According to Natalie Xenita, executive director at IMG, which organises AAFW, these events are a natural evolution of the traditional fashion week model, as the industry responds to changing consumer behaviour and expectations.
“Over the last decade, the retail landscape has evolved dramatically, with the rise of retail marketing, omnichannel, store-to-door, mobile shopping and click-and-collect,” Xenita told Inside Retail.
“See-now-buy-now shows are another channel for consumers to engage with designers and brands that they’re following on social media. Consumer expectations and how [people shop] has changed so dramatically, so this is a natural progression in how fashion has responded.”
Thanks to the rise of social media, consumers are now accustomed to viewing the latest collections from fashion weeks in the palm of their hands and are increasingly demanding immediacy and instant gratification from brands, she added.
According to Billy Voss, CEO at luxury womenswear brand Bassike, these shows mean consumers can enjoy the full brand experience from designers in the exact environment that it was originally envisaged, from the styling of the pieces to the sound, light and ambience. Bassike is currently juggling preparations for presenting two separate shows for consumers and trade during AAFW.
“I think presenting to the industry is wonderful, and also having the opportunity to present to the customer is exactly the same. A brand gets the opportunity to deliver its creative directly to the customer, as opposed to having that filtered through the media, multi-brand retailers or department stores. There’s a beauty to both sides,” Voss told Inside Retail.
After Bassike’s consumer show featuring their winter collection, the pieces will be immediately available for purchase on their website and through their physical stores, retail partners and department stores.
“In the industry, we’re geared to see things well and truly in advance, but for a customer who’s thinking about their immediate wardrobe, this talks directly to that. We don’t have to think about spring/summer in the middle of winter,” he said. “I think that’s a really positive thing. I guess the other thing is it allows us more time and flexibility to be ultimately working with the newest and most relevant creative on offer.”
Covid: A catalyst for change
It’s no secret that since Covid hit, the global fashion industry has been forced to take a step back and revisit the traditional ways it has operated over so many years, from its impact on the environment to how fashion weeks are conducted. According to retail expert and partner at The Growth Activists, Rosanna Iacono, opening the events up to consumers is one solution to keeping up audience numbers, despite the changing way buyers operate.
As Iacono pointed out, since international travel has been off the cards in the past year, businesses will now understand the operational and financial efficiencies they gain when buyers simply shop via wholesale digital platforms rather than hopping on a plane for fashion week. This is likely to be a permanent change for some brands.
“Secondly, we have seen consolidation in the number of traditional multi-brand retailers across the globe, from department stores like Barneys,” Iacono continued. “That market share has shifted to direct-to-consumer as well as to a handful of strong online multi-brand players like FarFetch and Net-a-Porter and The Iconic. There are simply less multi-brand buyers out there who can travel to a fashion week.”
From New York and Copenhagen to Sydney and London, businesses are also becoming painfully aware of the environmental impact of the multitude of fashion events that were regularly held throughout the year (which Iacono described as “the circus”). Covid was the catalyst for this all coming to a screeching halt.
As Iacono predicted: “I think in the coming years, we will see even further evolution of fashion weeks or fashion festivals, as they become increasingly experiential and targeted to end consumers, versus an ‘elite’ insider audience, who, quite frankly, have lost a lot of relevance, as direct-to-consumer becomes an increasingly dominant channel for designer brands.”