Is fashion week dead?

Burberry's Fall 2016 Fashion Show

It’s the question on everyone’s lips. Not “when can I buy it”, as some might argue (and which, true, is another hot topic this fashion month), or even “who’s the girl I’ve never seen before and am suddenly seeing in all the street style roundups” (though, truth be told, there’s a fair amount of that happening, too). No—the question everyone seems to be debating as we close out London Fashion Week and head straight into Milan is: Is fashion week dead?

On the one side are Tom Ford, Burberry and Tommy Hilfiger—fashion houses that recently announced they were moving to a see-now-buy-now show model. And even though these changes largely won’t take effect until next season, the message was clear Ford summed up the view neatly in a press release: “In a world that has become increasingly immediate, the current way of showing a collection four months before it is available to customers is an antiquated idea and one that no longer makes sense.” And so came the death toll for fashion week as we know it.

But on the other hand, social media seems to prove the opposite. Sure, Diane von Furstenberg’s “House of DVF” party presentation was slated by some critics, but tot up the followings of Irina Shayk and Karlie Kloss, just two of the dancers-cum-models who posted images from the presentation on their own Instagram accounts, and you’ve got a reach of 10 million right there. Surely that’s some sign that fashion week is alive and kicking.

In any case, it’s a serious enough issue that the Council of Fashion Designers of America has asked The Boston Consulting Group to step in and study the future of fashion shows. Their goal? “Fixing what many industry experts consider a broken system that confuses consumers,” according to a report in the Washington Post.

It probably helps to recap on why fashion week came to exist in the first place. In the early 20th century, fashion shows were for buyers to see collections and place orders, which designers then used to manage their budgets and how much they produced. Magazine editors played a similar role, except instead of placing orders, they pulled, shot, and featured key pieces for print, which operates on a minimum three-month lead time before an issue hits newsstands.

In the 21st century, the conundrum for fashion week is this: what’s more important, reaching your potential customers the second you have their attention, or ‘romancing’ a brand and cultivating an insider view of the industry in the hopes of developing a more loyal customer in the long term?

Interestingly, Francois-Henri Pinault, CEO of Kering, the parent company for Gucci, told Business of Fashion today that Burberry’s plan to make its collections available immediately after a fashion show “negates the dream” of luxury – and making customers wait as long as six months “creates desire.”

Could this be true? I, for one, have been coveting the pastel-hued, pom pom-and tassel-embellished dress of dreams since I first saw it sashay down the Chloé runway last October; the same goes for the hatbox-style bags Mansur Gavriel presented last fall and, frankly, every look in Gucci’s standout geek chic Spring 2016 show. And while the Chloé dress remains out of my reach, I’ve invested every last penny on Gucci pieces since the spring collection first started trickling into stores.

On the flip side, Burberry, which presented its Fall 2016 collection in London on Monday, showed some beautiful military-inspired coats, sequined dresses, and gorgeous, embellished floral blouse—many of which I loved, but none of which, were they available now, I’d rush out to buy. So perhaps it’s Pinault’s view of luxury to which I personally subscribe?

In an interview with the New York Times, J.W. Anderson took a similar view. “Often, you need silhouettes and collections to marinate; you need to get used to them,” he told Vanessa Friedman after showing his ‘60s-inspired collection on Saturday. “If these hit the stores tomorrow, they could sink,” he continued, referring to a collection that included shirts with sheer, ruffled trims, coats with space age-like collars and miniskirts with multi-coloured, curvilinear hems. “But I’m not interested in accessibility. I’m interested in clothes that are very good, or very bad.”

Of course, there are the financials behind these designers, too. Sales at J.W. Anderson have reportedly grown by double digits since its namesake designer signed on as creative director at Loewe, the historic Spanish house; Loewe has seen similar success, opening 40 points of sale since Spring 2015, according to the Wall Street Journal. Gucci recently reported its strongest revenue growth in three years, with more growth anticipated, thanks to new creative director Alessandro Michele.

On the flip side, Burberry is apparently struggling. But in an interview with the Washington Post, Anusha Couttigane, a retail expert, argues that even if Burberry’s consumers might be financially cut off from the brand now, keeping it front of mind by creating immersive experiences and embracing non-fashion-endemic social media channels such as Periscope stimulates a following “not only among Burberry loyalists, but potential customers too, and this plays an important role in recruiting future custom.” So perhaps we’re simply yet to see Burberry’s growth materialize?

Leandra Medine, the prolific blogger behind Man Repeller, takes another view on the ‘death of fashion week’ altogether. “Maybe we’re reading fashion week as a trend,” she wrote in a recent post. “And maybe we feel like the ‘trend’ of fashion week has ended. Are we deluding ourselves into believing that fashion week is ‘out of style’?” Her solution: remember that fashion week was never about the clothes, after all, but the lives we orchestrate and live in those clothes. And just stick it out.

And stick it out we will. And in the meantime, as brands compete for the limelight – whether that’s social media limelight, customer dollars, or accolades from the old guard of the industry—we’re sure to see even more exciting, new fashion show formats emerge in the weeks to come. Stay tuned.

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