revenue to the entire event, how to cities and their fashion capitols capitalize on that? The answer likely lies in prime time television events. Television networks have taken a liking to short, unscripted series that disrupt the schedule in a positive way. For US audiences, especially, the timing could be quite advantageous as the September season gives networks fresh material right before the new fall season kicks off. In February, the fashion weeks occur at a time when viewership tends to hit a slump. A week-long series of fashion extravaganzas could be just the medicine everyone needs.
We’ve seen a steady progression over the past few seasons of bigger labels preferring prime-time schedules as it is. Live streams and Instagram feeds get more attention at that time of day and website visitors are more likely to stay and peruse the site after the show is over.
What needs to happen is for the local fashion councils to take on the role of production partner, helping to interact between fashion houses and the networks as well as assisting in securing sponsorships and advertisers to help pay for the production. Given the success of shows such as “Next Top Model” and “Project Runway,” it seems intuitive that televising the fashion extravaganzas for a week has the potential for elevating the national conversation around fashion and possibly even convincing more people to shop luxury brands rather than fast fashion. This is a big step, of course, but now seems to be the perfect time to make this happen.
9. Work Closely With Regional Media
Fashion weeks have always worked closely with major media outlets, magazines, and fashion bloggers with large followings. Increasingly, we’ve seen them adding Instagram influencers to their front rows as well. The benefit of working with those various media provides a great deal of exposure across a wide audience—just what the fashion industry needs. However, much of that media tends to be located in and around the cities in which the major fashion weeks occur. While other cities have their own fashion weeks, they don’t generate the same level of buzz because they don’t see the participation of major labels. As a result, potential customers in secondary markets, which include cities like Chicago, Brussels, Barcelona, Sao Paulo, Mexico City, and Tokyo, don’t have the strong connection to fashion labels they potentially could.
One of the persistent challenges for media in secondary and tertiary media markets is getting access to designers for interviews. The ability to do such interviews in advance of fashion weeks allow regional media to promote fashion in a way that allows people in those markets to develop a greater interest and emotional connection with those brands. For many people in these secondary markets, one label holds little difference from another. They don’t care whether the name is Dior or Sears because all they know is that the price tag on one is higher than the other. There’s no education around why luxury brands are ultimately a better value. As a result, both the brands and the consumers are losing out on significant opportunities.
We’ve experienced this challenge first hand here at Pattern. Between last season and this one, we reached out to different labels in a variety of ways in hopes of being able to conduct interviews that would run online during the appropriate fashion week. We even sent people to New York in an effort to meet with PR teams in person. We couldn’t even get anyone to join us for coffee. While we still do our best to cover all four fashion weeks as thoroughly as physically possible (I put in 18-20 hour days for more than two months per season), a runway review doesn’t provide the same level of information as an interview.
Pattern isn’t the only regional media to have tried and failed, either. I’ve talked with fashion writers from Atlanta, Dallas, Los Angeles, and Seattle and each one has repeated the complaint that fashion labels and fashion councils largely ignore regional media outlets.
Yet, those magazines and newspapers being routinely ignored have the ability to bring the eyes and wallets of millions of potential customers that are currently spending their money with discounters. The revenue potential is in the billions of dollars worldwide. The time has come to stop leaving that money on the table and work more closely with regional media.
10. Do More With Pre-Show Hype and Post-Show Delivery
People all over the world get excited about fashion weeks. Social media lights up as customers look forward to seeing what their favorite designers are bringing to the runway for the next season. Even when there is no live feed, passionate Millennials scour the Internet for pictures the moment they are available and take to social media to proclaim their love for the new collection. While there are things that might make fan access a little easier, marketing to core customers is already in pretty good shape.
What’s missing, though, is a stronger sense of pre-fashion week hype and post-fashion week delivery. What I’m specifically referring to is the ability for fashion councils and labels to generate buzz about shows before they happen, increasing the size of the interested audience, and then making sure those new guests take away something tangible so that they remember those collections and events six months later when the clothes arrive in stores.
Here is where the current fashion schedule becomes problematic. Many designers are producing at least four, some as many as eight collections per label per year. In addition to the standard Ready-to-Wear collections, a designer may have to produce separate men’s collections (both Spring and Fall), pre-Spring and pre-Fall collections (transitional clothes that hit stores between the major seasons) as well as Resort and Haute Couture collections. Toss a wedding collection in there as well for major labels. Put it all together and there is no breathing room for labels. They plow directly from one show right into the next with diligent teams carefully trying to handle all the logistics so that the right clothes show up at the right places at the right time. The whole thing can be a complete nightmare.
And those labels who do see-now, buy now? Compound that nightmare by a factor of ten.
Here’s where the fashion councils can really offer a lot of help. Generating media buzz for the entire fashion week helps everyone who is showing, not just the major labels. Most people, even those who live in the four host cities, don’t understand how the fashion calendar works. Fashion events sneak up on them too late for many to participate at any level. Fashion councils are in a unique position to solve that problem by generating a higher level of awareness and excitement over an upcoming season.
Post-show delivery is a little more challenging. The ability to connect with individuals is dependent on someone knowing who was watching from where, and that isn’t something that works with social media platforms particularly. Just because someone likes a page or follows a profile doesn’t mean they were specifically engaged with the runway presentation. This is where more serious data mining must come into play, looking at the sources of viewership, length of participation, and tracking immediate post-show activity (did they stay on the profile or website or did they leave to watch kittens frolicking?) and then generating targeted messages post-show, immediately after a fashion week ends, to give those viewers a means of knowing when their favorite brands arrive in local stores. Complicated to explain briefly, yes, but ultimately beneficial to everyone involved.
I could probably come up with more ideas, but I think this is enough to start a good conversation. There’s no reason for me or anyone else to come out of a month of fashion weeks bored with what we saw. There’s no reason that designers moving back and forth from one host city to the next should threaten the stability and interest of the entire event. The solutions are right there in front of us. If I can see this sitting all the way over here in the Midwest, I’m sure there are plenty of people in New York, London, Milan, and Paris who have an even clearer view.
Perhaps between now and February, we can all do more than talk and actually do something.