With the advent of online and social media, fashion shows, for many designers, now present a far bigger consumer marketing opportunity than in decades past -- an opportunity that has persuaded mass market brands as well as big-name retailers like J.Crew and Topshop to stage their own presentations at fashion week in New York and London, respectively.
On Sunday evening, Hunter Boots -- a 158-year-old company known almost exclusively for its tall, $150 rubber wellington boots -- staged its first fashion week show in London to create buzz around its expanding ready-to-wear line (and its new creative director, Alasdhair Willis). By all appearances, it worked: The show signaled to the industry that Hunter is serious about this new business venture, and many well-known buyers and editors responded by showing up.
And Hunter did not fail to deliver, production-wise. The company converted one floor of an industrial site into a dark and surreal show space. Leafless trees and benches lined a black catwalk filled with about half an inch of water, through which female and male models later trudged in a wide variety of waterproof gear (mostly outerwear). For women, there were nylon mackintoshes and capes in black and turtle green; military-inspired canvas jackets; and trench coats that looked remarkably Burberry-like in their precise cut, color and detailing (see above, center). Each look was paired with a pair of Hunter boots in a variety of heights; some of the women's were heeled.
Many of the garments -- a knee-skimming green fleece coat and a bright blue down coat in particular -- did not look like they belonged on a runway. It somehow felt very unnatural to see garments you'd expect to find at a North Face store in such a context, as if the models were all wearing the wrong clothes.
But this wasn't about Hunter getting into runway-appropriate clothing. This is about Hunter owning more of their customers' bodies -- and closets -- in the rainwear category. For many women, a rainwear uniform consists of Burberry trench coat or parka and Hunter Boots. Hunter doesn't just want to do the boots anymore; it wants to do the whole outfit, and it's going to do it at a much lower price point than Burberry can or will.
As a unique addition to the show, a magician -- I did not identify whom -- performed card tricks for front rowers before the start, following up with a bizarre act of calisthenics after the final model had walked off the runway (you can watch a video of it here). And then, in the show's most Burberry-esque moment of all, it "rained" -- though it wasn't in fact rain, but playing cards fluttering from the ceiling as the models took their final walk.
Hunter may not be going for Burberry's core customer -- as we mentioned, the companies operate at completely different price points -- but it certainly looks like it's going to borrow a few of Burberry's marketing tricks in attracting its own.