A Runway Experiment Gone Awry


At any one moment, a fashion designer is surging two to three seasons ahead. Timing, as they say, is everything, but in the world of cut and sew it is particularly complicated. Unlike other crafts, say filmmaking or the fine arts, our calendar is neither linear nor is its speed disproportionate. Collections are conceived nearly a year-and-a-half before they come close to the check out counter, and their half-lives are scrutinized and, if lucky, established atop the runway.

While a lot has been said of the superfluousness of this in-between (it’s easy to see why a fur-laden lineup at Louis Vuitton might seem laughable amongst March’s melted snow) the gap in time is not simply for spectacle: Much of one’s seasonal success thereafter is determined in those sweet seven minutes, where retailer opinion, press notes, gasps from haphazard VIPs, and the like all shape the final product six months later.

Recently, a few names have attempted to side step the system with a see-now, buy-now model—an attempt to connect with shoppers at a faster pace than the standard cycle allows. Tommy Hilfiger’s reconstituted, fully-shoppable shows—more carnival than runway—reportedly garner “exciting spikes in engagement and sales” for the according to the designer, and Alexander Wang’s adidas collaboration debut was greeted with a mob-like congregation at the designer’s Spring/Summer 2017 show. “The shortened timeline between seeing the collection and it being available in stores creates a sense of immediacy and generates excitement at the retail level,” comments the latter.

While this might seem conducive to more mass-reaching products, as many such as designer Tom Ford—who just announced he was foregoing the in-season format that he inducted this September—have realized, the paradigm is inherently against the nature of fashion, where opinion still reigns as supreme as time.

Straight-to-buy in itself is no new concept. Indeed, many have indulged an available-now component alongside runway assortments in the last few seasons of memory. Beside Miley Cyrus, an ogre too made a cameo at Jeremy Scott’s Spring/Summer 2015 collection in a short-run, Shrek-themed capsule available afterward, while just this fall Hugo Boss debuted its first shoppable bag, the limited edition Boss Bespoke Soft to tease Jason Wu’s colorful, long haul.

It is in concentrated moments like these that the effect truly succeeds. But the runway, like the image of fashion itself, is about fantasy. To touch hold of a handful of that—even just for a second—is exhilarating. And it sells. The miscommunication happens when it is taken to a larger scale—when everything is available immediately everywhere, the quality of the specialness dissipates and to cut out the people the part of is process is a detriment to the art itself.

“I’m not a big believer in show it and buy it now,” says the designer Marc Jacobs, whose ready-to-wear runway shows unofficially closes each season of New York’s Fashion Week. “I’ll wait for months for something I want, and pay a lot for it; but if I don’t want it, you couldn’t have given it to me yesterday.” Jacobs, still tethering the line of commercial and quote unquote high fashion, is but one of many that haven’t gone the route of Burberry, who notably combined its women’s and men’s collections last year for a foray into same-season dressing.

The format is particularly harmful for small designers who depend on the creative guidance of those outside of their circles to develop their work. Apart from the flash of the presentation, collections are shown as a pseudo-work in progresses—open to the critique and input of the eyes that watch them. While we expect perfection, the conversation that the collection offers informs how it’s translated into production, if it is at all. These experiences, creatively emotional, can many times shape the career of the designer, such as the case of Christopher Kane, who came to public attention tenfold through journalist Sarah Mower’s championship.

The other issue is the wrench that see-now, buy-now throws into the well-oiled machine of retail. While much of fashion concerns rebellion, there are certain realities everyone must address. Buyers add inventory with an allotted budget, editor’s shoot with a seasonal lead-time. Even when a collection conforms to neither time nor bodily appendage—as in the case of Comme des Garçons’s armless Fall 2017 line—it still makes deadline. An off-schedule delivery displaces everyone, including designer him or himself. As Ford told WWD, “You can’t have a show with clothes that have been on the selling floor for a month.”

At a time of increased mobility, today also sees heavy introspection, as the world is searching for what’s next. Progress is, of course, important, but is it worth the cost to cut oneself off? In this few weeks leading up to the Spring/Summer 2018 cycle it will be interesting who will join the likes of Ralph Lauren and H&M or return to the traditionalist schedule in the vein of Ford or Thakoon Panichgul. To fold into see-now, buy-now is, in many ways, an exclamation of authority. In fashion—a format so consumed by beauty and the process of working it out—to jumpstart to that finish line seems premature to say the least.


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