Burberry, Tom Ford, Vetements Announce Radical Change in Business Model

On the heels of consolidating all of its brands (the high-end Prorsum, Burberry Brit and Burberry London) under one umbrella, Burberry is taking another step to radically change the way it does business, and it comes in the form of see now, buy now, wear now. Come September, the London-based brand “plans to show season-less men’s and women’s wear collections together, on the runway, twice a year. In addition, Burberry will make all of its collections immediately available online and in-store. Window displays in its stores and media campaigns will change the moment the curtain comes down on the catwalk,” per WWD. The impact that such a development will have on all levels of the fashion industry cannot be overstated.

See Now, Buy Now, Wear Now

Christopher Bailey, Burberry's chief creative and chief executive officer, said the 160-year old company’s shifting strategy, which aims to align the runway with retail, comes on the heels of consistent talk that the “broken” system of showing high fashion is in need of a fix. While the Council of Fashion Designers of America, for instance, has hired a consultancy to help it reimagine the workings of the bi-annual New York shows, “other brands have been testing the idea with small capsule collections: Moschino also offers select pieces to buy straight from the runway, as does Versace. This season, Rebecca Minkoff is showing her spring line on the New York catwalk, as opposed to fall, which goes into stores in July and August, and which she will reveal by appointment only separately,” as Vanessa Friedman wrote for the New York Times.

Burberry, however, is the first to make significant changes. The move will not only result in the combination of men’s and women’s collections together on one runway during London Fashion Week (thereby, limiting the brand’s annual shows to two per year, as opposed to two for women and two for men), it will see the end of the notion of Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter entirely. The collections will, instead, be labeled September and February collections but more importantly, they will be largely devoid of garments tied specifically to one season.

While the strategy change will likely prove a rocky road (at least initially) given the need to shift the established timeline of manufacturing and deliveries, etc., in particular, a house like Burberry – with its “financial muscle and vertical integration” – is well positioned to pioneer such a massive change. And that change, according to Bailey, is all about the end consumer. He told WWD: “The changes we are making will allow us to build a closer connection between the experience that we create with our runway shows and the moment when people can physically explore the collections for themselves. Our shows have been evolving to close this gap for some time. From live-streams, to ordering straight from the runway, to live social media campaigns, this is the latest step in a creative process that will continue to evolve.”

Also ditching the traditional calendar à la Burberry: young Paris-based "it" brand Vetements, Tom Ford, and emerging New York-based brand Nonoo (more brands will likely be added to this list in the coming weeks/months). Per WWD, Tom Ford has "revealed plans to switch the presentation of his fall-winter 2016 women’s and men’s wear collections to September rather than doing it on Thursday, Feb. 18, as originally planned." Speaking to the trade publication, Ford said: “In a world that has become increasingly immediate, the current way of showing a collection four months before it is available to consumers is an antiquated idea and one that no longer makes sense. We have been living with a fashion calendar and system that is from another era."

And don't forget Vetements, which is already one of the most talked-about brands of the moment, with its underground Antwerp vibes, "it" sweatshirts and famous fans. According to Vogue: "Vetements is taking unilateral action to put a brake on it. From next January, Vetements will be mixing its women’s and menswear collections together." The label will stage two shows annually - the collections will consist of women’s and menswear offerings together - in June and January, between the men’s shows and women’s couture shows, interesting timing to say the least. 

Speaking about the desire to show two unified collections per year, Demna Gvasalia, creative director of Vetements, who also recently began moonlighting as the creative director of Balenciaga, said, "Showing men’s and women’s at the same time connects us to real life. Today, men wear womenswear and women dress in men’s clothes. Gender is not a given fact anymore; a person has the right to choose one. Times change. Splitting genders in two is against the natural flow of today’s reality. Apart from the philosophical point of view, in fact, it saves money and time for everyone, starting with brands to buyers and press."

The End of Fast Fashion? 

Taken together, these changes are certainly slated to completely alter the scheduling, manufacturing, and sales of the various seasonal collections (or better yet, the collections formerly known as Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter). However, let us consider the monumental change they could also have on the fast fashion model.

Fast fashion retailers, such as H&M, Forever 21, Zara, and Nasty Gal, amongst others, bank on their ability to provide consumers with low cost garments and accessories. Their brands are also largely built on the copying of high fashion garments at rapid rates. The aforementioned retailers have been widely successful in churning out accurate line-for-line copies of runway looks, making them shoppable within a matter of weeks of the runway show. That is months before the “real things” hit stores and thousands of dollars less.                 

Given the changing landscape of the fashion market – from the high street to the high end – the potential dangers that stem from fast fashion are significant. Aside from the potential dilution of a luxury brand’s image when copies of its garments and accessories are made available for low costs and at low qualities, high fashion brands actually stand to lose out to fast fashion retailers. This is a relatively new phenomenon, as in generations prior, high fashion consumers would not be caught dead in a mass market retailer’s wares. There was a taboo, a stigma, of sorts, associated with shopping mass market collections, even ones put forth by designers. (We saw this when Bergdorf Goodman gave Halston the boot after he teamed up with J.C. Penney for a collection of more affordable garments).

This has changed quite significantly over the past several decades, and as a result, consumers today have been far less hesitant than those in prior generations to indulge in the mixing of high fashion garments and high street ones. We can see the change very clearly when fast fashion retailers team up with esteemed high fashion houses on a regular basis. Fashion publications and fashion bloggers, alike, tout Zara as a fashionable option to the costly wares of Celine. Nasty Gal is favored for its Saint Laurent, Dior, and Louis Vuitton copies – just to name a few brands that it has targeted. H&M consistently stocks Chloe lookalike garments and accessories. And consumers have responded. Millennials – with their appetite for the fashion they see online (either in photos on Instagram or the Snapchat video of a brand’s runway show) but the funds that fit much more neatly in the realm of fast fashion – have flocked to fast fashion retailers’ websites and brick and mortar locations.  

While luxury brands have struggled to post any significant amounts of revenue growth over the past several years, brands like Zara have been catapulted to the top. The Spanish fast fashion giant’s founder, Amancio Ortega, after all, is the second richest man in the world, according to Forbes’ list, as a result of the clothing venture. In short: the fast fashion sector is booming as a result of its affordable wares that look a lot like ones from the runway, and its operation on a timeline that is far more accessible to consumers (and amenable to their need for instant gratification) than the one that high fashion has relied on. It seems high fashion has finally caught on, and will not longer force consumers to wait months to purchase what they see on the runway.

There is an argument that this change will help to cut down on the copying that has made fast fashion retailers so successful. Designers and luxury conglomerates alike have taken issue with the vast amount of copying that occurs in the fast fashion sector, particularly in the United States, where intellectual property laws provide little practical protection for garments. The Council of Fashion Designers of America, for instance, has backed several copyright amendment bills, which proposed to provide specific sui generis protection for garments and accessories in their entirety, to no avail. Designers – particularly ones in the emerging stages – have spoken out (and continue to do so) in connection with the harm that comes from incessant fast fashion copying, and yet, there has been little traction.

Interestingly, the recent developments in terms of the runway to retail model may be designers’ best bet in terms of shaking some of the rampant fast fashion design piracy that exists. As for how retailers like H&M and Zara will adapt (and they certainly will) is yet to been seen in any significant manner. However, we are beginning to see some small changes, namely, as these retailers begin to stock slightly higher quality and higher cost items.  Long known for their $20 runway copies, such retailers are beginning to add more expensively priced goods to their shelves – both online and in their brick and mortar stores. In a move that includes stocking other brands’ wares, as well as in-house designs, fast fashion retailers are not only aiming to reach out to new customers (ones that may not be tempted by $25 cut-out frocks). 

Unfortunately for designers, the price of fast fashion garments will likely always be in fashion, especially for budget-conscious millennials. As a result, this is one practice that is not going away anytime soon. However, chances are, with designers offering their runway garments and accessories in a see now-buy now-wear now manner, fast fashion brands will certainly lose their several month window of being the only ones with the seasonal garments from the runway. So, that is good news.