The Fashion Calendar- Is There Still a Worm for the Early Bird?

In honor of NYFW, I am going to dedicate this week’s posts to all things New York and fashion.  While I write this I am waiting for the Fashion’s Night Out runway show to begin- New York’s largest public fashion show ever.  Although Giselle looks great, Blake Lively looks oily (she could cook french fries on her face- great legs though), and I cannot wait to see 150 Anna Wintour approved looks, I started to think about the real ramifications of including the public in the fashion calendar.

The history of NYFW goes back to the early 1900’s when American designers were trying to steal Paris’ spotlight as the global center of fashion and apparel.  Although not centrally organized in one location until the mid 1990’s- due in part to the ceiling collapsing during a Michael Kors’ show- Fashion Week has always showcased the latest of designer offerings a full season early, allowing for buyers to determine what styles they wanted to order for their departments and the fashion editors to understand the trends and style accordingly.  Although the idea of seeing Spring Summer fashions for 2011 this week while I am just now breaking in my clogs for Fall 2010 is absurd, the need for this significant lead time made sense when retail buyers and fashion mags were the gatekeepers to mass market fashion (accomplished through the trickle down effect from on- high to down- low), but as we discussed in Who is Leading Who, those days are more over than Tim Geitner’s career.

Rather, the tides have shifted and the  consumer is deciding what she wants to adopt from each designer’s proposal.  This has become possible for two reasons-  the first is the magic of social networking.  If you take a look at the official Mercedes Benz Fashion Week SS 2011 calendar, you will see a list of the 15 designers (and we are talking the best in show here) who are offering a live stream video of the show.  Fashion Week used to be exclusive and the seats coveted because access was limited.  But if all you have to do is program your browser to the designer’s home page and watch the new collection get strutted down the catwalk by Chanel Iman, at the same time Anna Wintour does, why should she decide what you should like?  Guess what, she shouldn’t- you should. In less than one second you can voice your opinion- both verbal, written and economical  through blogs, Facebook posts, Twitter feeds, etc.  The communication channel that once was a direct line from designers to editors is now actually a triangle, with the most important touchpoint being the consumer.  After all, why should Michael Kors listen to Anna- how many bags or furs is she buying?  Zero- she gets gifts.  The rich housewives of Texas and Washington DC are buying his jackets- that is who he should listen to!

The other major reason why the consumer is a key influencer in determining the trends to be adopted is the short production time achieved through vertical integration.  The cycle time from design to prototype to sample to final product is shorter and shorter, allowing consumer’s feedback to be considered and incorporated into the design change for subsequent deliveries.  Burberry designs their jackets in some part according to what its blog stylists suggest- now that is power.

So, the question really is- if elite access to Fashion Week is no longer elite, consumers have a direct line to designers, thereby passing the editors and buyers, and the cycle production time is reduced, WHY THE HELL ARE WE STILL SHOWING COLLECTIONS OUT OF SEASON?  Sorry for the caps, but I really don’t understand and it is frustrating!!  Donna Karan seems to be the only one getting this.  She recently had an ingenious comment regarding how to remedy the issue of misaligned shows and deliveries  when she told WWD,

“It’s very simple, we just stop. It is not nuclear science, it’s really simple. We deliver Fall clothes in August like back-to-school, we change the calendar, we go to stores and say, ‘Okay, no more getting Fall clothes in July or June so they’re on sale in September when the weather hasn’t changed. We have to go into a system where we’re talking in-season. It’s the way we eat, it’s the way we dress, it’s the way we think. We’ve conditioned the consumer to buy on sale — I don’t want to buy it full price because I can buy it on sale…We’ve turned our business into the white sale business.”

Duh.  It does make sense, and you would think that other designers would prefer to not have to rush to get out of season clothes made only to have to offer discounts within a month because they have been sitting on the floor for six weeks.   A simply genius idea- buy a shearling jacket when its cold and shorts when it is hot.  How clever.  Please fashion industry, I beg of you to get on board!!

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