It was inevitable for Marcus Wainwright, Rag & Bone's co-founder and newly titled co-CEO, to share his thoughts on the buzziest topic in the industry at the moment, the fashion calendar, in front of a sold-out audience at the Fashion Institute of Technology on Wednesday night. (The day before at SCAD, the Public School designers explained how they ditched the traditional format to a similar kind of crowd.) But instead of focusing on runway schedules, Wainwright was more concerned with deliveries. In conversation with Emma McClendon, a Museum at FIT curator, Wainwright also spoke about combining men's and women's shows and the brand's future. David Neville, the other half of Rag & Bone, was away traveling.
So what exactly do the folks behind Rag & Bone think about the current fashion schedule? Wainwright said a fast-paced cycle has always been the norm for Rag & Bone, which was founded in 2001 but didn't officially launch until 2004. "I think the most ridiculous thing is when you deliver or when people expect you to deliver the clothes," he said, noting that seasonal deliveries are largely dictated by department stores. Wainwright pointed out that his brand, along with others, delivers fall pieces in July; it's normal to spot a shearling coat on the sales floor in the summer. "New York in July — you can't even breathe here," he added. "The 'buy now, wear now' thing is absolutely where fashion should be." (Not to be confused with "see now, buy now," which refers to runway show schedules.)
Wainwright explained that department stores still think women buy their pieces at the beginning of every season. But that's not exactly the ideal shopper anymore. "It's you guys," he told the audience, a mix of fashion students and professionals. "You buy when you need it." But Wainwright was quick to bring up that challenging the format comes with complications. Should Rag & Bone decide to sell coats in November, when it's actually cold, as opposed to August when these items usually hit stores, the brand's inventory will have to compete with coats that are already on sale by that time. "Unless everyone else does it, it doesn't really work," said Wainwright.
But Rag & Bone already disrupted the industry's traditional rules by opting out of New York Fashion Week: Men's, and showed its men's and women's collections together during New York Fashion Week in February. (Burberry, Gucci and, most recently, Public School plan to combine menswear and womenswear into one show, too.) Wainwright and Neville have experimented with how to present the men's collections. They originally showed Rag & Bone's two collections at the same time — mainly out of convenience and budget — and have also presented menswear in London in 2013, and with a video starring dancers Mikhail Baryshnikov and Lil Buck in 2015. The latter was an approach that Wainwright prefers for the men's line. But he wondered if runway shows are even going to exist in the future, especially if they become consumer-facing? "If it's best to show the consumer, is a fashion show that none of you guys can come to really the best thing to do?" he asked. (Perhaps that fashion week ticket giveaway for the public, which Rag & Bone hosted with Uber last year, didn’t turn out as well as expected.)
It was interesting to finally hear Wainwright's thoughts about the current state of the industry, considering that Rag & Bone has been successfully chugging along for the past 15 years. And while he and Neville are thinking about the future of runway shows, fashion schedules and the like, the duo are also prioritizing Rag & Bone's retail points, both online and with flagship stores. The focus was a piece of advice from Ralph Lauren himself, who met with the two founders at Anna Wintour's request in 2007 when they were a part of the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund. "It's such an important part of a brand to be able to tell your story truly in your own retail environment," said Wainwright. "So what's next for us as a brand — and the biggest challenge — is really to focus on the direct-to-consumer relationship. The future is clearly in that area. It's insane how fast [e-commerce] moving."