will the proposed schedule changes fix the fashion system?
The most exciting trend to emerge at the start of 2016 isn't to be found on the runways but in the backstage corridors of fashion's most powerful and exciting houses; the changing attitudes of designers towards the traditional fashion week schedule.
In case you didn't know or need a reminder, men's and women's collections are shown twice a year in New York, London, Milan and Paris. For the fashion press and buyers, that's four months of the year on the road, and for designers, especially those who design for both sexes, its four shows a year. Not to mention Couture, Cruise, and Pre-Collections, all of which merit at least a lookbook if not a show or presentation. Essentially it's out of control, and the entire fashion system feels close to exhaustion.
Into this maelstrom of completely knackered people stepped Burberry. Under Christopher Bailey, who's both CEO and designer, the British house is seen as an tech innovator, if not necessarily a fashion one, so perhaps it's no surprise that they would lead the charge. Last week they announced that they intend to combine their two menswear shows, previously held in January and June, and two womenswear shows in February and September into just two shows combining all genders. For a house of this size, this seems a great idea, and fights the viewer fatigue that can come from a quarterly showing of trench coats.
Even more revolutionary however will be that the clothes will be available to buy immediately, and the advertising campaign will be released at the time of the show. This confronts another timing issue - frankly, by the time clothes reach stores, we're over them. There's already been another show, rip-offs are available on the high street, and we've seen the campaign on social media for months before it reached print magazines. This way, Burberry can retain that initial impact.
Following hot on their heels was Tom Ford's announcement that he'd be delaying his autumn/winter showing till September to coincide with the product hitting his stores. Referring to the four month gap between runway and retail as "from another era", Ford seemed to firmly align his house with the future in this move, where customers will be able to see Gigi et al smoldering down the runway and then be able to run out and buy the same garments.
Whilst both these moves are brave, the reality is that both Burberry and Tom Ford are enormous companies with slick, vertically integrated systems - they have both the size to absorb any initial financial shock, and the money to implement their plans.
This is why it's interesting that the third brand making an announcement last week was Vetements, the Parisian collective helmed by Demna Gvasalia, and currently the most critically young feted label, who in three collections have introduced a whole new silhouette into the fashion world. Despite having a plethora of stockists, the young label isn't exactly at Burberry level yet - their currency is in cool rather than cold hard cash. "Showing men's and women's at the same time connects us to real life. Today, men wear womenswear and women dress in men's clothes. Gender is not a given fact anymore; a person has a right to choose one. Times change. Splitting genders in two is against the natural flow of today's reality" said CEO Guram Gvasalia to Vogue.
All true. Just as relevant however is the fact that most retailers spend the majority of their budgets on pre collections. Vetements showing their collection in January, two months before show season, means their main collection has an extended shelf life. Echoing comments made by Raf Simons shortly before his departure from Dior, Guram believes that giving designers time, in this case his brother, is essential to their creativity, and thus two collections a year is vastly preferable to say, six.
What do all these changes mean? Currently, not a lot - until they've been given a few seasons to mature, the three brands serve as test cases for the rest of the industry. Despite the clout of Burberry, it doesn't quite have the same impact as if say LVMH made all their brands' collections available after the shows. Or the Kering group combined all their collections into two genderless presentations.
It is however a step in the right direction - never mind designers and press fatigue, more exhausting would be having to read another article about how tired they all are. The solution is to do less. I know that's facetious, and there are lots of factors, but it's sort of true. I mean, if Burberry can do it, why can't they too?
Best case scenario; Burberry makes a killing. Bored customers flock to their stores, both online and concrete, and buy the beautiful collection they've just witnessed. Press are thrilled to see a Burberry show, there now only being two a year. It's quite an event. Tom Ford reclaims his place as king of exclusivity. And Vetements retain their outsider allure, not having to dilute their brand with pre collections. The sea change that revitalises the industry, is widely imitated, and everyone goes back to making lots of money - people want to buy fashion.
The worst case scenario would be both Burberry and Ford having a go at it, it doesn't work, so they go back to traditional presentation methods. There isn't really a worst case scenario for Vetements - whatever they do is going to be achingly cool. They just might sell a few less hoodies.
Hopefully what will result is a middle ground. Due to a few less shows, fashion slows down a little bit. Clients respond with renewed enthusiasm for a product they perceive as more exclusive and exciting. Designers are less tired and do more brilliant work. If just one of these things happened, it's worth it.
Text Jack Sunnucks
Photography Jason Lloyd Evans, Vetements spring/summer 16