While much of the fashion world struggling, and apparel brands seeing reduced sales across the board, Amazon is using the moment as an opportunity to further its attempts to get a foot in the door of luxury fashion. But that foothold comes with a number of caveats.
Common Threads, Amazon’s new platform with the CFDA for luxury designers to sell online, doesn’t address any of the issues that luxury brands have stated they have with selling on Amazon. In the past, brands have told Glossy that having their product lumped in with lots of other brands, having little control over how their product is framed and seeing that Amazon has done little to curtail the prevalence of counterfeit goods on its platform have all strongly dissuaded them from selling on Amazon.
“Nothing about it is a good fit for a luxury product,” Tina Lutz, founder of Lutz Morris, told Glossy in January.
Common Threads doesn’t remedy any of these issues. Instead, it offers a bare bones experience that’s still tethered to the overall Amazon ecosystem, according to fashion writer Christina Binkley. Common Threads is hosted on its own page but it’s still just one of many on the main Amazon storefront. While luxury has resisted Amazon so far, desperate times may finally give Amazon the leverage it needs to fully break into luxury fashion. Still, some are not impressed with the quality of Amazon’s first big foray into luxury fashion.
“They finally got their foot in the door, but if you look at the customer experience, it’s the same experience as buying coffee filters or something,” Binkley said. “The imagery isn’t better, the information you get about the product is actually less in some cases than you could get about those coffee filters. For something that costs $1,600, you want to see a lot of angles, you want to see it motion, you want the brands to have some control over how it’s presented. You want some story about the brand. This looks really bargain basement to me. I’m pretty shocked that this is their first big go at luxury fashion.”
Numerous luxury brands have begun looking at non-traditional channels to improve cash flow during the crisis. With department stores falling out of favor for luxury brands, many are turning to resellers like Vestiaire Collective and off-price outlets like Tmall’s Luxury Soho platform.
The designers participating, all of which come from the CFDA’s A Common Thread grant, partially financed by Amazon, range from brands that already sell with Amazon like Phillip Lim and ones that don’t, like Batsheva. These younger, smaller brands are the ones most in need of stability right now, compared to those under big holdings companies like LVMH and Kering. But getting too deep in bed with Amazon is dangerous, said Lawrence Lenihan, founder of Resonance Companies.
“Amazon is a de-brander,” Lenihan said. “They don’t want brands on their platform, they want one brand: Amazon. Everything has to be subsumed into their commoditized marketplace. I don’t know how brands are expected to fit into a marketplace like that. How can you differentiate, when Amazon wants everything to blend together? But desperate people do desperate things, and right now, this industry is desperate.”
Neither Amazon nor the CFDA responded to requests for comment for this story.
If Amazon really wanted to leverage its partnership with the CFDA, an Amazon-branded New York Fashion Week could be another way to strong-arm its way into the high fashion world. From 2016 to 2019, across six seasons, Amazon was the biggest sponsor of Tokyo Fashion Week, where it was presented as Amazon Tokyo Fashion Week. Amazon has since been replaced by Rakuten as the lead sponsor of the event.
“There’s been a lot of competition between the two sides of NYFW, one run by IMG and the other by the CFDA,” Binkley said. “A lot of the big designers have pulled away from IMG, like Michael Kors and Diane von Furstenberg, in the last few years. If Amazon were to partner with the CFDA for NYFW, that would be a really frightening rival for IMG.”
With the idea of a standard NYFW happening this September looking increasingly unlikely, a digital event is much more likely to happen. A CFDA NYFW backed by the vast technological (and livestreaming, through Twitch) resources of Amazon would be a powerful competitor to IMG’s event. Amazon has already demonstrated its abilities here by streaming Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty season on its platform last year. Binkley said she’s heard internally that Amazon considered the show a massive success and is planning on doing it again this year.
But a NYFW under the control of, or heavily influenced by, Amazon may not be the best thing for fashion overall.
“The question is: Is it better to live today so you can fight tomorrow?” Lenihan said, referring to brands now looking to Amazon for stability. “I suppose so. I can’t fault the designers for working with Amazon now. But I don’t think Amazon’s continued influence is good for fashion overall.”