The Current State of Fashion: See Now-Buy When?

Ermanno Scervino showed a Fall/Winter 2016 collection consisting of embellished coats, mosaic print suits and lace dresses during Milan Fashion Week last month. In accordance with the traditional runway-to-retail schedule, consumers will have to wait several months before the garments and accessories from Scervino’s runway show are shoppable in stores and online. Scervino is one of the designers currently fighting the overwhelming effort to make runway fashions shoppable instantly.

Fast and Loose or Slow and Steady?

Scervino says his clothes take time to make and he has no plans to follow other labels selling their items straight off the catwalk, effectively bridging the traditional six-month runway-to-retail gap. "I think that it is not for me, it is not for (products of) excellence," Scervino told Reuters. "We have long (designing) time frames. I am not interested." He joins New York-based Jason Wu and Paris-based Rick Owens, who are also shunning the push towards faster fashion.

The recent Fall/Winter 2016 Fashion Week in New York, London, Milan and Paris demonstrated the current divide amongst design houses in terms of the delivery schedule. Some, such as Burberry, Prada, Michael Kors, and Paco Rabanne, have made certain runway looks shoppable immediately following their F/W 2016 shows (hence, the See Now-Buy Now moniker), following in the footsteps of Versace and Moschino, which have both been testing the water of insta-capsules for some time now.

Burberry largely led the charge, with its creative director and CEO, Christopher Bailey, announcing earlier this year that the house would shun the traditional delivery model, which tends to see clothing being made shoppable roughly 6 months after the corresponding runway show. Speaking of the decision to speed things up, Bailey said: "If we are Instagramming, live-streaming and showing the collections, we can't expect a customer and a consumer to tie in with a traditional kind of calendar. So I do think we all need to evolve and change but I don't think that there's one rule that fits everybody."

Per Reuters, buyers are welcoming the fast fashion move, namely when brands have customers in different climates. "I think the changes have been a long time coming," Ed Burstell, managing director of Liberty store in London, said. "No one can understand now when they see something 'why do I have to wait six months to buy it'."

But opposition remains.  Christian Dior CEO, Sidney Toledano, for instance, has disapproved of the sped-up timetable, saying: "How can a collection like the one you've just seen be delivered to the shops tomorrow? That would mean we'd manufactured it six months ago and put it in the fridge ... When you put a collection in the shops the following day, that means that the selection from the runway has already been made -- you're taking a risk."

He’s not alone in such thinking, either. Francois-Henri Pinault, chief executive officer of Gucci-owner Kering SA, has nixed the idea as well, holding that making consumers wait as long as six months to buy a collection “creates desire.” Additional execs from Dior, Chanel, Saint Laurent and Hermès agree that customers have no problem waiting to buy collections. And last but not least, Ralph Toledo, president of the Fédération Française de la Couture du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode - the body charged with organizing the French fashion calendar and overseeing the creation of couture - has spoken against the move, saying: "Our clientele is educated and informed on how the system works."

But What About the Consumer?

It is worth noting that nearly every house that is speeding up its runway-to-retail model has cited the consumer as its motivation to do so. Houses want to “better serve” their customers. “In a world that has become increasingly immediate, the current way of showing a collection four months before it is available to customers is an antiquated idea and one that no longer makes sense. Our customers today want a collection that is immediately available,” Tom Ford said recently. Speaking of the new runway-to-retail model, Ken Downing, fashion director of U.S. department store Neiman Marcus, noted: “Customers buy now to wear now. They understand shopping in the moment and those are the clothes that they are looking for.” And finally, Burberry’s Bailey said: "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 consumer.”

It is also worth noting that the consumer is likely more confused now than ever before. Some brands have announced that they will continue to follow the traditional runway show schedule, staging collections in September/October and February/March. Others, such as Vetements, have decided to show at different, non-fashion week, times. And then there are some that have opted not to show their collections at all.

Some brands have chosen to adopt the See Now-Buy Now model, which according to Burberry’s timetable is not much of a See Now-Wear Now situation, as once you See Now and Buy Now, you also have to Wait Now (for 12-18 weeks or so) for delivery. And still, there are other brands that have announced that they will follow the traditional runway-to-retail model, which entails a roughly six month period between the runway show and delivery to stores.

In short: in its attempts to “better serve the consumer,” the industry is arguably an even bigger mess than before. As for how this serves the consumer at all is yet to be seen, but from where I stand, it seems like there is much work yet to be done.