As fashion week moved from New York to London, then to Milan, and finally to Paris, the frantic talk of see-now-buy-now and the future of the fashion calendar got noticeably quieter.
“It’s very much a cultural difference,” said Rony Zeidan, founder of the agency RO NY. “In America, it’s inherent for people to buy. Europeans are a bit more classic in their approaches. There’s a stronghold in Europe when it comes to remaining loyal to heritage and culture, and history.”
Designer brands that have spearheaded the see-now-buy-now, in-season fashion show movement are mostly concentrated in New York and London. This past February fashion month, brands that showed in-season collections and capsules included Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren, Thakoon, Burberry, Rebecca Minkoff, Michael Kors, Kate Spade, Hugo Boss and Topshop Unique — all brands native to the American or British markets.
The impetuses behind the change vary, spanning from a response to customer behavior and a need to get closer to consumers, to the pressure caused by fast-fashion retailers that tear looks from the runway and even climate change.
But traditionalists don’t see rushed consumerism as on-brand for a luxury designer.
Kering CEO Francois-Henri Pinault, who oversees Gucci, Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, Alexander McQueen and Bottega Veneta, has been outspoken about how he sees see-now-buy-now clashing with luxury’s values.
“The notion of see-now-wear-now, or -sell-now, is a negation of dreaming, of desire,” he said to WWD last season.
Clamoring to get what is shown on the runway into stores as soon as possible just isn’t the European way of doing things.
“It’s certainly a cultural difference,” said Chris Paradysz, CEO of PMX Agency. “In America and, to an extent, London, it’s push, push, push [to buy]. France and Italy have a much different cadence. You’d never see Hermès doing that.”
Some European brands like Prada and Christopher Kane are testing a see-now-buy-now capsule (for instance, a small selection of shoes and purses that goes on sale immediately), rather than a full collection. But a capsule collection only quenches the consumer desire to purchase something amidst the buzz of a runway show; it doesn’t solve the problem of current seasonal deliveries being out of tune with modern customer behavior.
“The Europeans are leaning toward the idea that fashion, especially luxury, needs the time to create a desire and demand,” said Aliza Licht, evp of branding and communications at Alice + Olivia.
The Council of Fashion Designers of America, the industry trade organization that oversees the New York Fashion Week calendar, has encouraged designers to test new formulas and see what works best for them. As a result, American designers have basically gone rogue: Tommy Hilfiger hosted a carnival-catwalk hybrid in Los Angeles, Alexander Wang released an athletic-wear inspired collection in conjunction with his annual fashion week party and Rodarte relocated its show to Paris Couture Week. What’s more, an increasing number of designers switched their shows to reflect an in-season calendar.
The CFDA’s Parisian equivalent, however, has spoken out against the shifting approach to the fashion calendar. Ralph Toledo, the president of the Fédération Française de la Couture du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode, which oversees the Paris Fashion Week calendar and couture week, said the Parisian customer is “educated and informed on how the system works,” meaning that when a Dior or Chanel collection appears on the runway, consumers expect to purchase it six months down the road.
For brands that have embraced a see-now-buy-now approach to the fashion calendar, there have been no sales figures shared to prove the model actually drove purchases. Tommy Hilfiger reported a 900 percent lift in website traffic in correlation to the launch of his latest collection, and at the end of 2016, Burberry CFO Carol Fairweather said that see-now-buy-now, while well-received, didn’t have a strong impact on sales.
Zeidan believes that the Europeans are letting the more experimental American brands test out see-now-buy-now. If it works, they’ll eventually follow suit — but it will take a few more seasons.
“American brands have repeated the model, which is promising, but it’s too early to tell,” he said. “The French, and the Italians slightly less so, are more introverted. They move at a much slower pace because they tend to assess, observe and see. If the US does it well and successfully, then they’ll follow.”