Twenty-seven years ago, a woman named Fern Mallis was the director of the Council of Fashion Designers of America. She realized that the industry needed a unified way for fashion buyers to get an understanding of where fashion was going next and a way to give fashion media a coherent presentation. Being able to see multiple fashion shows together would enable buyers to make their best choices and be a boost to New York where U.S. fashion shows were centered. It would enable more efficient production, then in the process of moving to Asia where long lead times were needed. Mallis organized Fashion Week, coordinating the fashion industry to show its collections all in one week, It created an annual event for New York City and helped the industry select the next season’s fashion more efficiently.
A lot has changed since 1993. Mallis, who has created Fashion Weeks for many municipalities and regions all over the world in her own consulting firm, says, “now is a time to shake up and reset everything.” Coronavirus is the latest reason to question whether a week of runway shows still works, but that’s only the latest problem. There’s a lot more weighing in against Fashion Week than ever before.
A group of independent fashion designers has recently created a proposal it calls “Rewiring Fashion.” The proposal explains that the long lead time from fashion shows to having products in stores makes it less exciting for fashion consumers who have become increasingly used to instant gratification. Also, the fashion cycles are out of sync with real-world seasons. Finally, there’s an enormous amount of time and money spent on travel to fashion weeks in the big fashion centers of the world that might be better used in different ways.
The Rewiring Fashion groups say that Fashion Week is too rigid. Having runway shows as the only format is not only tedious, it’s expensive. Because high fashion models are so costly, a mid-level show can cost $500 thousand or more.
Rewiring Fashion says it’s not just the cost, the fashion show format is too confining for creative people like fashion designers. They want to have events that are more free form, using event structure to help define brands and build excitement for their fashion. They also want to increase consumer participation, no doubt to include non-industry people who are fashion influencers, especially microinfluencers (less than 100 thousand followers) who are increasingly important because they have more authenticity in the market right now.
What Do We Do Instead
The great thing about what will come after Fashion Week is that no one really knows. Greater acceptance of video events as a result of Coronavirus opens the possibility of physical events being staged in ways that make them suitable for remote participation. But it can’t be too similar to watching TV, that’s not innovative enough to attract viewers. London recently tried a digital-only event for men’s fashion but it did not get great reviews or participation; it needs more innovation than just watching it on a screen.
Changes in production technology that allow faster turns in manufacturing and transportation will bring the industry closer to the see-now-buy-now state that fashion designers have aspired to for a long time. That would also open up opportunities for retailers to participate in some way and generate consumer sales directly from fashion events. That’s just the kind of interest and excitement that stores need now to draw consumers in. Changing fashion week timing would stagger deliveries instead of having all new designs appear in stores at once. That gives consumers more reasons to visit stores which will only be good for retailers.
This is a conversation that is just beginning. But it is happening and change will be coming.
How Does This Happen
We are already seeing big name designers like Saint Laurent and Michael Kors express their dissatisfaction with the limitations of fashion week and end their participation. It’s going to take a long time for new formats to get created. But the rumblings are getting louder and the way in which new fashion appears in stores and online is going to change. Like so many changes, it happens slowly at first and establishment forces resist. But if it’s done right, people will join and then everyone will ask, “why didn’t they do this sooner?”