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In the short lulls between these announcements, there's plenty of speculative chatter. Creative directors and brand executives are quoted in trade publications explaining their opposition to certain alterations in how and when presentations take place. (See: Miuccia Prada and Kering CEO Francois-Henri Pinault on the issues of merging men's and women's shows and "see-now, buy-now," respectively.) Others, like Balmain's Olivier Rousteing, say they would be open to change, but haven't made moves to do so yet.
As Karl Lagerfeld told Business of Fashion after his Fendi show in February: "It's a mess."
He's not wrong. Even if you're a diligent follower of fashion news, it's a lot to keep up with. Let's break down what's going down (and why), and run through every single fashion week modification that's happened so far. Needless to say, we'll keep updating as the reports roll in.
What the heck is going on?
Gucci is showing men's and women's together. Burberry is doing the same — and making its entire collection shoppable by the time it comes off the runway. Karen Walker straight-up cancelled her New York Fashion Week show.
Why are so many designers changing their fashion week strategies? The simple answer is their current business model — of which the presentation of new collections to press, buyers, and consumers is an important part — isn't working.
Earlier this year, the Boston Consulting Group issued a report for the Council of Fashion Designers of America identifying a few common pain points. One is that thanks to the proliferation of live streams and editors Instagramming runway looks from the front row, consumers are now familiar with designers' work up to six months before it hits stores. That’s not only a problem because shoppers are bored with the styles by the time they’re actually available, but because it gives fast fashion brands ample time to copy the looks while the originals are in production.
On top of that, product currently arrives to stores out of season. Winter coats, for instance, land on the sales floor when it's still warm out. Because shoppers are increasingly oriented toward buying items as they need them — picking up a new parka once the weather forecast predicts snow — those early deliveries hang around stores for too long and go on markdown just as they're becoming relevant to customers. For retailers and brands alike, that's a huge missed opportunity to sell at full price.
The last source of pressure BCG cites is one you've no doubt heard a lot about: designer burnout. Facing demands to churn out multiple off-season collections in addition to their main ranges, their schedules leave little room for the sort of creative cogitation that produces great ideas. Raf Simons has talked about the unrelenting pace he had to maintain at Dior; Alber Elbaz has been vocal about the fact that creative directors are not machines. If BCG is on board, too, it really can't be good for business.
You can see how brands' fashion week changes attempt to tackle these problems. In showing his fall 2016 collection in September, rather than the previous February, Tom Ford can sell his consumers a collection that still looks fresh and exciting to them. Public School sticking to two collections a year might manage burnout a little better.
Of course, retailers are going to have to get on board if designers' modifications are to have any staying power. Although it's not as though the current system is totally peachy for department stores. The increased frequency of deliveries doesn't necessarily benefit retailers, for instance, says Mimi Fukuyoshi, the divisional merchandise manager for 5F contemporary at Bergdorf Goodman.
"Why do you need another delivery when you haven't even sold through a respectable amount of the delivery that just came through four weeks before?" Fukuyoshi says over the phone. "I think for better or worse, we've trained the customer to want the new, the next thing."
As for bringing men's and women's collections into the same show, that could be a useful cost-cutting measure as the expenses associated with putting on an extravagant experience mount. Besides, it makes sense for designers who steer away from sartorial traditions associated with a gender binary — boys in suits, girls in skirts. At Gucci, Alessandro Michele has been dressing both male and female models in sheer lace shirts, floral suits, and flouncing pussy bows since his debut at the house last January.
What am I supposed to do about it?
You can try to keep up, but it's okay to not become obsessed with figuring out what it all means. What it means, right now, is that the fashion industry is going through a period of major experimentation; designers aren't happy with the system, and they're putting forth possible solutions.
But while it’s tempting to look at this landscape and imagine that brands are engaging in industry-wide multivariate testing — a rather selfless proposition for those whose concepts don’t work — they’re not likely to emerge with one single model for how fashion week should work. In size, budget, and retail strategy, Orley is not Burberry. Public School is not Gucci. Demna Gvasalia may design both Balenciaga and Vetements, but he knows that the two are different beasts and will therefore require different strategies.
So which designers are doing what?
Glad you asked. We'll continue adding to this section as news breaks.
Antonio Marras: With a history of presenting menswear at Milan men's week every June and January, the brand is now merging its men's and women's shows, to be shown during Milan Fashion Week in September and February. (May 9, WWD)
Balenciaga: Bucking the trend to combine men's and women's shows, the brand is giving menswear its own stage. In addition to presenting womenswear as it has always done, Balenciaga will put on a men's runway show for the first time ever in Paris this June. (April 21, Racked)
Bottega Veneta: In honor of its 50th anniversary, Kering's Bottega Veneta will hold a joint men's and women's show at Milan Fashion Week in September, skipping its men's show in Milan. The brand hasn't made any decisions about whether this change in format will be a permanent one. (May 2, Business of Fashion)
Brioni: The Kering-owned menswear brand, which recently hired Mytheresa founder Justin O'Shea as creative director, will show during women's Paris couture week this July, rather than during Milan men's week in June, as it has in the past. (CEO Gianluca Flore calls the offering "pret-a-couture"; select looks will be available for purchase immediately after the show.) Brioni is also streamlining its store deliveries: pre-collections and main collections will now be lumped together, reducing its output to two collections each year. (May 6, New York Times)
Burberry: The British label is going all in on changes to its show format. Burberry will: A) present men's and women's in a single show during London Fashion Week, B) release just two "seasonless" collections a year, and C) make the entire range available in stores and online immediately after the runway show. Advertisements will go live with the close of the show, too. (February 5, Business of Fashion)
Cédric Charlier: Despite a history of showing in Paris, Charlier is moving his show to New York this June — and streamlining his pre-collections and main lines into two collections a year. (May 10, WWD)
Gucci: Already in the practice of casting a handful of men in its women's show and vice versa, Gucci will now combine its men's and women's runway shows. (April 5, New York Times)
Karen Walker: The ready-to-wear and eyewear designer cancelled her New York Fashion Week show in September. (May 6, WWD)
Public School: Designers Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne have decided to combine their men's and women's collections into one runway show, which will be held off the normal fashion week calendar in December and June. Titled Collection 1 and Collection 2, the clothes will land in stores a month earlier than before. (April 12, New York Times)
Raf Simons: The former Dior creative director announced that he will show his eponymous menswear brand at Pitti Uomo in Florence this June. (April 14, WWD)
Tom Ford: To close the gap between when a collection is shown and when it hits stores, Tom Ford eschewed showing fall 2016 during New York Fashion Week this past February and will instead show the range — both men's and women's — in September. (February 5, Business of Fashion)
Vetements: The young brand that shot of nowhere to true cult fame will show only two collections a year, in June and January. Vetements will also combine men's and women's clothing into the same collection, because as CEO Guram Gvasalia explained, "today, men wear womenswear and women dress in men's clothes. Gender is not a given fact anymore." (February 5, Vogue)