The fast fashion model is most significantly exemplified by the likes of Zara (pictured above), Nasty Gal Forever 21 and the like, but in case you haven’t noticed, high fashion is pretty speedy these days, as well. And a couple of recent developments, the acquisition of up-and-coming luxury house, Thakoon, as well as Rebecca Minkoff’s plans for February’s New York Fashion Week, suggests that things are only going to get faster.
As we learned this fall, after making his debut roughly three and a half years ago, Raf Simons is leaving Dior. Why? Because he’s over it. As a couture house, Dior is responsible for putting out six womenswear collections per year. Spring/Summer, Fall/Winter, Pre-Fall and Resort on the ready-to-wear side, and Fall/Winter and Spring/Summer couture collections. Add to that Simons’s own label, a menswear brand, which produces two collections per year. For him, the new model of fashion is too fast, too large. He told System magazine: “At Dior, things go very, very fast."
Interestingly, on the evening of the announcement that Raf Simons had left his position at Dior, Lanvin’s long-time creative director Alber Elbaz took the stage at the Fashion Group International awards in New York, to accept an award. A certain part of his acceptance speech seemed to resonate with the fashion industry audience (as indicated by their thunderous applause). He said: "I think everybody in fashion these days needs just a little more time." He interrupted their subsequent applause, putting a hand up to the crowd: “Wait,” he said. And honestly, that is what most seem to agree needs to happen. The industry needs to be subjected to a halt. Less than a week thereafter, Elbaz was ousted from Lanvin after a fourteen-year tenure.
Then there is young-ish New York-based brand, Thakoon. The brand’s recently announced acquisition, which comes from Vivian Chou, a daughter of Silas Chou and the leader of Bright Fame Fashion, is a celebratory occasion. It can be truly enlightening to see emerging-ish stage brands attract the attention and investment of luxury conglomerates and/or venture capitalists. Such infusions of cash often come hand in hand with industry-recognized figures, who can serve to bolster and guide the brand to the next stage of its life. Such acquisitions serve as a nod to these young-ish brands that they are doing it right; that their hard work and vision has paid off. In this way, such developments are to be celebrated and the designers/creative directors at the helm of such brands to be congratulated.
Having said that, the press release announcing that Chou has taken a majority stake inThakoon was eye-opening. As a result of Chou’s investment, she and Panichgul are reportedly looking to adopt a new business model, one that delivers “real time” designer fashion (think: “show now, see now, buy now, wear now”) utilizing an omni-channel approach. This sounds a lot like fast fashion, no?
Now, before we any further, note that we are not faulting Panichgul. If we are being honest, he (and similarly situated designers) likely feel as though they have little choice but to compete with the model that fast fashion retailers – the companies that dominate the market – have perpetuated. The threat that fast fashion brands, like Zara, H&M, Mango and the like, pose for high fashion brands has evolved tremendously.
Consider how much consumption patterns have changed over the past few decades. For a long time, we could safely say that those shopping the high street were not in a position to shop high fashion. For many years, this argument was entirely sound. In previous generations, the mixing of high fashion and more mainstream fashion was largely considered taboo. A woman would not be caught dead shopping for clothing at both JC Penney and Bergdorf Goodman. We know this from the way that Bergdorf Goodman sales executives responded to late designer Halston’s foray into the designer x mass-market collaboration. In the 1970’s, Halston teamed up with JC Penney to design an affordable fashion line. The minute Bergdorfs got wind of the partnership, they dropped Halston’s main collection from their store. The thought of a mainstream collection was scandalous!
That is no longer the case – for retailers or consumers. Most retailers are dying to get a big name – celebrity or otherwise – on their garments and accessories, as a way to drive traffic and sales. And as we saw from the chaos surrounding the recent Balmain x H&M collaboration and the many that preceded it, the industry and consumer trends have evolved significantly since Halston’s day. The Kardashian/Jenners, the American family known largely for its conspicuous consumption, are an apt example. In between wearing a ton of high fashion garments and carrying pricey Birkin bags, the reality television family is not opposed to fast fashion. The youngest sisters, Kendall and Kylie, in particular, have been known to opt for a Forever 21 or Nasty Gal garment every once in a while. Older sister Kourtney has also been spotted in a few fast fashion garments in recent months. They are not shopping fast fashion because they can’t afford anything else. They are choosing to mix high and low, and thereby, debunking the outdated argument that those shopping fast fashion can’t afford high fashion.
Also remember that consumers are simply not as brand-loyal as they once were. Wearing head-to-toe Chanel and only Chanel, for instance, is no longer an overwhelmingly common “thing.” Consumers want a diversified wardrobe, and for many, this means basics (at least) from more mainstream retailers. And with fast fashion retailers churning out dirt-cheap garments “inspired by” runway looks – ones than are more often than not line-for-line copies – on a very sped up timetable, even luxury brands are not immune from the fall out.
As you can see, the very distinct line between high fashion shoppers and fast-fashion shoppers has become rather grey, and it was likely only a matter of time before more brands and retailers began to adapt accordingly.
Consider Moda Operandi. The e-commerce site, which was founded in 2010 by Lauren Santo Domingo and Aslaug Magnusdottir, pioneered the just off the runway pre-sale model. As one of the first to recognize the sped-up timeline to which fashion was beginning to succumb, the luxury fashion retailer allows customers to preorder looks directly from designers, immediately after their runway show. The garments and accessories do not ship right away (they follow a traditional high fashion delivery schedule), but this model takes a step towards satisfying consumers’ increasing need for instant gratification.
Then came Jeremy Scott and Moschino. For the past several seasons, the Italian design house, which is under the creative direction of Scott, has been offering capsule collections of its runway offerings beginning the day after its runway shows. On the heels of its September 2014 show, for example, it offered a limited range of pieces from the collection on its own e-commerce site. Moreover, Nordstrom, which live-streamed the runway show on its blog, began offering the capsule in its stores the day after the show and on its e-commerce site just a few days later. Other retailers that have partnered with Moschino to offer the brand’s just off the runway capsules include Alchemist, Hirshleifer’s, Net-a-Porter, Nordstrom, Opening Ceremony, Saks, Rent the Runway and Shopbop. This method has performed particularly well.
Now we can likely add Thakoon to this list. As Chou said in a statement this past week, “What comes next will be an evolution, and a total embrace of innovation for the Thakoon brand.”
And what Rebecca Minkoff is doing is interesting. Per WWD, rather than showing her new Fall/Winter 2016 collection like everyone else, Minkoff plans to show her already-in-stores Spring/Summer 2016 collection – which she already showed this past September. Minkoff says that by switching up the schedule she will be able to leverage the press that comes from the fashion show to actually make immediate sales, rather than hoping customers will remember and seek out the garments and accessories six months later. Additionally, Minkoff says she will show her collection in front of a consumer audience — 30 to 50 percent of the show goers will be consumers — being among the first to take this dramatic step. (Both Givenchy and Rag & Bone, which opportunities for the public to attend their spring 2016 shows, beat Minkoff to the punch here, though).
As for whether this general trend of speed is a good thing, that is very much up for debate. There is certainly the argument that the speed of fashion – in its current form, between the number of collections produced and the rate with which images are shared – is stifling. Many argue that it has largely robbed the industry of its mystique.
The industry’s focus on speed has debatably taken away any sense of aspiration that was once associated with fashion. Similarly, it has taken away some of the industry’s greatest talents – some for short stints, others for longer periods of hiatus. Christopher Decarnin, the former star behind Balmain, is an apt example. He rose to fame in just two seasons at the once-dusty couture house. He revived the house; he cultivated a following willing that was to shell out $1,000+ for a distressed tank top or $6,000 for a pair of jeans. Several years later, he could not bring himself to take a bow during the finale of a show due to exhaustion (or if we are to believe the fashion gossip, a mental breakdown). That is one end of the spectrum.
The results need not be so tragic to be real, though. Look simply to the outputs on the runway. There are fewer risks being taken, all in the name of commercially-viable collections. The current model does not allow for much else. As I wrote for Dazed on the heels of the announcement that London-based brand Meadham Kirchhoff was too debt-ridden to continue, “the current model of fashion does not leave much room for imagination that cannot be put into an e-cart, purchased and shipped.”
The industry, which has become an even bigger business, as indicated by the number of conglomerates that make billions each year from their fashion subsidiaries, is – with a handful of exceptions – on such a sped-up cycle that it is almost impossible for creative teams to do anything but keep up.
Note: there does appear to be some resisting the rush. Proenza Schouler took a firm stand earlier this month when the label’s founders, Jack McCullough and Lazaro Hernandez, said they would not release any pre-fall imagery and sanctioned outside photography and short-lead reviews of their collection until the clothes, shoes and bags begin to hit the stores around April. A couple of years earlier, in 2013, Paris-based design house Celine, which does not utilize social media or e-Commerce, required press and buyers that attended their Resort 2013 presentation from taking photos or posting reviews. And several years before that, in his official return to womenswear, Tom Ford, banned nearly everything. No photographers (except Terry Richardson, shooting for the house), no pre-show or post-show publicity, and above all, no internet. Ford was adamant the pictures would be released to the glossies when he was ready and not before then.
Speaking to WWD this week, Ken Downing, senior vice president, fashion director of Neiman Marcus, said the current fashion model - particularly when it comes to New York Fashion Week - could use some adjustment: “I am an enormous proponent of relooking and recalibrating how we use the fashion show that has become a mega-marketing event. The history of fashion shows was to show the buyers and the press the message of the season. But technology has utterly changed everything in our industry. That customer continues to follow Instagram and Twitter and watches the live-stream of fashion shows. When they are seeing clothes, they are less aware of seasons. What they are seeing, they want.”
The president of the Council of fashion Designers of America, Diane Von Furstenberg, similarly said: “With the current system the way it is, the only people who benefit are the people who copy it. It’s very confusing. Everything needs to be rebooted.” The CFDA has enlisted the help of the Boston Consulting Group, which will conduct a study to define the future of fashion shows. The study, which will begin after the holidays, should take about seven weeks, and won’t have an impact on the upcoming February season. WWD reports that Boston Consulting Group will survey industry experts to explore a possible shift to shows that are more closely aligned with retail deliveries, and ones that are open to the public.
The trade publication ultimately suggests that this all comes together to raise the question: "Should [fashion shows] be open to the public? The consumer demand for fashion entertainment certainly seems to exist, but how should it be satisfied?"
Fashion entertainment? Now that's an interesting way of putting it. However, I'm not sure that opening to tents (or what was once tents, prior to several relocations, one of which was due, in part, to attempts to control the non-show goers) to the mass market is going to help anyone? Most importantly, is it going to help high fashion brands (whose price points are high) sell clothes? Sure, such a transition may help spur sales of lower-priced licensed goods (like DVF sunglasses or Michael Kors watches, which arguably have no problem with sales as it is). However, will turning fashion week into a week-long string of theater productions have any significant and sustainable affect on sales of legitimate designer goods? I'm not so sure.