See Now/Buy Now or not really?
“Brands must bring consumers into the buying process and build new production capabilities, so demand for new designs can be fulfilled in days, not months”
Argues Áslaug Magnúsdóttir, Co-Founder of Moda Operandi and TSM Capital.
The usual gossip on the fashion scene and endless speculation about who is in and who is out was secondary this season to a more consuming debate: Should fashion shift to a ‘see now/buy now’ show schedule that would make what's on the runway immediately available in stores?
The shows this February might go down in history as the fashion month that the industry realized the whole fashion system is on the brink to reconfigure. Hot on the heels of Burberry’s announcement that it will be launching a see-now-buy-immediately women’s and men’s show in September, Tom Ford has declared the same thing.
In September, Burberry will combine its men's and women's lines into a ‘seasonless’ show of clothes that will be immediately available for sale. Ultimately, the goal is a see now, buy now order as you watch your ‘must haves’ trot down the runway in real time, but in the meantime, luxury labels are revving up to give fast-fashion companies a run for their money, making the real thing available before the knock-offs.
In the U.S., Tom Ford canceled his February runway show and announced he would instead present his fall line to the public in September, and Tommy Hilfiger declared that he would move to a see now/buy now model in spring 2017. “In a world that has become increasingly immediate, the current way of showing a collection four months before it is available to customers is an antiquated idea and one that no longer makes sense,” Ford said in a media release. “Our customers today want a collection that is immediately available . . . Showing the collection as it arrives in stores will remedy this, and allow the excitement that is created by a show or event to drive sales and satisfy our customers’ increasing desire to have their clothes as they are ready to wear them.”
The chink that was opened by the live-streaming of shows has precipitated a cascading revolution. Digital technology and handheld gadgets have blown open the previously enclosed world in which collections were chiefly for the eyes of editors, buyers, and journalists. Tech-minded Christopher Bailey, Burberry’s CEO and chief creative officer, has spent the last decade pushing and experimenting with every possible new form of connecting and communicating with potential consumers during shows in real time.
However, the shift has so far been met with a resounding “non!” by most European designers. "The notion of see now/wear now, or sell now, is a negation of dreaming, of desire," Kering chairman and CEO François-Henri Pinault, who holds the reins at Gucci, Balenciaga, Alexander McQueen, and Bottega Veneta, told WWD.
He was joined in his rebuke by Ralph Toledano, president of Puig's fashion division, which owns Paco Rabanne, and head of the Fédération Française de la Couture, the governing body for French fashion, who instead called for the in-between seasons known as prefall and resort, which account for many brands' highest percentage of sales, to be added to the official show calendar.
Ultimately the problem lies as follows: while you can ‘technically’ shop the looks now from these forward thinking fashion houses, they won’t actually be shipped for 12 to 18 weeks as reported by fashion body Racked. So, in essence the likes of Burberry is offering a Moda Operandi-type service, in which consumers can pre-order looks and then receive them in accordance with the usual timetable.
With this in mind one can't help but think of a recent interview with A.P.C.'s notoriously outspoken and unapologetic founder, Jean Touitou, who sounded off on See now-Buy now, calling it "a trick for press." He elaborated saying: "The big houses, they are totally disorganized, they don't know how to take risk, they are too big. 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. Believe me."
With all this said, this sartorial chicanery reflects a genuine attempt to bring fashion up to speed in light of lagging sales. These brands may have to work up to providing a larger range of goods for instantaneous shopping. However, a house like Burberry with its financial muscle and vertical integration is well positioned to pioneer such a massive change.