Within the past few years, it's started to feel as though designers are dropping from the official New York Fashion Week calendar en masse. Some, like Proenza Schouler or Altuzarra, left the city for seemingly greener pastures abroad. Others, like Rebecca Taylor, abandoned the fashion show format altogether. In a world increasingly dominated by social media, putting on a traditional runway no longer makes sense for many; for Taylor, the real moment of truth came after her Spring 2015 collection debuted.
"I remember it vividly," Taylor says. "We'd worked so hard, and the show did look beautiful, but suddenly, we were like, 'Who's seeing this show? Who is this show reaching? Is it going out to the people past the last seat, and show venue?' We realized that most of our customers don't go on websites to look at the shows. Very few of our customers are at the event, so we realized we were really missing a whole chunk of marketing doing a show with all those people not being able to see it."
Misha Nonoo had a similar realization: If the point of putting on a fashion show is creating those Instagram moments for the audience to share, why not cut out the middleman and reach out directly to the consumer?
"I had seen how so many editors would come, and they would all be watching the show through their iPhone screens, taking a picture that they would then upload to Instagram," Nonoo says. "The influencer has changed so dramatically since then. but you know, I'd have Eva Chen in the front row, or magazine editors, and the most important thing was that they then uploaded the picture and shared it with their hundreds of thousands of followers."
Nonoo experimented with shows on Instagram and Snapchat, which allowed for more immediacy for the customer. Abandoning the fashion calendar also lends a flexibility to presenting collections in-season. While others rushed to experiment with "see now, buy now" collections — Nonoo herself tried the format with her Insta-show — designers who skipped the runway have been able to put those same resources into lookbooks and videos that can be released via social media and other channels closer to when the clothes hit shelves without the scramble of pushing up production times. In other words: fashion doesn't have to be limited to two weeks a year.
"I think that, every day, the internet is a show for people; what goes into a presentation and what you want to get across, you can borderline now do in an Instagram story depending on where you are and what you're working with," notes designer Rachel Antonoff. "There's just so much more consumption of content and information than there was when we used to do fashion week. Now I feel like that level of pageantry and attraction is expected on more of a day to day."
By allotting money typically spent on fashion shows to creating beautiful, less ephemeral content, designers can also get more mileage out of the final product than a simple runway image. While putting together presentations with Instagrammable moments, like a Broadway dance number or a school science fair, was working for Antonoff's business in the short run; in the long run, even the most memorable runways didn't maintain a great shelf life. Instead, Antonoff pivoted to a format she'd experimented with in the past: Cute videos starring famous friends.
"We really loved doing that and found that we got not only a great response, but the videos had something the shows don't, which is that they live on forever," she says. "Even pictures of a show, or video of a show, it doesn't necessarily give the watcher the same feeling and experience that they had if they had been there, whereas the video, it's always the same for anyone who watches it. It's just more accessible; it's not an invite-only kind of thing."
Without the added pressure of a fashion show, many designers noted that they had more time to devote to other projects or to the design process itself. "It pulls your focus away from what women really want to wear, to what will look good walking down a runway or what will look good on a screen," says Nanette Lepore. "You need to refocus; we're still doing fabulous pieces and fun stuff that we all want to wear, which is always the key. It's more about researching and doing development in a different way; you can do it in a way that feels like a less under-pressure decision. When your decisions can be more thoughtful and more slow, then it's a smarter decision."
None of the designers felt their customer missed the runway format, or even noticed the change at all; in fact, all noted that experimenting with alternative formats had been a boon to business. "We've definitely grown since we've stopped showing, which is saying something in today's fashion world," says Taylor. And as an added but obvious bonus, brands are able to avoid what Antonoff dubs the "unavoidably, mindbogglingly expensive" costs of putting on a fashion show. While they may still spend the same money on different marketing techniques, the results have been totally different. "I'd probably be able to say that we got a much higher ROI on each dollar that we spent towards the initiatives," Nonoo says.
It's worth noting there are downsides to not showing. Would-be sponsors, for example, are typically looking to attach themselves to fashion week initiatives rather than one-off presentations, which means brands may be on the hook for more money up front. And despite the fact that much of the industry has changed, putting on a fashion show still lends businesses a certain air of legitimacy.
No designer was willing to write off having a fashion show again in the future; some actually seemed wistful for the days of deadlines and the rush of showing a collection on the runway. "I miss the minute the last girl comes off the stage, and everybody's celebrating, before you can get any feedback," Taylor says with a laugh. "It's that sweet in-between that is just so much fun, and we traditionally have tequila shots — but we can have tequila shots any time. We don't need a show for that."
But there is relief in having figured out a way of presenting collections that works for each individual business. With every aspect of the industry in flux — from editorial to retail — designers who have already freed themselves from the constraints of more traditional formats are one step ahead of the competition, who, as Taylor puts it, are currently "juggling with water." If fashion week finds a way to reinvent itself, they'll be ready.
"It seems like I'm waiting for the reinvention; I want to find a way to get back out there, but it also doesn't feel like there's any rush, because everything is so in flux right now," Lepore says. "Everyone's hoping a new model comes along that makes more sense, that is intimate. I think that's what people want; they want to feel like they're being connected to the clothing and the event in a more intimate way than the runway had turned into. It got very commercial and very much of a zoo for a while."
Of course, as long as fashion week continues to hold caché for fashion editors and buyers, there will be brands vying for a spot on the calendar. There are still plenty of contemporary brands showing; Tibi, Kate Spade, Self-Portrait and Ulla Johnson are just a few on the schedule for the Fall 2018 shows. And for brands with the means, or with the beauty and accessories businesses to promote, traditional fashion shows definitely have a place on the schedule. But for more commercially-minded brands, skipping out on the shows may only continue to grow in popularity.
"I think that the shows that exist in Paris — your Chanels, your Diors, these beautiful, beautiful, extravagant, real theatrical shows — I don't think that they're going to go anywhere; I think that they are increasingly important." Nonoo says. "But I don't think that anything that doesn't tick that box of being pure fantasy really has a place anymore."
Homepage Photo: Rebecca Taylor Fall 2014 runway, Joe Kohen/Getty Images