NYT’s Vanessa Friedman: ‘The customer isn’t always right’

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The customer is king. Except when it comes to fashion, according to The New York Times’ fashion director and chief fashion critic, Vanessa Friedman.

The fashion industry is in the midst of upheaval. Consumers are demanding to get their hands on products as soon as they see them. Luxury designers from Burberry, Tommy Hilfiger, and Alexander Wang, to name a few, have responded by shifting their production schedules, or some elements within it, to offer see-now-buy-now straight off the runway.

Friedman, a former the fashion editor at the Financial Times who’s written for Vogue and Vanity Fair, joined this week’s Glossy Podcast to discuss the changing nature of storytelling across multiple platforms, how brands shouldn’t be too quick to listen to consumer demands, and how fashion still needs to lead.

Edited highlight below.

Customers aren’t always right
The brand shift towards see-now-buy-now has arguably occurred because of consumer demand. Increasingly, if a customer sees something — whether in social media or the fashion press — they want to be able to buy it right away, not the next season.

Friedman argues if brands listen to their customers too much, they lose a sense of authority and their ability to lead, which is what high-end fashion houses have traditionally done with trends. The time between showing a collection and making it available for people to buy it is about giving consumers time to absorb a trend, she said.

“Just because in one moment a consumer says something, I don’t think it’s necessarily the right reason to change an entire business model. If you listen too much to what people want you can’t lead them and that’s what you should be doing as a company.”

It’s too soon to tell if see-now-by-now will pay off

It’s the million dollar question on brands minds: Will a shift in business model pay off? Friedman said it’ll be at least a season before brands will really be able to tell whether it paid off financially.

“Of course someone is going to get a bump in sales the day after a show. Whether that continues in such a way that actually creates a bigger revenue growth than it would have if it was on the traditional calendar, is unclear to anyone,” adding if it is successful, and Burberry, Tom Ford and Tommy Hilfiger say they’ve seen high returns from their changes, more brands will follow.

Finding the medium for the message
Every medium has a role to play in journalism and Friedman was quick to point out newspapers still play an important part for fashion. During the most recent fashion weeks around the world, Friedman had to file stories, as well as handle the Times’ Snapchat account, which gave viewers a glimpse into the long hours fashion weeks often entail. (There were a few snaps of her filing at 5 a.m.). Figuring out the best way to tell each story has been the hardest challenge in a shift to digital, she said.

“As a journalist you have a responsibility to do a different job,” she said about the difference writing for a newspaper compared to a magazine. “You need to get different kinds of information from the different places you visit.”

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