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Fashion Week's Transformation is Already Underway

Burberry, Tom Ford and Vetements are saying goodbye to the traditional fashion calendar. It's only a matter of time before the rest of the industry follows suit.
Burberry is saying goodbye to the traditional runway collection schedule. Photo: Ian Gavan/Getty Images

Burberry is saying goodbye to the traditional runway collection schedule. Photo: Ian Gavan/Getty Images

For years, it's been apparent that the fashion calendar is in need of a thorough overhaul. The Internet's transformation of fashion week into a consumer-facing event, and the increasing speed of fast-fashion copyists, has exacerbated the traditional four-month gap between the showing of a runway collection and its arrival in stores. And now, following the CFDA's announcement in December that it is "reevaluating" the format of New York Fashion Week, three of fashion's most influential design houses — Burberry, Tom Ford and Paris-based Vetements — have announced that they will no longer conform to the show and production calendars that have governed designer fashion for decades.

On Friday, Burberry surprised the industry by announcing that it will no longer be showing at men's fashion week in London and, beginning in September, will show both its women's and men's collections together at London Fashion Week in a buy-now, wear-now format. Burberry has been heading in this direction for more than half a decade. In 2010, the brand began live-streaming its fashion shows online, offering a small selection of merchandise — mostly accessories — for viewers to purchase immediately after the show. Now, it will be offering the runway collections for purchase the minute the show concludes — not just online, but in its stores and at the stores of its wholesale partners around the world. 

"The changes we are making will allow us to build a closer connection between the experience that we create with our runway shows and the moment when people can physically explore the collections for themselves," Christopher Bailey, chief creative and chief executive officer of Burberry, said in a statement. "Our shows have been evolving to close this gap for some time. From livestreams, to ordering straight from the runway to live social media campaigns, this is the latest step in a creative process that will continue to evolve.”

To make it happen, Burberry must completely reorganize its design process and supply chain. The British brand, whose customers today live in a variety of climates, will design "seasonless" collections labeled "February" and "September" rather than "Autumn/Winter" and "Spring/Summer." To get clothes in stores in tandem with the shows, Burberry plans to work much more closely with its production partners as the collection develops. "You normally design the full show, then you show the show, and then your supply chain starts to kick in," Bailey told The Business of Fashion. "Now, we will be designing the show and, as we’re doing that, we will be passing things over immediately to our supply chain partners to say: let’s look at the lead times on this; how can we work with this factory to get this on the date that we need it? As we are starting to create the collection, we will have to commit to fabrics or trims or embroideries. It’s more of a partnership than a hand over on one specific date." Wholesale partners will continue to come in as the collection develops, but they'll have to place their orders earlier. Longtime campaign photographer Mario Testino will will also be on an earlier schedule, shooting Burberry's ads so that they can be released right after the show.

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A few hours after Burberry's announcement, Tom Ford revealed that instead of presenting his women's autumn/winter 2016 collection in New York next week as planned, he will wait and show it alongside his next men's collection in September. It, too, will be available for purchase online and in-store the same day as the show. "Fashion shows and the traditional fashion calendar, as we know them, no longer work in the way that they once did," Ford said. "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."

Vetements is taking a similar, albeit less strenuous, approach. The Paris-based label — whose creative director, Demna Gvasalia, was recently appointed creative director of Balenciaga — announced that, beginning next year, it will show its men's and women's collections together in Paris every January and June, two months ahead of the rest of the shows at Paris Fashion Week. Guram Gvasalia, Demna's brother and CEO of the label, told Vogue that it no longer makes sense to show its collections on the main schedule when 70 to 80 percent of retailers' budgets are being spent on pre-collections (i.e., resort and pre-fall), and when pre-collections get to enjoy so much more time on the sales floor before being discounted. Instead of showing its autumn/winter collection at the beginning of the year and delivering it in June, Vetements plans to show spring/summer in January, and deliver it to stores one month later — in actual time for spring.

By so dramatically shifting their show and production schedules, these brands are hoping to achieve three things: 1) to encourage consumers to make impulse purchases after seeing new collections on the runway; 2) to increase the number of goods sold full-price; and 3) to prevent fast-fashion copies from hitting shelves before the original articles do. It won't be a shot in the dark — Burberry, as mentioned previously, has already experimented with selling off the runway. And Moschino, under Jeremy Scott's direction, has repeatedly sold out of the runway capsule collections it has made available for purchase online and in-store immediately after its shows (and really deserves a lot of credit, I think, for bringing about these changes). Still, shoppers have been so well-conditioned not to buy full-price that I wonder how many will be tempted to purchase the runway collections right away, especially when doing so is no longer a novelty. And while closing the gap between collection reveal and store arrival will make planning and production more difficult for fast-fashion copyists, I have little doubt that they, too, can get faster. They are already able to churn out some pieces, from concept phase to store shelf, in as little as two to three weeks.

One unexpected casualty may be the men's shows, another source of complaint for an industry that is already on the road much of the year seeing women's and couture collections. As part of their shift to a new schedule, Burberry, Tom Ford and Vetements all announced that they will be showing their women's and men's collections together. Other large brands that design collections for both sexes may find that it no longer makes sense for them to show separately, either. And without those big brands, will the men's shows have enough pull for buyers and press to attend? We'll have to wait and see.

As Bailey himself acknowledges, the answers aren't all there yet. And what may work for Burberry, which sells the vast majority of its merchandise through its own channels, may not work for a designer business that sells mostly through department stores. Likewise, what's best for Tom Ford may not be what's best for a company that doesn't derive the bulk of its revenue from licensing. But no doubt about it, we're about to enter a period of incredible transformation. It should be fascinating to observe.