"There's nobody now who's not talking about it," said CFDA President Steven Kolb last week in London, addressing the industry's changing approach to fashion week — a topic so hotly debated that it led the council to hire Boston Consulting Group to compile a report on the biggest issues concerning retailers, designers and editors. Kolb and CFDA Chairman Diane von Furstenberg were in the U.K. with the graduating class of the CFDA Fashion Incubator program as part of its ongoing partnership with W Hotels, which sends designers on inspiration trips to its locations around the world and hosted a showcase for the group at its Leister Square hotel on Wednesday.
"The conversations were happening — people were talking in the front row at fashion shows, at lunches, at meetings ... so [the report] really put all of that together," explained Kolb before the showcase. Both he and von Furstenberg said they were not surprised by the results. "It's all about about engaging the conversation," she said.
But does that discussion change when focused on the Incubator designers? "That's always been a big conversation in terms of mentors and advice: what should they do?" said Kolb. "We constantly help them understand the different options and formats and actually gave them comfort in making decisions that aren't always about a big show. And that's always been key to the program." He used the Incubator market day as an example of a way the designers can meet editors and buyers without having to spend precious resources staging a major show. "To spend a lot of money... at the beginning of their careers [for] a show and to expose [their collections] to the world, even before they're being sold, is not necessarily the right way," said von Furstenberg. "It's a little bit à la carte."
An à la carte approach was a major theme of the BCG report and the CFDA's subsequent designer guidebook to transitioning schedules. But another issue, "early" delivery schedules that lead to costly markdowns, needs to be addressed directly with buyers. "Retailers now are doing so bad that they are open to everything," said von Furstenberg. "So I'm not worried about the deliveries, that's the first thing that's going to happen gradually. Will it happen all at once immediately? No. But will it happen gradually? Yes, for sure, no question." She added that because of global warming and consumer travel habits (those who go to the beach in the winter, for example), designers should ideally create seasonless collections. "What we should worry about is our consumer: give your consumer what they want, when they want. That's the whole point."
It's already confusing to keep track of the designers and brands who have shifted their schedules and shows over the past six months alone, and surely more will announce changes by September. That means the Fashion Calendar, which the CFDA bought from Ruth Finley in 2014, is going to get more complicated, too. But Kolb and von Furstenberg aren't worried. "We have a system, we have a structure, it's just how it's categorized," said Kolb. "I have no worry that come September we won't have that organized and clearly understood. Will there be a lot of things that are happening? Yes. Will that be a little bit messy because [one] person's thinking one way and then another way?... But in terms of how they access that through the calendar, it will be very organized."
Between guiding the fashion week conversation, mentoring young designers, spurring local manufacturing, launching New York Fashion Week: Men's and partnering with corporations such as W Hotels and Cadillac, which just announced a Retail Lab mentorship program, the CFDA is always juggling many initiatives for its more than 500 members. And coming up on the horizon is a new format for its annual Fashion Awards, which will take place on June 6 at the Hammerstein Ballroom. "It was very nice [at Lincoln Center, its previous location] for a few years and then our members started to say, 'Oh, but why can't we have a little bit more fun and why can't we drink and mingle, and this and that,' so we said, 'Why can't we do it like the Golden Globes?'" said von Furstenberg. "Which may be a total mess." Kolb responded, "No, no it's going to be amazing... By going to Hammerstein Ballroom — which is a beautiful old venue, the original opera house in Manhattan — we have a proper big stage and we can do the dinner... the idea is really to have more intimate interactions and still be able able to produce a show, which is important."
The awards will be filmed this year, but the CFDA has yet to determine where that footage will go ("There's a lot of options on the table," said Kolb), but it doesn't necessarily mean the CFDA is setting the stage for a live show in the future. "It's not the kind of show that you're going to watch because you want to be surprised about the winners in the category," he said. But there will be one surprise come June 6: the Fashion Icon award, which was presented to Pharrell Williams and an almost naked Rihanna at the last two ceremonies. If this year's recipient is someone like Kim Kardashian, as has been suggested online, Kolb might be underestimating the instant interest. "If we go live [in the future], maybe we won't make certain announcements, we'll hold back," said von Furstenberg. It's just another way consumer-facing concerns are impacting the industry: what started as a small gala in 1981 could become fashion's very own Oscars.
Disclosure: W Hotels paid for Fashionista's travel and accommodations.