Mass market brands now have the logistical capacity to use that gap between the shows and the release of the collections to create their own versions of the hot new trend
There used to be a rhythm to the fashion industry. The luxury brands would do two shows per year: Autumn/Winter (AW) and Spring/Summer (SS). This would not be the actual clothes that were going to be sold, but rather an artistic statement of the designer or fashion house’s intended direction for the season ahead.
These shows would also be held several months ahead of the actual clothes being released, with SS being unveiled in the winter and AW during the summer. Confused yet?
Though it took time to understand the process, there was method in the madness. The advantage of this gap between the artistic reveal and the actual instore collection going on sale gave the brands a chance to respond to feedback on their ideas, hone their supply chains and generally plan ahead for the season.
And even with this delay between idea and execution, they were still the trend setters.
It would take months, if not years, for those fashions of the moment to filter down to the high street, by which time the luxury brands had moved on to define the next trend.
In less than a decade the edifice has crumbled. The reasons are many, but competition from the high street comes high on the list. These mass market brands now have the logistical capacity to use that gap between the shows and the release of the collections to create their own versions of the hot new trends – and have them in store at the same time, if not sooner, than the brands who came up with the ideas in the first place.
And they do it very well. These aren’t direct knockoffs, but rather clever interpretations of the themes of the season, brought to the customer in real time, and at extremely affordable prices.
There have been several responses to this new reality. The likes of Tom Ford, Burberry, Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren have staged shoppable runway shows. This might seem like an obvious move but it necessitates massive changes to supply chains, marketing and design cycles, and also means there is no safety net. If the collection bombs there is nothing the brand can do to respond. It is a one-shot strategy.
They are also doing collections throughout the year to constantly offer something new, which adds to the creative and financial pressure to get it right every time. They are collaborating with their competitors. Versace has partnered with H&M; Louis Vuitton with Supreme; Alexander Wang with Adidas Originals... the list goes on.
There are lots of questions to be asked about the viability of all this. Is the luxury industry cannibalising itself? Will it exhaust itself trying to satisfy the millennial hunger for instant gratification? More importantly, what of the environmental and human impact of all this consumerism? Fashion is a surprisingly conservative business, but it is changing fast.