The Spring 2017 fashion season was the season of see-now-buy-now.
It was presented as a solution to fashion’s broken system, a sensical business model that has been a long time coming. But see-now-buy-now is adding fuel to a countervailing fashion force: the designer burnout.
Simply put, the trend simply translates into more work. For fashion week, small and large brands have embraced the consumer-facing model, which came into existence in February. Rebecca Minkoff and Burberry’s Christopher Bailey began to break the cycle of out-of-season collections showing up on social media six months ahead of their time of sale, to the dismay of the consumers looking to buy the items then.
“When high fashion is trying to follow the cadence of fast fashion, and when you can buy and see everything online so quickly, that changes the entire system,” said Rony Zeidan, founder of luxury agency RO NY. “There’s no time for the designer.”
Zeidan said that a designer crunch to create new collections in order to meet consumer demand has led to the rise of between-season collection. In-season capsule collections meant to fulfill consumer demand, without disrupting the delivery season of the full collection, only pile on to a designer’s very full plate.
See-now-buy-now made for a notably confusing string of fashion shows, as some designers were showing collections to be put on sale, purchased and worn immediately, and others were showing collections to be put on sale in the spring. Leading the charge of designers fitting their collections into an instantly shoppable experience were Tom Ford, Ralph Lauren, Minkoff and Tommy Hilfiger.
“Designers feel that there are a lot more options than there used to be,” said Laurie deJong, founder of New York Fashion Week production company LDJ. “It’s been overwhelming for them and there’s no right or wrong answer.”
Earlier this year, New York designer Alexander Wang said that the see-now-buy-now model wouldn’t work for his business from a logistical perspective.
“We explored every option,” said Wang in an interview with Alina Cho at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in June. “Are we going to change our fashion show? Are we going to do capsule collections every month? Buyers spend 70 percent of their budget on pre-collections; 80 percent of our business is wholesale, so what we do depends a lot on buyers and what they want.”
Wang’s Spring 2017 fashion show dutifully followed along with the buyer-pleasing model of showing items half a year in advance. But the 32-year-old designer, whose team was already producing 10 collections per year, wasn’t going to let the trendy see-now-buy-now model fully pass his brand by. After teasing it on Instagram, Wang announced a new capsule collection, made in collaboration with Adidas Originals, which would go on sale immediately online and through a pop-up truck tour of New York the following day.
The collaboration approach lets a designer capitalize on of-the-minute consumerism without breaking free from buyers’ schedules completely, but they can also effectively send a designer into overdrive at one of the busiest times of the year. Earlier this year, Wang also made his pre-season collections bigger in order to put more clothing on sale as other collections were being shown in advance on the runway, leading up to his Spring 2017 show in September.
Tommy Hilfiger’s fashion week carnival that debuted his collection with Gigi Hadid was an over-the-top testament to how flashy see-now-buy-now demands designers be, and in the midst of pulling it off, Hilfiger was also designing his core collection.
“It’s a cycle that’s similar to fast fashion: fall and spring, fall resort and spring, pre fall, pre spring, now, capsules,” said Zeidan. “There’s no time for designer to rely on influences and big ideas.”
Other collaborative efforts around fashion week include an athleisure effort by Prabal Gurung, which was announced during fashion week and will be sold through high-end athletic line Bandier. (Gurung’s spring 2017 collection was shown in traditional runway format on Sunday night.) Trendy brand Baja East also entered see-now-buy-now with an assist from Illumination Entertainment. The brand collaborated with the company’s most ubiquitous character, those yellow Minions, for a themed collection.
“The smart ones have learned how to breathe through this period, so to speak. It’s an assist,” said Zeidan. “But creativity will get affected by it undoubtedly. Designers are realizing that business has to be thought out differently, but there will likely be a moment when they go ‘enough.’ Back to two seasons.”
To switch to see-now-buy-now without collaborating with an outside retailer or selling their soul to Minions, brands had to jump through logistical internal hoops. Tom Ford took a break from the Fall 2017 fashion week in February in order to return with a shoppable collection in September. Tommy Hilfiger said that pulling off the Gigi Hadid capsule collection required months of planning and realigning order and delivery schedules. The collection, he shared with the New York Times, was shown to buyers at department stores in January.
“Fashion has to evolve, it’s not a negative thing,” said Zeidan. “But to bend over backwards like this creates stress and reduces creativity. A collaborative collection might water down a high-end brand. It’s all a bit of a mess.”