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Why Are So Many Commercial Brands Showing at Fashion Week?

Marc Jacobs, Altuzarra, Derek Lam--all names we expect, and look forward to seeing on the New York Fashion Week calendar. But, J Brand, G-Star, and Juicy Couture? Not exactly what comes to mind when we think about runway shows. We look into why so many mass market brands are showing at fashion week this season.
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Marc Jacobs, Altuzarra, Derek Lam--all names we expect, and look forward to seeing on the New York Fashion Week calendar. But, J Brand, G-Star, and Juicy Couture? Not exactly what comes to mind when we think about runway shows.

At a time when many designers whom we've grown accustomed to seeing on the calendar--Peter Som, Chris Benz, Joy Cioci, and others--have decided to skip the runway show hullabaloo altogether (or at least postpone) this season, we've noticed an uptick in casual, commercial retail brands showing that can be described as more mass and less "fashiony".

There are a few reasons why this is happening.

Historically, fashion week is an event for designers to present new, innovative collections in hopes that it will end up in the pages of a magazine like Vogue or the racks of Neiman Marcus or Barneys. It was a privilege and a necessity.

This is not traditionally the case with established retail brands like J. Crew, Joie and G-Star, for instance, who generally focus their marketing budgets elsewhere--advertising campaigns, events, catalogs, promotions, etc. But now they're channeling at least some of those budgets into runway shows.

"While fashion shows used to be limited to high-style labels, midprice contemporary labels and menswear brands are now muscling into New York," Christina Binkley wrote in a recent Wall Street Journal article. "One reason: No official body controls the calendar, unlike in Milan and Paris, where just a few dozen labels are invited to show in each fashion week." Hence, the overcrowded NYFW schedule.

So, then, why do these brands want to focus their energies on fashion week now?

One reason is image.

"Those brands have become more fashion-centric in the development of product so it puts their work in the context of the bigger fashion picture, which is validating and a good thing," CFDA President Steven Kolb told us.

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"Since our inception in 2001, presenting at New York Fashion Week has always been a goal," said Serge Azria, Creative Director and CEO of contemporary brand Joie, who will show for the first time on the 13th. Joie is carried in stores like Bloomingdales as well its own free-standing boutiques. "As the brand has evolved into a complete lifestyle collection, I thought this was the ideal time to present." Azria also hopes to "expose a different side of the brand" that’s not always seen by the press or the buyers.

"I feel that contemporary brands, like Joie, are starting to show more often. Joie offers affordable luxury and showing during fashion week allows us to showcase a curated selection of styles that represent the brand," said Azria, who also runs contemporary labels Current/Elliott and Equipment. Might those other brands be popping up on the NYFW sometime soon? "Never say never, but we don’t have any other plans at the moment."

“We felt the time was right with the success of ready to wear,” J Brand CEO Jeff Rudes told The Cut, on why the brand is showing this season. Presumably Rudes hopes to change the J Brand's image from a denim-only label to a more lifestyle brand.

It makes sense. Brands now more than ever have to evolve and reinvent themselves to stay relevant. Other NYFW brands currently thriving under that pressure include Kate Spade and J. Crew, both of which have had a slot on the calendar for a few seasons.

Most recently, J.Crew has even been showing at Lincoln Center. "We had never really considered it and it just kind of happened organically," Lyons told us at last night's CFDA/Nordstrom event, about staging a fashion show. "We asked Steven Kolb, 'Can we get on the calendar?' just so we’re scheduled in, so people know, and then it became this snowball conversation, and they were like, 'do you want to come to Lincoln Center?' and we were like, 'yeah!' For us it’s about showing the overarching theme of what we want to say and just the aspirational part of J.Crew and it's nice to be part of the family."

Showing during fashion week also exposes a brand to international press, which is especially important to a brand like J.Crew. The brand used to put on presentations during less-hectic times of the year because, Lyons said, editors told her it was easier for them to go to if it wasn't during NYFW (very true) but, she said, "when we decided to go international as a brand, we realized we were missing all of the international press."

Perhaps international exposure is part of the reason ever-expanding high street brands like H&M and Whistles are both showing in Europe for the first time this season.

Antony Karabus, President of SD Retail Consulting suggests that showing at fashion week can also be a step towards high-profit partnerships. People who are influential in the industry--not only the media, though that's certainly part of it, but also the "business types in the industry," like, CEOs, chief merchants, investment bankers--they're all at fashion week. "More and more retailers are looking to create differentiation and one of the ways in which they create differentiation is if they have these shop in shops, [and] exclusive arrangements with brands."

Karbus also believes it's about a bigger picture of adding value to your brand. "Brands are trying to create more visibility and increase brand value, and that's such a great way to do it from a visibility perspective." he explained. "Look at what happened to Michael Kors," he said, referring to the designer's recent IPO. "And potentially with Tory Burch." People are saying, "I want a piece of that; I want that type of value."

At the most basic level, it seems, showing at fashion week is about exposure--to whomever will pay attention. "Fashion week is a business-to-business trade event right? Brands like that aren’t wholesaling; they’re just selling direct, but it's become an international event that gets a lot of attention and a lot of press, so I think it does exactly that: it creates press and exposure for those brands."