In the age of social media, New York Fashion Week rethinks its format

February 22, 2016

A look from the Wes Gordon fall/winter 2016 collection. Wes Gordon is one of the latest designers to forgo a traditional runway show in place of a format that's more directed to consumers. During New York Fashion Week this month, he released a series of cinematic vignettes to the brand's Instagram page @WesGordon.

Is New York Fashion Week’s age-old model of see now, wear later archaic?

With the bi-annual event in full swing across New York City through Thursday, some designers are re-evaluating whether it still makes sense to make shoppers wait several months for clothes to make the journey from the runway to retail.

Historically, New York Fashion Week’s September shows preview trends for the next spring and summer; the February events showcase looks for the following fall and winter. Sure, these sneak peeks months ahead of time are appreciated — and essential — for buyers to plan their store inventories for upcoming seasons and for media to map out story ideas and photo spreads in advance.

But what about the shoppers who see snapshots of these shows in real time on social media and don’t want to wait to buy them? Is Fashion Week’s current format costing designers sales? And what about fast-fashion brands that have been known to copy runway trends and rush them to stores at more affordable prices long before designers’ pieces are available? Isn’t that damaging designers’ businesses, too?

The Council of Fashion Designers of America, the nonprofit governing body for fashion in America and the organizer of the industry’s Fashion Calendar, made headlines in December when it announced that it hired Boston Consulting Group to help it "create an in-depth analysis and road map for the future of fashion shows," president and CEO Steven Kolb said in a statement. "Designers, retailers and editors have been questioning the relevance of Fashion Week in its current format for some time."

Even Fern Mallis, the founder of the New York Fashion Week format we know today, agrees it’s in need of a makeover.

"The amount of money and work put into these shows should be directed to the people ultimately putting their hands in their pockets and buying the clothing," she told "The industry that needs to see the shows can see them in a more condensed version … that can be rethought. The energy and excitement should be when the clothing is hitting the stores and people can get it immediately."

If Fashion Week does end up shifting to a more shopper-focused structure, it will be just the latest example of designers rethinking their business approaches to make them more consumer centric in hopes of boosting profits.

"The majority of garments in the past that you’d see come down the runway were just fantasy. It created a lot of media attention for that designer, but no one could wear that dress," says Stephanie Taylor, department chair for The Art Institute of Pittsburgh’s fashion retail management and fashion design programs. She’s also the regional director for Pittsburgh’s provisional chapter of Fashion Group International. "If you wanted to be profitable, you needed to make sure the garments coming down the runway were relatable in terms of ready to wear. That’s the reason you’ve seen so many high-end designers go into ready to wear."

Some designers already have started experimenting with fresh ways to unveil their collections. In September, when luxury French brand Givenchy made its New York Fashion Week debut, it set aside hundreds of tickets for the public that were distributed online days before the show and had a separate viewing area for these spectators away from media and celebrity guests. Last season New York City-based Rag & Bone also opened up its show and gave away free tickets to those who used the rideshare service Uber, which has become an increasingly popular mode of transportation during fashion weeks in New York and abroad. Meanwhile, some designers in recent years have forgone the traditional runway show for a season or two to try a more digital approach to premiering their pieces, such as Misha Nonoo’s "Insta-show" in September that pieced together in 170-plus Instagram posts a look book that anyone could scroll through by turning a mobile device horizontally.

As for getting clothes into stores more swiftly after they’re seen on the runway, that’s going to take some figuring out, although some designers already are attempting it. Rebecca Minkoff announced in December that she’ll show her spring/summer 2016 collection again at this month’s Fashion Week instead of a collection for next fall/winter and plans to invite "everyday customers" to the runway show in addition to media and buyers.

"What we’re showing is what’s available right then and within 30 to 60 days out, as well as a capsule of things you haven’t seen," the designer told Women’s Wear Daily.

Rumor has it that other brands might be trying this, too. So keep your eyes peeled this New York Fashion Week — you might actually be able to purchase some of the pieces you see sooner than you think.



Associated Press