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Banana Republic's fall 2016 presentation.
Banana Republic's fall 2016 presentation.
Andrew Toth/Getty Images

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Instantly-Shoppable Runways Are Here, But Do They Work?

What happened with Michael Kors, Proenza Schouler, and Banana Republic at New York Fashion Week

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"I just thought of the craziest idea of all," Kanye West proclaimed this week, "I'm going to sell winter coats in the winter!!!"

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We're not sure if Kanye is out of the loop or effectively trolling the fashion industry, but his declaraction is timed with a sudden surge towards in-season fashion shows. The immediately-shoppable fashion shows model being adopted by brands like Rebecca Minkoff and Michael Kors is the biggest schedule shake-up since since, well, Kanye.

Now sold-out wide leg trackpants ($135) from the Tory Burch fall 2016 runway. Photo: Edward James/WireImage

The schedule has never quite made sense from the consumer perspective —” why salivate over a Michael Kors coat in February when it won't sit in a store window until August, exactly when nobody wants to be lurching around in a puffy fur coat? It's way easier to wait until November or December, when it's actually snowing out and (bonus!) the coat will probably have gone on sale by then, since it's been sitting on the sales floor for months already.

Until now, for the most part, major designers has gone along with the traditional schedule — spring shows in February and March, fall shows in September and October. But complaints, especially with the way New York Fashion Week is run, have been broiling for a while, and it was inevitable that brands would finally start to branch out and try something new. That new option has been dubbed "see now, buy now" shows, otherwise known as some sort of immediately-shoppable fashion show, catering towards shoppers who want their Proenza bags right now, please.

The immediately-shoppable aspect has been applied to a ton of different shows including several heavy-hitters like Prada and Burberry, but the trend originated at NYFW, where brands ranging from Michael Kors to Banana Republic offered their own take on shopping off the runway. However, because there's no blueprint, brands experimented this season with different versions of the immediately-shoppable fashion show. Here's how Michael Kors, Proenza Schouler, Tory Burch and more did it:

One of eight shoppable looks from Proenza Schouler's fall 2016 runway. Photo: courtesy of Proenza Schouler.

Combined, the noise over this new model is impossible to ignore. Brands are trying to get closer to their customers, the most important figure in fashion, and if that customer doesn't want to buy a giant, furry coat in the sweaty days of August, then maybe that's reason enough for change.

"Fashion has always enjoyed a healthy separation of form and function, but the ‘see now, buy now' system makes labels more accountable for the function of their designs," explains Jackie Chiquoine, WGSN's associate editor of retail intelligence, over email.

"Part of the separation between runway and retail seasons is to evaluate the demand from buyers, editors, stylists, and big name clients," Chiquoine says. "Not every piece from every show goes into production for retail, and a manufacturing process that demanded that would be unsustainable. Collections would have to be shown secretly to insiders (and the fashion industry is always going to foster some desire for exclusivity), which will probably lead to the same kind of leaks we see in the music industry."

Chiquoine predicts that the problems of the fashion week schedule and experimentation with direct-to-consumer shows will most likely break down the practice of showing collections in seasons at all. "If half the designers are doing in-season, and half resist, as most French and Italian designers have so far decided to do, it seems inevitable that people will just stop caring about which season it is, and instead begin to value most just what is new," she explains.

There's still a lot of work to be done to make this a viable business model, especially from a buyer's perspective. "It's hard to wrap our head around the idea," says Gia Ghezzi, Intermix's fashion director, over email. "As a multi-brand retailer it's a more difficult undertaking for our buying team. It would entail changing the delivery and production schedules for the over 200 brands we carry."

Brands are trying to get closer to their customers, the most important figure in fashion.

Outside of New York, key figures in the fashion industry have risen up to vow that they'd never adopt this direct-to-consumer model. As Chiquoine mentioned, the board of directors for France's Fédération Française de la Couture du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers, which is responsible for organizing Paris Fashion Week (similar to the CFDA's role in New York), banded together and unanimously voted to keep the schedule the way it is, with collections shown six months before arriving in stores. Hermès, Dior, Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, Lanvin, and Dries Van Noten (among others) publicly agreed with the decision.

Jean Touitou, the designer behind French brand A.P.C. (which presented in New York this season) told Fashionista that all of the buzz around the new model was a trick for the press. "It will happen one season, two seasons, they will have a lot of leftover stock and then they will switch to another idea. I swear," Touitou said.

"See now, buy now" is a lot easier for designers with their own distribution and production.

Even in New York, not everyone's on board with completely doing away with the traditional schedule. Alexander Wang admitted that while he was jealous that he wasn't ahead of the curve on this one, he didn't see how the model made sense yet. "Eighty percent of our business is wholesale, and with buyers coming into town during market week, we are locked into certain parameters," Wang told the Daily Front Row.

Ultimately, the "see now, buy now" experiment is a lot easier for designers with their own stores, e-commerce operations, and production teams. "Designers have a six month period after they show the collection where they make appointments with buyers to see the collection then they place the orders with their fabric company and then the fabric company sends it to their warehouse then the warehouse sends it to their cutters then the cutters make the actual garment and deliver it to us six months later," says Nancy Zhang, the VP and COO of New York-based boutique Otte. "So, if this one season they decided to do ‘see now, buy now' that means they either would have had to plan this with their retail partners six months ago, or they already decided on this and they have existing stores where they can do this."

Michael Kors fall 2016 runway bag ($1,550) and shoes ($895) to shop now. Photo by Peter White/Getty Images

The underlying problem that direct-to-consumer shows are trying to answer — that customers don't want to wait six months to buy clothes at the wrong time of the year —€” is a headache that retailers have been trying to address for awhile.

"The closer a buyer can sync the product on its shelves or digital boutique, with the immediate, current season fashion needs of its client, the quicker we can probably get out in front of the rampant mark-down schedule that (particularly the American consumer) is becoming accustomed to shopping within," Kate Davidson Hudson, co-founder of online accessories boutique Editorialist, explains in an email.

"When boots and coats deliver in August, for most markets, they're already on markdown by the time the consumer demand ticks up for fall/winter weather gear," she says. "That's a major, major disfunction in the system and that disfunction has major impact on designer and retailer margins."

Pre-spring and pre-fall collections are uber-important to places like Otte; the less seasonal pieces can stay on the floor longer and typically make up about 60% of store revenues. Zhang also noted that Otte made the decision last fall to keep 30% of its budget open to buy, so instead of guessing at what shoppers will want six months from now, Otte waits to place 30% of its clothing orders until the collections are in-season. But it's risky: Otte is dependent on the stock that a designer keeps, so if an item was super popular, designers may have run out of it earlier and Otte misses out on carrying those pieces.

If the industry actually moved towards direct-to-consumer shows, it would mean a giant shift for everyone involved at every part of the supply chain. "For a designer who doesn't have their own retail stores, how would they even be able to offer ‘see now, buy now," Zhang says. "They would have had to design the collection and then project how much they could sell and then order the fabrics and cut it and have it ready to deliver and offer it to the retailers right after the show. I think retailers would love that but it's a huge risk for the designers."

Editors: Meredith Haggerty & Nicola Fumo


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