LONDON, United Kingdom — “Fashion immediacy.” “See now, buy now.” “Instant fashion.” Whatever you call it, the concept of presenting a designer collection that can be purchased — and delivered — immediately after its runway debut was once heralded as the high fashion’s antidote to sweeping disruption.
For years, the traditional designer fashion model has been under attack from a variety of players, including “cheap chic” fast-fashion behemoths delivering on-the-nose trends at record speed; contemporary brands fusing luxury-like image and customer service with slick back-end operations and lower price points; and direct-to-consumer upstarts developing closer relationships with consumers on social media. As a result, designer ready-to-wear has been crowded into a smaller, less profitable corner at the top of the product pyramid.
And yet, traditional ready-to-wear brands kept debuting their collections via fashion shows that, thanks to social media, were now consumer-facing marketing platforms, even though they took place six months before the product hit shop floors, throwing fashion’s media and retail cycles out of sync. To make matters worse, when collections did finally arrive in-store, they often failed to match current weather patterns.
For many, the system was broken.
“Fashion immediacy” was seen as a fix, if not to the pricing pressure facing ready-to-wear then at least to the misalignment of media and retail, making collections available to buy immediately after the shows. In the last year or so, dozens of brands have converted to the “see now, buy now” model, some truly committing — including Tommy Hilfiger, Burberry, Tom Ford and Ralph Lauren — others simply dabbling. (Michael Kors, Prada, Proenza Schouler and Christopher Kanehave all launched “see now, buy now” capsule collections over the past two years.)
The limitations of instant fashion’ are apparent, especially for luxury ready-to-wear designers whose output often benefits from the time it takes to develop cultural significance.
Perhaps more than anyone, Tommy Hilfiger went all-in, shifting its production schedules to align with runway shows that were reimagined as carnival-like marketing spectacles. Hilfiger also began partnering with Gen-Z supermodel Gigi Hadid on a series of Instagram-friendly capsule collections that have been shown alongside the namesake line on the runway. The approach works, according to the brand, which says its first in-season runway extravaganza generated double-digit sales growth across in the women’s category. During his Autumn 2017 show in February, Alexander Wang injected shoppable pieces here and there. The denim cutoffs, worn by Hadid’s sister, Bella, sold out immediately. Rebecca Minkoff, the first to announce a shift to in-season runway shows, says e-commerce sales have increased 60 percent since the move.
But the limitations of “instant fashion” are apparent, especially for luxury ready-to-wear designers whose output, which can cost the wearer thousands of dollars, often benefits from the time it takes to develop cultural significance, appearing in magazines and on the backs of influencers. Tom Ford recently announced that he would abandon the model, citing scheduling concerns. Ralph Lauren may not be in it for the long haul. Then there’s the case of Thakoon, which relaunched in September 2016 with backing from Silas Chou and a new direct-to-consumer “designer fashion now” model, only to halt operations this spring, suggesting the consumer was slower to catch on to the concept than expected.
In recent weeks, some observers have taken to saying “see now, buy now” is dead. These claims are exaggerated. But what’s becoming clear is the scale of the investment and operational sophistication required to make the model work. Genuine fashion immediacy requires tight coordination across the entire value chain, from design to retail, and the resources to invest significant marketing dollars to sustain the spike generated by a fashion show. This puts smaller, wholesale-driven brands at a major disadvantage, as they control neither production nor retail and lack major marketing heft.
Fashion immediacy is not dead. But it’s clear the model favours larger, more vertically integrated brands that are willing to invest and drive genuine operational change.