More and more, designers are offering their latest looks almost right off the runway. Turns out, there are practical reasons behind giving fashion lovers what they want, right now.
Guests snap photos along a runway at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week.
Picture the perfect Burberry winter coat walking down a runway in February that normally would not be available in stores until the sticky summer heat of August, months later. By then, the desire is gone, and for practical seasonal reasons you no longer want that coat.
Fortunately for fashion lovers, the “see-now, buy-now trend” launched by some of the world’s leading fashion houses last year, including Burberry, Hugo Boss, and Ralph Lauren, delivers to consumers instant fashion gratification. Welcome to the new world of immediate shopping, where customers can see a fashion show and snap up key pieces within hours of eyeballing them.
The Marchesa runway, Fall Winter 2017–18 in February 2017, New York City.
Historically, fashion shows have preceded the release of collections to accomplish several things: reveal trends to buyers and media, allow the brands to coordinate with suppliers to determine the volume they will produce, and begin to take orders. One can expect that the actual looks from the runway will be available to buy around six months after a show. But social media is changing the way that designers interact with customers. “We’ve got Insta, Facebook, Snapchat—all these opportunities to interact with the consumer. There is a sense of urgency; she just has to have it now,” says Shawn Carter, Associate Professor of Fashion Business Management at the Fashion Institute of Technology, in New York.
The trend heralds a new way of buying, whether it is snaring a coveted, hard-to-get item or an entire collection, complete with the makeup worn on the “virtual” runway. “This is very exciting because customers are curating the collections of fashion now, and that is a seismic shift in the way we buy. We are used to having fashion editors and buyers curating it, but now the consumer is saying, ‘No, I know what I want. I’ve got my friends, I’ve got Snapchat, and I’ll tell you what I want,’” Carter says.
Alberta Ferretti, Autumn Winter 2017 in Milan
And while fashion brands are jumping on the opportunity that an instant community of consumer-curators presents, closing the gap between the reveal and the sale also allows them to hold on to the integrity of their designs. After all, in the six months between Fashion Week and when clothing finds its way to the racks, so-called fast fashion companies have ample time to produce similar designs that are “inspired by” a designer’s collection without technically violating intellectual property laws.
Linda Switzer, Vice President of Retail at Wynn Macau and Wynn Palace in Cotai, says the see-now buy-now trend lends itself well to Macau, where demand for fashion is strong. “Macau is a tourist destination, and shopping is an impulse,” she says, noting that fashion lovers who do not go to the European shows can simply buy the collections at the resorts. All Wynn resorts will offer portions of Burberry, Hugo Boss, and Ralph Lauren fashion collections within 24 hours of the shows, and Wynn Palace specifically will have all, or nearly all, the collections—one of a handful of places around the world that will carry all three. “Macau, and Wynn is particular, has some of the highest volume of luxury stores in the world. Wynn gets special pieces due to our affluent and discerning travelers,” Switzer says.
Other brands trying out the trend include Moschino, Alberta Ferretti, and Alexander Wang. Burberry spearheaded the straight-to-consumer model when it announced plans to change the way it creates, presents, and sells its runway collection in February of last year. In September, the brand replaced its four-show calendar with two shows, for the first time combining its womenswear and menswear collections on the runway.
A Ralph Lauren finale, New York City.
At the time of the announcement, Christopher Bailey, Burberry Chief Creative Officer and CEO, said the changes would allow the company 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. From live streaming 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.”
Carter says that designers had generated a sense of urgency by rushing the seasons, giving rise to something of a false demand. “February shows are all about fall, even though we are at the start of summer right now. That’s creating demand, and now people are buying out of season,” she explains.
Supermodel Gigi Hadid walks at the Moschino Autumn Winter 2017 show in Milan.
Burberry, which initiated the new trend, has been at the forefront of identifying its customers and understanding their wants, she says. “They might produce 20 of these beautiful coats and give them to their top customers first. It is then sold out, which creates demand so other customers come to the store. Even if they have to wait a little longer, they will get it.”
Analysts are keeping a close watch on how many brands will participate. In a special report on the trend earlier this year, Fung Global Retail & Technology Managing Director Deborah Weinswig noted that everything from the rise of digitization and manufacturing efficiencies to globalization and even global warming is pushing fashion houses toward more immediate collections. According to a Verdict Retail survey conducted in the UK in June 2016, nearly 86 percent of consumers prefer buying clothes to wear for the current weather, and more than half don’t like purchasing apparel before the next season. Despite the logistical challenges of having to rethink existing supply chains, Weinswig concluded, “It is very likely that the fashion industry will generally continue to evolve toward a more straight-to-retail model.” Retailers will increasingly look toward technological innovations like 3-D virtual fitting rooms and social media tools for customer service. In other words, says Carter, “Fashion is no longer about malls—beautiful fashion is being offered in hotel boutiques, at the airport. Fashion is on your phone and laptop. You can buy it from the comfort of your hotel or your home or when you are traveling.” The mind of today’s customer, she says, reads something like this: “I want it now. I want it in China. I want it in London, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, New York, and LA because customers online are sharing it, Snapchatting it, and tweeting it.” At least one thing hasn’t changed in retail: The customer is always right.