Burberry and Tom Ford, along with a handful of smaller labels like Rebecca Minkoff and Vetements, have recently announced that they're forsaking the traditional fashion calendar and showing collections that will be immediately available for purchase. With these blockbuster announcements — plus the news that the CFDA is taking a hard look at the existing NYFW format — it's clear that change is coming on a bigger scale. The days of waiting six months for that incredible sweater you saw on the runway seem to be coming to an end.
For beauty buffs, it could be even better. "There's an accessibility and immediacy that beauty's always had on the runway," says Emily Dougherty, Elle's beauty and fitness director. "Because if you see a beautiful lip, you can recreate it. The magic happens when somebody makes something that's a shade you haven't seen before, like a weird muted chalky violet lip that all of a sudden looks so amazing and fresh and there hasn't been one you can go out and buy." In the current system, you'd have to wait six months and hope that color gets produced. In the new system, maybe you'll be able to get that exact red lipstick you saw on the Jason Wu runway right away instead of trying to mix all of your existing reds together and hoping for a match. I've ranted before that one of the things that is broken in runway beauty is the fact that brands often showcase products and want digital press backstage to cover them, but they won't land on your eyelids until the next season. It's the same complaint that fashion fans have, except I'd argue that more people would buy a $20 red lipstick right away than a pair of $2,700 Tom Ford boots if they were able.
This is obviously fantastic for beauty brands. Unlike a fashion collection, many beauty collections are planned a year or more in advance, so having new makeup available for a show and for purchase immediately poses less production challenges than it does for fashion. Theresa Yee, the senior beauty editor at WGSN, says that her agency starts identifying trends two years in advance. Larger beauty companies often work on a similar timeline. "Brands like MAC and Maybelline are already showcasing new products [on the runway]. They'll still be creating the products before the runway show, often months before," Yee says.
The potential benefit is most obvious for brands like Burberry, Tom Ford, Gucci, Armani and Chanel that have their own full makeup lines and can coordinate with the fashion side of the business. Burberry and Tom Ford's beauty teams are already presumably starting to plan for September and the new format. (At Burberry shows I've covered backstage in the past, the brand usually has a display set up of the upcoming season's collection for press to see.) Burberry has experimented with the see it/buy it concept in beauty before, putting three nail lacquers on sale via Twitter right after they debuted on the brands' spring 2015 runway. Tom Ford is still keeping its beauty strategy to itself, though obviously planning for the change. A Tom Ford beauty representative said in an e-mail, "We are not able to share the details at this time, but hope to continue with the fashion/beauty alignment for AW16."
Beauty brands that sponsor fashion shows but aren't affiliated with brands will also be affected — but likely for the better. While representatives for MAC and NARS, which collectively sponsor the most high-profile shows at NYFW every season, declined to comment for this story, brands that invest heavily in fashion show sponsorship would likely be rewarded with more precious "impressions" than ever. If products that makeup artists use on the runways become available immediately, that automatically makes them a newsworthy item. As a beauty writer, I could simply tell readers about how the product performed and what it looked like, which is what happens now. But it's more compelling to write about for a digital audience if it's available immediately. In this world of short attention spans and immediate gratification, that's a pretty powerful thing.
How magazines will handle a new fashion system has been debated. While it could affect the availability of fashion samples to shoot, a see now/buy now system likely won't affect how print editors cover runway beauty, according to Dougherty. "Fifteen years ago I could do a runway review that was like, 'This was the red lip at Dior' and my readers wouldn't have known about it. Now everybody knows what red lip was at Dior [as soon as] the first girl hits the runway," she says. "The goal of print has always been to let you dream and let you sit back and be inspired by what you might want next. Beauty has always been so immediate on the runway that covering runway [in print] has always been a different animal. You have to go a little bit deeper to contextualize the trends. We already have to think about our coverage in a bigger way." Which is also good news for brands, because editorial coverage in magazines is obviously still extremely valuable.
There are, of course, a few potential downsides. First of all, it costs a lot of money to sponsor a fashion show as a beauty company (a rep for a very small beauty brand recently told me that designers at NYFW were asking for $15,000 to $20,000). Since this investment could result in lots of press, buzz and immediate sales, more beauty companies may want to do it, but brands without a big marketing budget could lose out. It could also really increase the (in my opinion) already way too commercial vibe backstage. (Designers, however, could benefit and receive more beauty sponsorship money over the long haul to help fund their shows.)
Finally, anytime you increase the commercial aspect, you potentially risk artistic integrity. As Yee points out, "Trend forecasting is even more important when companies are revealing and immediately selling the catwalk ranges. Designers and brands will have placed their bets on what trends they want to design around ahead of the show." This might not be ideal, according to Dougherty, who hopes that the hair stylists' and makeup artists' visions won't be limited or compromised. "It's awesome for beauty as long as we're not hurting the artists' creativity by forcing them to stay within a palette that was decided by a corporate panel a year and a half earlier."
Ultimately though, a new runway format seems like an ideal situation for beauty brands and beauty buffs alike. Dougherty says, "Any time you can see something, fall in love with it – especially if it's a lipstick or eye shadow — and buy it immediately, that's a win-win for everybody."