Luxury Society investigates the need for the conventional fashion show, as the media landscape fragments and digital tools disrupt the industry.
Today Fashion Week kicks off in New York, where over 95 on-schedule shows will be produced within seven days, punctuated with presentations, parties, tradeshows, market appointments and gala dinners. London and Milan will follow with similar fervour, until the fashion set take the last remaining flights out of Paris on March 7th.
It’s not so much the start of fashion week as it is the start of fashion month. A cavalcade of editors, buyers, models, critics, executives and stylish hangers-on will spend the next 28 days between airports, cars, hotels and tents, waiting, watching and documenting the details of literally, hundreds, of collections.
There was a time in modern history where the fashion show was an unquestionable necessity. Long-haul travel was neither as common – nor as affordable – as it is today. The Internet did not yet exist, information travelled slowly. A small group of true decision makers controlled which styles were sold and featured in international department stores and magazines.
“ Why does the fashion world perpetuate a historical solution to an increasingly complex network of modern dilemmas? ”
The concept of fashion week was a logical solution. Influencers from across the world visiting a series of designers based on geographical relativity, to either report on or order from their collections. For an industry based on seasonal collections, it also afforded a clear framework by which to organise design, production and sales.
But the Internet does exist now, as do the smartphone and the tablet; some shows even provide wireless Internet access. Travel is no longer the luxury it once was, and no longer as necessary a part of obtaining information. The media landscape has fragmented and the influence of these ‘real decision makers’ has augmented.
Industrialised fashion houses are in a constant flux of design, production and marketing, as consumers demand content and product in real time. As the demand for information and innovation rises, the number of fashion design has exploded, as has the number of annual collections.
So why does the fashion world not only preserve, but perpetuate, a historical solution to an increasingly complex network of modern dilemmas?
Chanel’s AW10 runway show, featuring a 265-ton iceberg imported from Scandinavia, via Wallpaper
If fashion shows generate anything, they generate a huge amount of buzz. The communication benefits have moved far beyond that of the fashion press, as names like Kayne West, Rihanna and Beyonce propel fashion shows into the pages of mainstream newspapers and gossip magazines.
Fashion shows also create numerous opportunities for content. Not only for brands, but for editors, retailers, bloggers and celebrities, who capitalise on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to share their own personal experiences, which in-so-facto direct further press back to the brand.
Tapping into powerful social profiles and online media outlets ensures a greater audience than perhaps the brand was able to attract alone, whilst documentation and publishing give longevity to the event.
“ Fashion shows create numerous opportunities for content, for brands, editors, retailers, bloggers & celebrities ”
At Chanel, according to fashion president Bruno Pavlovsky, the show is the starting point for all brand stories – for everything. “All of our creative people focus their energy on being able to create this event,” he explained to the Business of Fashion.
“From the décor to the music to the collection. Once we have the show, we have this energy and the same team is in charge of creating all the tools: the advertising, the visual merchandising, the windows. Because we have the same people working on everything, we can keep this consistency between the show and our communication in every single region.”
It’s true that fashion shows not only give designers and brands a platform to show their collections, but to establish a point of view and communicate the rich stories for which the luxury world depends on. They celebrate the vision of designers and the work of ateliers. They have also become formidable tools in managing relationships with buyers and the press.
Louis Vuitton’s AW12 runway show, featuring an $8 million custom train
From an economic standpoint, fashion week generates a huge amount of peripheral revenues in the cities in which it is hosted. In August 2011, the Fordham Consulting Group and Fordham University Graduate School of Business released an economic impact study outlining the effects of NYFW on the immediate surrounding areas within a 10-block radius of Lincoln Center.
The study suggested that the total economic impact exceeded $20.9 million, taking into account spending by staff, crew, vendors, visitors, designers and sponsors. It also found that the twice-yearly event brings in an annual $9 million to area restaurants, $6 million to local hotels, $6.8 million in retail revenue and $11 million to venues (NYPress).
The British Fashion Council estimates that over £100 million worth of orders are placed during LFW each season, with media coverage that equals or exceeds most major news and international sporting events. Given that New York and London stage the smaller of the big four schedules, one can only imagine the monetary benefits experienced by Paris and Milan. Not to mention increasingly well attended events in Florence, Sydney, Sao Paulo and Hong Kong.
“ From an economic standpoint, fashion week generates a huge amount of peripheral revenues in the cities in which it is hosted ”
But what about the return on investment for brands? WSJ recently estimated the cost of producing a show during NYFW as ‘generally six figures, rising up to $1 million for bigger brands’. For independent brands hiring top models, the minimum cost of a show hovers around $350,000.
Hot-ticket Paris shows by Dior and Chanel are estimated to cost well into the millions. Karl Lagerfeld’s FW2010 show featured a 265-ton iceberg that was imported from Scandinavia, hand carved by 35 ice sculptors. Raf Simons outfitted five rooms of a Parisian maison with floor-to-ceiling tapestries of fresh flowers, which had taken 150 workers to assemble.
During these overly crowded schedules, it is the brands with such spectacles that continue to garner the most attention from influential buyers and editors, not to mention models and celebrities. Though it makes sense for smaller brands to be part of fashion week, many are calling into question the actual benefits of producing a show.
Fashionista recently went so far as to give designers Five Reasons Why It’s Okay Not to Show at Fashion Week. Aside from the obvious investment advantages, they noted that young designers – free from the pressures of a show – have more time to cultivate buying appointments, more money to invest in manufacturing orders, an opportunity to attract the right editors during less stressful periods and speak directly with consumers using digital channels.
“Unless you’re going to put on a show – I mean Alexander McQueen, Alexander Wang, Chanel, etc. – you shouldn’t waste the editors’ time,” suggests Geren Ford, who has stopped showing her contemporary collection at New York Fashion Week.
“You shouldn’t even hold market appointments. Over the years, magazines have downsized. There are fewer editors, more designers, and more seasons. If editors were to attend every market appointment, they wouldn’t have time to actually work. Designers should just produce amazing digital look books.”
“ If editors were to attend every market appointment, they wouldn’t have time to actually work ”
Which to their credit, many brands are beginning to do. Extensive digital press kits and imagery are sent to brands and retailers as product hits the runway. Live-streaming fashion shows across a variety of platforms has also become commonplace. Gareth Pugh presented his SS12 collection as a film, rather than doing a show.
Burberry famously pioneered ‘Tweetwalk’, where each look was sent to Twitter followers before it was shown on the catwalk. Style.com generally has 360° photographic coverage online within the hour, followed by beauty notes, reviews and video content.
Taking things one step further, public relations firm KCD launched Digital Fashion Shows in 2012, inviting journalists and retail executives to watch pre-taped runway shows online. The platform also facilitated access to detail shots of fabrics, prints and accessories, as well as behind the scenes video content, designer inspiration and other assets geared at industry professionals.
KCD’s Digital Fashion Shows, via BoF
Based on client demand, this season KCD will open the platform to consumers, beginning with NYFW shows by Alexander Plokhov, Peter Som and Pierre Balmain. As the Business of Fashion recently noted, “consumer participation could make Digital Fashion Shows an even more powerful industry tool.”
“For one, collecting and analysing likes, shares and comments relating to specific show pieces could enable retailers to gather direct insight on consumer preferences, before they place orders, and thereby make better decisions on what to stock.”
And then there is the human element, something much discussed at the time John Galliano fell from grace at Christian Dior. With the demands placed on designers to produce no less than four collections per year, outside of travel, communications and creative responsibilities, the question keeps arising: how much is too much?
“ Riccardo Tisci recently eschewed Givenchy’s SS13 Haute Couture presentation to ease up the pressure ”
Riccardo Tisci recently eschewed Givenchy’s SS13 Haute Couture presentation to “ease up the pressure”. Speaking with Vanessa Friedman, Azzedine Alaïa made the comment “I’m not ready,” when asked as to why he wasn’t doing a mini-presentation for SS13, except for buyers. “I want the next collection to be really good,” the designer added.
Céline did not show FW12 on the catwalk, as creative designer Phoebe Philo was heavily pregnant. “We could miss some marketing opportunities,” explained Céline CEO Marco Gobbetti at the time. “However we do not believe it would represent a significant impact in the scope and term of our project.”
Even a brand as powerful as Tom Ford shunned the format for its five seasons, preferring secretive presentations with a ban on external photographers. That said the designer recently conceded to buyer pressure and will stage an on-schedule show in London during February.
“I now have 100 stores worldwide. The company has jumped and I can no longer service the stores by not showing," he explained to British Vogue.
No matter the arguments for more modern solutions, it would be unrealistic to expect the sudden end of the conventional fashion show. The catwalk remains the most logical place in which to show a collection, communicate a group of ideas, create buzz and involve influential publishers and retailers.
There is also an undeniable herd mentality in the industry, where despite audacious dreams, CEOs are pressured to allocate budgets and stage productions for little more reason than other brands do. It would take great change from a range of big houses for the show formats to radically augment.
What is lacking from the current fashion show model is real risk and innovation, like we saw at houses like McQueen and Chalayan. Just as haute couture faded and is now enjoying a renaissance, perhaps elevating the show experience once again could bring back its relevance.
So with tied hands perhaps the question is not so much ‘to show or not to show’, but how best to do it?
“ So with tied hands perhaps the question is not so much ‘to show or not to show’, but how best to do it? ”
Tom Ford’s decision not to stage a public fashion show resulted in almost as much press as if he had. Consumers, after not having seen the goods at time of presentation, actually had a reason to visit stores. The ‘arrogance’ (as many media outlets described it) linked back strongly to the ‘elite’ brand he was aspiring to build.
Burberry, on the other hand, has publicly named the concept of ‘democratic luxury’ as one of the cornerstones of its turnaround strategy. So it is with little surprise that Twitter followers are the first to see runway looks, and that the show is live-streamed both in-store for VIPs and online for the masses.
Almost anything is possible when it comes to show production these days. Instead brands need to pay further attention to how the production of each show ties back to the overall strategy of the house. Public or private? Big or small? Business or entertainment?
As with everything in fashion, it’s about finding the right fit.
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