A few weeks ago Giles announced he was leaving the London ready-to-wear runways to join Paris' Haute Couture Week and accommodate in this way his end-consumer, since he could do the Autumn/Winter show in July and deliver the orders in September.
The relentless rhythms of the various fashion weeks were mentioned in the news about Giles' shift together with another issue - should collections be available straight off the runway?
Burberry has just provided an answer: as you may have heard, the company announced yesterday that in September it will show seasonless men's and women's wear collections together on one runway.
There will be another runway in February, so shows will be twice a year, scaling down from four catwalk shows to two. Twice-yearly pre-collections will be integrated into the main runway event and the brand won't be showing anymore its menswear shows separately. In a nutshell the new presentations will be "seasonless", simply branded "February" and "September" rather than Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter.
So far, so good, you may think, as it sounds like the rhythms may end up being more reasonable with more cohesive and compact runway shows. Yet there is a twist in this story: Burberry will indeed make all the collections immediately available online and in-store; window displays in its stores and media campaigns will also be immediately updated as soon as the curtain comes down on the catwalk. Enter the buy-now-wear-now collections and the direct-to-consumer shows.
This, you may argue, is just a natural development for Burberry: first they did live-streams, then they gave the chance to customers to pre-order the new designs straight off the runway, not to mention its live social media campaigns.
Actually Burberry is not the only company going down this direct-to-consumer path: Matthew Williamson, Misha Nonoo, Thakoon Panichgul and Rebecca Minkoff among the others have also decided to put the focus on those consumers who don't want to wait six months for the clothes to arrive in store and have followed the "see-now-buy-now model"; other designers such as Marios Schwab and Thomas Tait are instead aiming for one-on-one showroom appointments.
Brands such as Moschino sell capsule collections, unseen catwalk looks or limited editions from the new collections online ahead of or after the show happening (mind you, Moschino can do so because the items on sale are usually basic printed pieces such as a dress, a T-shirt or a sweat and some accessories with cartoonish characters, so we are not talking of exquisite pieces at Haute Couture level).
The British Fashion Council has also organised a consumer event entitled London Fashion Weekend, that, located at the Saatchi Gallery, will kick off two days after London Fashion Week (25th February). The event will feature Emilia Wickstead, Holly Fulton, Mary Katrantzou and Temperley London. Shows will be repeated from two to four times a day, focusing on just one designer, but there will be the chance to see designer talks, and trends presentations as well. The public will have access to the events and will be able to buy directly from designers (a shopping area will also feature 150 brands on sale, including Fyodor Golan, Linda Farrow, Pringle of Scotland and Osman among the others).
Around the same time Burberry announced its new plans for September, Tom Ford revealed he will be switching his A/W 2016 women and men's wear shows to September as well, cancelling the previously planned presentations originally schedule for 18th February, and making collections available to buy online and in-store on the day of the presentation.
"We spend an enormous amount of money and energy to stage an event that creates excitement too far in advance of when the collection is available to the consumer. 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," Ford stated in a release.
Yet, the chaotic state the fashion industry lies in at the moment was caused by itself: for too many years now there has been the sad trend of giving consumers the impression that the beautiful people and the vapid celebrities going (or being paid to go...) to fashion shows were having a great time (and they probably were), but the main point and final aim of a show - selling quality pieces by generating a tangible desire for them - was lost in between pictures of what a high profile blogger may have found in a goodie bag, the backstage images of models taking selfies of themselves and the Instagram post about the supposedly healthy refreshments offered before/during/after the show.
This superficial image of the fashion industry also affected trade shows that often turned from an occasion for discovering and interviewing new brands and designers into passive events where armies of peacocks turned up to be passively photographed rather than to actively get engaged into finding more about the real industry. It is undeniable for example that Pitti Uomo has turned into a convention of cosplayers clad in brightly coloured printed suits with William Morris-meets-a bad acid trip patterns with no clues about garments and the clothing industry, but firmly believing they are the next big dandy thing after "Beau" Brummell, Oscar Wilde and Gabriele D'Annunzio (check out instead Pitti Filati where people mainly go to see, buy and sell yarns and not to show off what they're wearing or their personal iconic status...).
This fashion earthquake started by Burberry will have some major consequences. The first casualty will be fashion journalism, or rather, what was left of it. Though by now coherently written in-depth fashion show reviews and analyses are already rare, what will be the point of a collection review, if consumers are the final critics, and, once the show is over, they can decide what to buy without really caring about the meanings and messages behind a collection? (well, you're right in most collections nowadays there is actually no message...).
So a key point is to wonder in which ways publications will be engaged and demand will be predicted. Burberry stated that editors and buyers will be able to see the collection weeks before, but any official information about it will be embargoed (frankly, this is surprising for Burberry and it sounds like going backwards rather than going forwards...), so that editors will be able to see what will appear in the magazines (wait a minute, editors or also independent journalists? High profile bloggers or also less famous ones and how long will you be dedicating to such appointments?) and buyers will still be able to put in their orders.
Yet further problems may happen in the production chain: manufacturing companies will have to change their holiday schedules to conform to the new fashion rhythms, they may have to produce things even faster and they may end up giving priority to big and powerful clients, shipping later on prototypes and collections to smaller and younger designers. Burberry is a huge company and to make sure it delivers what it has promised it needs a very flexible supply chain and may revert to tendering part of the collections to companies in other countries such as Turkey (where Syrian refugees without any working permit may be currently being exploited by the garment industry).
Another consequence of this new schedule may be the loss of separate women and men's shows, and while you can see a point in that, considering that quite a few companies have been merging at least the menswear collections with women's pre-collections, you wonder if this may have an impact on trade shows as well, and if this will eventually mark the end of the catwalk as a spectacle.
Not everything is bleak, though: some commentators state that, in this way, fast fashion brands will stop copying the runways and immediately churn out in their stores the latest trends that will land in designers' shops only in six months' time. Yet again you wonder if designers will actually lower their standards to be able to reschedule the collections and make their garments and accessories immediately available.
One key issue of this rescheduling situation is indeed unclear: how many pieces will these two collections a year include? Because, while it would be sustainable to produce a limited quantity of men and women's wear high quality pieces, if the two collections turn into Leviathan monsters, it will be practically impossible to preserve the quality (Giles left the London runways to make fewer designs and deliver them early; it would be impossible for a house such as Valentino to preserve the current high standards if they tried to make a collection available four rather than six months in advance). It takes indeed a lot of time to manufacture a high quality garment and maybe consumers should be reminded this point rather than being told to desire and lust after a coat that could be conjured it up in their own wardrobe not via a magic wand but with a credit card.
In a way it feels like Burberry may be reducing shows not to increase creativity, but to make things faster and expect to register instant sale growth by capitalising on the thrill of the new (did they ever consider the possibility that consumers are not buying designer pieces because they are not instantly available but because they don't look desirable enough; because they are bombarded with images of hideous celebrities wearing this or that; because in some European countries it was an extremely mild winter and some consumers decided not to invest in wintry stuff; and, last but not least, because, in turbulent financial times, people may simply not have enough money to do so?).
At the moment there is no way to tell if the buy-now-wear-now model may be the future, but there are equal chances to succeed and to fail as well. For the time being, the latest Burberry and Tom Ford's decisions may have started a very fashionable fork bomb: their examples will surely be followed and replicated by other brands, eventually the process will deplete system resources, causing resource starvation and crashing the system that will eventually implode. There is something to cheer up about this all, though: after the crash, we will be able to rebuild the industry in a more sustainable and human way. There's just one thing to ask Burberry now: just don't open a bloody record label, we already resent Bailey's "curatorial" music skills and there's a limit to the indie miserabilism infused with ukuleles that each of us can suffer in one life only.
Member of the Boxxet Network of Blogs, Videos and Photos