The framework for June began in January.
CFDA president and CEO Steven Kolb met with designer brands at the beginning of the year to discuss a new official fashion week that would take place in June and December, away from the core show schedules in February and September. For the CFDA, the trade group that owns the rights to the New York Fashion Week schedule, a June and December fashion week offered a solution: It would create an official track for designers to get on a new production schedule — one closer in line with customers’ buying behavior — as well as eliminate the need for dual pre-fall and pre-spring collections and offer a break from the noise. While the CFDA has taken a do-what’s-best-for-your-brand approach to fashion week’s ongoing existential crisis, Kolb recognized the industry’s need for some structure while it goes through transitional pains.
“There will be a period of chaos,” CFDA president Steven Kolb said in January. “A core group of designers will root themselves in June and December, and if that business model holds true and proves successful, everyone will migrate and go there.”
But when the first June fashion week schedule for spring 2019 collections was released, only four designers were on it: Alexander Wang, Narciso Rodriguez, Lorod and Rosie Assoulin. What was presented as a forward-thinking solution to fashion’s ongoing dilemma around when, where and how to show collections barely made a blip on anyone’s radar. “New things take time” is the reliable wisdom Kolb and industry observers with hope for the new format have fallen back on, but what’s next for the alternate fashion week schedule is now in the hands of the early adopters and — of course — the customers.
“The timing was very odd”
Showing a new collection in June was positioned as a way to help reduce the frenzy around the February and September fashion weeks. When young designers and small brands are allotted time to show collections in the same week Tommy Hilfiger is hosting carnival-sized runways, it’s easy to get lost in the mix. The problem is that, when you take the anchors out of a fashion week, the whole thing goes adrift.
Buyers and fashion press asked about the event for this story didn’t have much to remark on, because they didn’t realize that it had come and gone, or didn’t make the time to seek it out. One critic called it a flop. Ken Downing, Neiman Marcus’ fashion director, wrote in an email, ‘There weren’t enough shows to get a sense if it mattered or not. It ended up being a non-event.”
Alexander Wang’s show opened with budding it-model Kaia Gerber, but overall, impressions were low, with media impact down by about 50 percent compared to last season, according to Launchmetrics. Designers found themselves facing a sort of catch-22. That noise is easy to drown in, but without it, what’s the draw?
“It’s not to say there’s no future for an event like this — it could catch on,” said Alison Levy, the CMO at Launchmetrics, a fashion marketing platform that handles scheduling for NYFW. “But it is going to be a challenge for the first adopters because they don’t have the support of the anchors to drive the excitement that fashion week brings.”
With a June and December schedule, there was hope that timing could work on the side of designers who decided to give it a try: Buyers and press are already on the move in the month of June, viewing resort collections and men’s shows in the U.S. and Paris. But the impact wasn’t there: According to Launchmetrics data, media impact over the month of June around fashion shows was about 65 percent of what it is typically in September in the U.S., 60 percent globally. When designers’ budgets are already stretched thin, and expensive fashion shows have shifted toward being a marketing stunt rather than a necessity, getting bang for your back is most important.
“The timing was very odd. What resulted was a convolution of men’s and women’s and resort and spring,” said Rony Zeidan, the founder of the agency RO NY. “The CFDA’s strength is in building the community of designers and sharing information. It’s not the organization that sets the behavior. Its job is to get the pulse of what designers are feeling, and then they push initiatives through when there is excitement behind them.”
Kolb wrote in an email that that’s essentially what the organization aimed to do: “We were approached by several members to consider a more formal week in early June, and this was the first iteration.”
“There’s still no one-size-fits-all”
Despite attempts for resolution, there’s no denying that the fashion calendar is a mess.
“We decided not to have a show after much back and forth, which I’m sure a lot of other designers are having right now, because it’s not the same clear path it was four or five years ago. Then it was just what you do; you show at fashion week,” said designer Mara Hoffman. “Now, it’s so jam-packed, and everyone is trying to have a voice at the same time. How do you stand out in that moment?”
What brands need to do, said Levy, is map out specific goals ahead of a show. Who is it for?
“There is this romantic ideology of hosting a show or presentation, and sometimes brands aren’t ready or don’t need to do that. Focusing on a target group of people — buyers, editors or customers — will be key to your strategy, rather than just hosting a large event,” said Levy. “For mid-tier designers, from a marketing perspective, there’s a lot of value in showing when other brands are, because you don’t have the budget to forge a path on your own.”
Kolb said the CFDA plans to continue the formalized schedule in June and December. Levy said that the attention should be paid where she foresees most change happening, which is around the consolidation of separate men’s and women’s shows, and whether or not those are working out in brands’ favor. But as far as seasonal timing goes, it’s simply throwing iterations at the wall until something sticks.
“Good for the CFDA to support designers as best they can, but at this point, it’s like building a house on top of quicksand,” said one marketing executive at designer brand who asked to remain anonymous. “But what it comes down to at the end of the day is whether your label has a name on it that people care about. If that’s the case, put on a fashion show in a cave on Christmas Day. The hand-wringing over seasons is cover for a fear of irrelevance.”