When labels play havoc with Fashion Week calendars

On February 10, Alexander Wang staged his last show scheduled as part of New York's official fashion week calendar. Wang, one of the designers the US media loves the most, has decided to pull out of the traditional presentation calendar and show his collections in June and December. And now that the New York Fashion Week has finished, to a chorus of mixed reviews, and has lost some of its most popular names to Paris, its dates are officially an issue.

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Alexander Wang - Autumn/Winter 2018 - Womenswear - New York - © PixelFormula

Paradoxically, the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) is supportive of Wang's decision, and is considering setting up a new event in its wake. The CFDA is encouraging other labels to consider showing in parallel with Alexander Wang's new dates, possibly to the detriment of the current calendar, to better adapt to the market's new demands.

London too, has been hit by these upheavals, especially its menswear week. It lost star label Burberry, which since 2016 is staging a co-ed show during the women’s week, while Vivienne Westwood has gone digital and Jonathan Anderson opted for an atypical presentation in January. Like an increasing number of labels, Jonathan Anderson decided to hold only two shows per year as opposed to four, in order to "reduce the usual gap between the show period and the time when collections are commercially available."

The Milan Men's Fashion Week has also shrunk considerably. Some labels have decided to show during the women's week, and others have migrated to other fashion capitals.

"We cannot call it instability, rather an evolution. The fashion system is changing the way it works, and the interaction between labels and consumers is becoming increasingly important. The shift has become even more noticeable as mixed shows have grown in numbers," said Claudio Marenzi, President of menswear trade show Pitti Uomo.

"One third of the shows at our men's fashion week are mixed gender, and there are about ten of them at the women's week too. Either approach is valid, depending on the label's strategy. Labels with a limited number of directly owned stores are showing their womenswear collections early, during the men's week, so as to have more time to produce them. Those with more control over their retail organisation are showing both collections together during the women's week, in order to reduce the time lag between presentation and sales," said Carlo Capasa, President of the Italian Fashion Chamber (CNMI).

"Nowadays, everything is interconnected. I think that instead of making a distinction between women's and men's fashion weeks, we ought to talk about five specific fashion moments during the year, calling them simply 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5, corresponding to the events in January, February, May for the cruise collections, June and September," suggested Capasa.

For some observers, it is the catwalk show format itself that is being questioned. Given the changes that are occurring, it is no longer justified, according to Luca Solca, an analyst specialised in luxury goods research at Exane BNP Paribas: "Catwalk shows had a commercial justification when they targeted buyers. With the decline of the US department stores, and now that most labels have established a proprietary retail network, they no longer make sense. Not to mention the impact of cost-cutting policies. A show is now akin to a mass. It has become a religious rite. It is in the interest of fashion labels to refresh the genre by modernising their presentations."

After showing during the Women's and Couture weeks, Vetements chose the Men's Fashion Week for its latest Paris show, at the Saint-Ouen flea market last January - © PixelFormula

Italian label Etro gave it a try in January, immersing the media, buyers and general public in a presentation/event that simulated a major auction sale, where models strolled with easy nonchalance amidst the spectators and a plethora of vintage collection objects, creating a stunning, amusing setting. It was a certified hit.

The success of Vetements, the label by influential designer Demna Gvasalia, is in no small part due to the fact he is a past master at popping up where he is least expected, skipping from one calendar to another, picking outlandish venues and sometimes even ditching shows altogether.

"The current fashion week calendar no longer works. In particular, the womenswear weeks in March and October come at the worst possible time commercially, and also in terms of image, since collections are sold months in advance," said an industry professional who wishes to remain anonymous, adding that "major labels don't care, since they manage sales internally and are free to do what they want with their image. The problem exists chiefly for small and medium-sized brands."

Bullied by the market, and unable to compete with major labels on their own ground, smaller labels are actually the keenest to experiment with new strategies. Many of them solved the problem by choosing to show in Paris, where visibility is guaranteed, but earlier in the season, during the Haute Couture Week, which is held just after the men's week.

For example, US label Proenza Schouler, which for the last two seasons showed its women's ready-to-wear collection at the Paris Couture Week. "Previously, we lost a huge amount of time preparing the show, when most of the business was actually made with the pre-collection, up to nearly 80% of our sales. We chose Paris because this allows us to show during a fashion week, while presenting our collections earlier and to a larger audience, in January and July in other words, rather than in February and September in New York," said Jack McCollough, who leads the label with Lazaro Hernandez.

Ellery followed the same approach but with a totally different strategy. It staged its first show at the Paris Couture Week last January, while beforehand it used to show during the Paris Women's Fashion Week. "Being an independent label, which can only grow through self-financing, chasing after a calendar set by the major names was too difficult," said the label's founder, Australian designer Kym Ellery. Like many others, she now wants to focus on only two collections per year, as opposed to four (two main collections and two pre-collections).

So, last January, Ellery's next ready-to-wear winter collection was already fully available for sale. Part of its was shown then, alongside a selection of more couture models, and the rest will be unveiled in February via a virtual show. "This gives me more time to manufacture and deliver. Five months as opposed to three in the past," said Ellery.

Looking for variety, Moncler now taps eight different designers for its collections - DR

There are other sings: the increasing number of pre-collections, including menswear ones like those by AMI, first launched in 2017, and Balenciaga, shown for the first time at the beginning of the year, as well as the emphasis now given to cruise collections. Also, the trade shows' race for earlier slots in the calendar: organisers are making every effort to adapt their events to a market increasingly influenced by the power of digital tools and social media.

For example, Italian textile show Milano Unica took a revolutionary decision - considering the extra effort asked of fabric manufacturers: it brought forward to July the session traditionally held in September, "to respond to the needs of companies and labels." Equally, several organisers will test new womenswear show formats in Paris next July, in parallel with the Men's Fashion Week.

"It's all up in the air. This is just the start of a profound mutation, as shown by the generalised confusion gripping the whole system. In the last few years, many avenues have been tested, and now we are beginning to see things more clearly," said Milan Vukmirovic, a designer wearing many professional hats, now in charge of menswear at Ports 1961. "These changes and new formats, such as the 'see now, buy now' concept, don't work for luxury [labels], because production is a problem. Six months are too much," he said.

Instead, for medium to high-end labels there are endless new possibilities, as Milan Vukmirovic put it: "What's exciting nowadays is that there are no longer any constraints, because manufacturing is much easier." With Ports 1961, the designer will launch Ports V at the end of March: a unisex, accessibly priced line sold exclusively online with a 'see now, buy now' system, introducing six capsule collections per year. The objective is "to stick much closer to the seasons," especially in order to tap Millennials and other influencers. "Using a logic that is exactly the opposite of what happens in a traditional system, the collections will be manufactured before going on sale," he explained.

Down jacket label Moncler, which will open the Milan Fashion Week on 20th February with a unique, stunning performance, reflects this revolutionary impetus through its new 'Genius Building' project. Moncler's collections will be designed by a team of eight renowned designers and made available immediately after their presentation in Moncler's boutiques and pop-up stores. All in an effort to shorten time-to-market as much as possible, with specific launches every month, offering a host of different experiences to consumers. Enough to cater to the imperative need for immediacy and the compelling craving for novelty which characterise the fashion market today.

Translated by Nicola Mira

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