Where Do We Stand?

Susan Devaney

5 min read

It was the crash of 2015. The current fashion system that’s been in place for decades was challenged by the introduction of the see-now-buy-now model. So, where do we stand in line with fashion’s future? 

It’s like we’d been watching a sweeping tsunami from afar in slow motion, knowing it would eventually hit. And it did. From Raf Simons shock exit from Dior and Alexander Wang’s decision to step away from Balenciaga to concentrate on his own label to Alber Elbaz stepping down as Lanvin’s creative director after 22 years, the warning signs were there last year. Not to mention, Diane von Furstenberg voicing, in December 2015, the number of complaints the Council of Fashion Designers of America had received in relation to the current crumbling system. Then came Burberry, announcing that they’d (from now on) only hold two season-less annual shows, and would be introducing a see-now-buy-now model – a structure that would have collections shown in current season rather than six months ahead of time, putting the focus on consumers instead of editors, buyers and stylists. Making it possible for shoppers to buy what they want from the collections online and in stores the same day it’s hit the runway. Then Tom Ford came forward, cancelling its New York show during fashion week in February, and instead made it known that they too would be adopting the same model come September 2016. They’ve completely gone against the grain of the current system and challenged it head-on. The aftermath it’s left in its wake is a lot of change, and a whole lot of uncertainty for fashion’s future.

How do we go about changing a system that’s been set in place for decades? And, will a ‘one size fits all’ model work? “We have designers, retailers and everybody complaining about the shows,” said Diane von Furstenberg last year. “Everything needs to be rebooted.” But that’s exactly what’s beginning to happen. The CFDA [Council of Fashion Designers of America] employed Boston Consulting Group at the end of last year to explore viable alternatives to the current format, with the view of turning New York Fashion Week into a customer-facing event that has prompted many discussions. And, von Furstenberg should know, being the president of the CFDA and a designer who has also initiated change herself. In February, DVF held a small presentation, instead of her usual annual show at Spring Studios in New York City, offering some pieces from her autumn/winter 16 collection to buy the very same night. Of course, the world’s biggest supermodels – from Gigi Hadid and Kendall Jenner to Karlie Kloss – were modelling the new garments with aplomb.

If the new model were to succeed, where would it leave editors? As regular attendees ourselves of fashion week season, from London, Milan and New York to Paris, our publication, like many others, allows the current system to fit with our own publishing model. The editorial process relies on having six months to see the clothes, meet with brands and find their place in particular issues before publication. The see-now-buy-now model will heavily rely on the Internet and social media. Editors, too, will have to adjust their print schedules. “It’s a mess,” said Karl Lagerfeld backstage at Fendi to the Financial Times. “It’s just powdering something that people don’t want to see anyway, to make a statement. But, the reality is that you have to give people the time to make their choice, to order the clothes or handbags, and to produce them beautifully, so that editors can photograph them. If not, that’s the end of everything.” The end of fashion as we know it? “This way is chaos,” continued Lagerfeld. “People who have 300 shops like Fendi can do it, but then you have to make it already six months before, show it to the editors and somebody will see it anyway. That’s impossible. And people who have no retail shops, well, they don’t know what to do.” Lagerfeld isn’t the only one opposing this new system – from Dior, Chanel, Chloé, Isabel Marant and Balenciaga to Lanvin – they have all opted out of paving this new way. 

The accumulation of a variety of elements indicates that the current fashion systems have reached a vanishing point
Li Edelkoort

Italy’s most successful designer, Giorgio Armani, hasn’t stayed quiet on the subject matter either, nor has he initiated any changes just yet. “I think that a revision of calendars is in some ways desirable: The times, and not only the digital revolution, require it. However, I think it is premature to be swept away by the enthusiasm over the see-now-buy-now; for this revolution to be effective and permanent, it will be necessary to intervene on every step of the pipeline in order to create an operating mechanism, not the umpteenth operation of mere communication,” he said in a press release issued in March. “I am not worried about the fact that everything goes online right away on social media – dailies have been doing this forever. I would like to realign the timing of the presentations with those of sales in stores with intelligence, balance and great functionality. This will require time and naturally a strategy fit at all levels, which I am ready to undertake.” Has Mr. Armani offered the best solution to fix a broken system? We should tread with patience, but a change must occur.

In recent months, it’s been a turbulent time for fashion as designers have openly spoken of ‘the crash and burn’. The fashion industry is no stranger to speed when it comes to the creative process. Designers can appear to play a musical game of chairs as they hop from one label to the next, churning out (at least) six collections per year and, leaving a feeling of a merry-go-round style state of play (the most recent being Bouchra Jarrar taking the reins at Lanvin). January is haute couture; March is ready-to-wear, May is cruise, July couture again; September ready-to-wear again; November resort – before we’ve even added menswear to the long list. But, the speed limit has been reached on nearly all aspects of the system. It is clear that brands cannot create any faster, a topic that we discussed in our December/January issue earlier this year, concluding that everyone is fashion needs just a little more time. The young up-and-coming designer, J. W. Anderson, who designs for his own label and Loewe, explained to us in an interview this year with MOJEH how he protects his creative freedom. “I think you decide that yourself. I think that is something in the person. You know whatever you feel is right. At the moment for me it feels right to work at Loewe – if that makes sense? I feel completely creatively free in a very large company – because I live and breathe it. I pretend it in my head that it’s mine. [This allows me] to do my job,” he concluded. Surely, if he adopts the see-now-buy-now model, the fashion wheel will turn at an even faster pace than before?

Is it time to switch seasons? During February and March, the spring/summer collections are shown, and in September the autumn/winter. Respected trend forecaster Li Edelkoort declared to MOJEH many months ago that ‘this is the end of fashion as we know it.’ “The accumulation of a variety of elements indicates that the current fashion systems have reached a vanishing point: a lack of design and textile education, dire manufacturing conditions and unrealistic expansion expectations, overworked designers and absurd delivery drops, an overdose of marketing and a surplus of out-of-touch advertising, an absence of responsible and critical journalism, old-fashioned retail concepts dating from the 19th and 20th century, a drastic economic slowdown and uninspired shoppers, who are no longer interested in the recycling of vintage styles. This means that the economy of clothes will take over from the turnover of fashion,” she told us during an interview in March 2015. As labels continue to come forward, announcing changes both big and small to their delivery schedules, the future of fashion hangs in the balance. It may be a turbulent time for the industry, but (finally) we’re acknowledging and embracing change.