Will The Show Go On?
Fashion contemplates the unthinkable: the end of seasons. By Jamie Huckbody.
New York Fashion Week hadn’t seen or heard anything quite like it. “Waddya say? Waddya say?” hollered Kanye West as he addressed a crowd of 18,000 fans at Madison Square Garden. “F*ck Nike! F*ck Nike!” was its response. Kanye West: “Y’all ain’t saying that loud enough.”
The crowd: “F*ck Nike! F*ck Nike! F*ck Nike!” Sprinkled among those who had paid for the privilege of shouting at and listening to the 38-year-old rapper was the international fashion cognoscenti, more used to Ladurée macaron-flavoured politesse than Parental Advisory hip-hop banter.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is the future of the fashion show. “Whatever that thing was —was it a fashion show, an art installation, or some kind of music concert? It totally blew my mind,” said one influential online retailer, totally agog, as she hurtled out of the stadium. “It’s the first memorable show moment I’ve had since McQueen died.” Because for all of the egotistical mouthing off (“My dream ... is to ... be the creative director of Hermès.”), the 21-time Grammy Award-winner called time on the conventional catwalk show: an insular, trade-only event where invite-only guests get to watch predominantly Caucasian models wear clothes that will drop into stores in half a year’s time; an event struggling to stay relevant in a digital age when multiracial Generation Z consumers demand immediacy and to be part of the action.
On the other side of the Atlantic, more seasoned designers were getting to grips with the disconnect between runway and retail calendars. “In a world that has become increasingly immediate, the current way of showing a collection four months before it is available to consumers is an antiquated idea,” Tom Ford said in a statement. “We spend an enormous amount of money and energy to stage an event that creates excitement too far in advance of when the collection is available to the consumer.”
For the past few seasons, Ford has been experimenting with how and when he showcases a collection, and recently, announcing that he has pushed the showing of his Autumn/Winter ’16 collection seven months on from the schedule so the clothes can go on sale the day of the presentation. “Our
customers today want a collection that’s immediately available,” continued Ford. “Showing the collection as it arrives in stores will allow the excitement that is created by a show or event to drive sales.” Christopher Bailey, Burberry’s CEO, also announced that from September of this year, Burberry will collapse the conventional fashion seasons (Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter), the brand’s different lines (Prorsum, London, and Brit), and its men’s and women’s shows into two seasonless annual shows known simply as “February” and “September”, with the full collection being available to buy as soon as the show is over.
It wasn’t long before other designers followed Burberry’s lead. Vetements’s Demna Gvasalia stated that he would be forsaking the main fashion seasons in favour of the more commercially lucrative precollection schedule in June and January, while Paul Smith is uniting his menswear and womenswear design teams and merging his many lines into two collections per year. Some designers on the NYFW schedule quickly maneuvered ahead of the action: both Michael Kors Collection and Proenza Schouler created capsule collections (called Ready-to-Wear, Ready to Go, and Early Edition, respectively) that went on sale in their flagship stores the afternoon of their Autumn/Winter ’16 shows. “We wanted to shorten that time frame, make some pieces and see how [consumers] would react. We don’t want to make any rash decisions or a huge change just yet. It’s an experiment,” said Proenza Schouler’s Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez, highlighting that it will be the smaller, more agile labels that will have an easier time navigating the choppy waters of change. Because let’s face it, the change is massive and will involve turning the fashion system upside down. “You normally design the full show, then you show the show, and then your supply chain starts to kick in. Now, we will be designing the show, and as we’re doing that, we will be passing things over immediately to our supply chain partners,” explained Bailey. “We do not have the answers to everything. We are going to be learning as we go.” It’s no overstatement to say that this new operating model will ultimately affect what you wear and buy, because every stage of a garment’s/accessory’s journey will be changed. It will determine how fabric suppliers develop/create their product; how a boutique places its orders; and how magazines such as Harper’s BAZAAR cover trends. Hold on—will there actually be any agreed trends if editors don’t have the usual four months’s grace to digest, edit, and package the big seasonal themes?
How will the high-street copycats survive if they can’t get a lead on what their high fashion, luxury rivals are putting in store? “The proposed changes to the calendars and moving manufacturing dates are so new that it’s difficult to forecast the effect of such deep change to the structure of the fashion industry,” says Dion Lee.
Back at West’s gig, one NYFW veteran put all of this change in “strictly off the record” perspective: “What are fashion ‘ designers’ supposed to do when it’s impossible to reinvent the wheel but they still have to keep the cogs of industry and commerce turning? All of those people who turned up today wanted a show, and Kanye gave them one. It’s what the Victoria’s Secret people have been doing.” And while there is much uncertainty as to if this is the last season we will see in the old format, there are a few things that are certain: 1) the show must go on; and 2) there is no better place than a fashion happening to see social hierarchy in action.
Because one of the most potent images to come from West’s show was of Kim Kardashian and her family, who sat on the other side of the divide, dressed in a cream and sugary-pink wardrobe designed by West in collaboration with Balmain’s Olivier Rousteing.
There might have been racial inclusivity in West’s model casting, but it seems fashion is ultimately a game of exclusivity. Waddya say, Kanye?
Will there actually be any agreed fashion trends if editors don’t have the usual four months’s grace to digest, edit, and package the big seasonal themes?
Kanye West at the Yeezy Season 3 presentation
Michael Kors backstage at his Spring/ Summer ’16 show
Burberry Spring/ Summer ’16
The Kardashian- Jenner clan at Yeezy Season 3’s show Lady Gaga at Tom Ford Spring/ Summer ’16
Vetements Spring/ Summer ’16
Backstage at Proenza Schouler Spring/ Summer ’16