New York Fashion Week and Connected Consumers
It’s September in New York. Hot, summerlike, but signs of fall are rushing in and the pumpkin-spice everythings are out in full force. I’m here visiting our East Coast clients and finding energy and synergies that can only truly be found with an in-person conversation. I’m a bit old school that way. Besides, New York has a drive and passion that inspires me.
September also carries with it the buzz and electricity of New York Fashion Week (NYFW). Designers join together with press, buyers, and many well-connected and deep-pocketed trendsetters. Attendees spend the week floating from show to show, party to party — all in front of the cameras and the rest of us adoring fans. Four to six months later, we see the fruits of this fashion flurry when those designs, or modified versions of them, reach the retailers. Six months. In today’s time, the notion of seeing something debut and then having the opportunity to purchase it six months later is too long to wait, and the fashion industry knows it.
That’s why showcasing a collection has begun a much-needed metamorphosis. Devices, social media, consumer online behaviors, and simply a desire for change in the industry have driven designers and the organizations behind them to alter how they debut collections and even how long they wait to make those collections available for purchase.
A Brief History
NYFW (then called “Press Week”) began in 1943 under the direction and leadership of Eleanor Lambert. The idea at the time was to bolster American fashion and showcase apparel to the press who had typically been looking to France for inspiration. Lambert was also the first to pioneer the grouping of designers and collections by season and organized the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA). Of course we know this approach to fashion events stuck and thrived. NYFW moved to a single location in 1993 and called itself “7th on Sixth.” Today, the shows are no longer housed at the same location — see the list of designers and locales for September’s events. Those that are close to the industry know that NYFW is just a stop on the global tour where designers debut their collections across four countries twice a year.
A Shift in Power
In December of last year, the CFDA formally announced they were looking into how to make changes that would lead to more of an everyday-consumer-focused fashion week. With the evolution of technology and social media, designers are finding themselves channeling new creative energy around content, format, and venue. It’s more than just delivering a new collection, but delivering that collection immediately online to the connected consumer who wants an all-access pass.
Plainly speaking, the consumer is driving big change in the industry. Written earlier in the year, the New York Times had this to say:
This [spring] is turning out to be fashion’s season of existential crisis. Suddenly designers are asking big questions about ‘purpose’ and ‘effect,’ re-examining the system on which they rest. And they are doing it in the cold, blue light of the smartphone’s glare. They are doing it, arguably, because of the smartphone’s glare.
Designers have met the all-connected-consumer challenge head-on. This fall, Burberry, Tom Ford, Ralph Lauren, and Tommy Hilfiger debuted “see now buy now” collections. Meeting the consumer need also carries with it a host of manufacturing and marketing challenges that had to be dramatically shifted to meet the new purchasing requirements.
Burberry chief creative officer and chief executive officer Christopher Bailey said:
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.
And Wes Gordon, a designer, said:
There’s a conversation happening in fashion right now about change, evolution, and what’s next. I just felt less excited than usual about going into another runway show. I kept coming back to the idea of storytelling. Fashion at its best is about a wonderful, beautiful story, and I realized I felt restricted in the way we’d been doing shows.
So back to New York in September. It has me thinking: while technology evolves, leading to the possibility that soon we’ll be attending everything virtually, there’s still something to be said about the in-person experience — about being there — physically there. There’s still something magical about a runway show. Designers will have to work hard to continue that energy and electricity when they debut collections to the connected consumer watching and ready to purchase now.