In perhaps the biggest shake-up of the fashion show system since ready-to-wear took to the catwalk, Burberry announced on Friday that after the women’s wear season that begins in New York next week, it would move to a see-now/buy-now collection model.
It will no longer unveil clothes six months before they are available in stores.
It will no longer separate its men’s wear and women’s wear shows.
And it will no longer bother with traditional seasonal denominations; twice-yearly collections will be called, rather, September and February, “reflecting the time they are in-store/online,” in the words of an email from Christopher Bailey, the brand’s chief executive and chief creative officer.
In addition, the ad campaigns will reflect the runway offering immediately.
In a statement, Mr. Bailey said: “The changes we are making will allow us to build a closer connection between the experience that we create with our runway shows and the moment when people can physically explore the collections for themselves. Our shows have been evolving to close this gap for some time. From livestreams to ordering straight from the runway to live social media campaigns, this is the latest step in a creative process that will continue to evolve.”
In other words: The show will become a big marketing and selling tool, not for department stores or glossy magazines, but for direct communication between the brand and the men and women who want to buy it.
That’s kind of a big deal.
It is the second major consumer-facing move by Mr. Bailey as chief executive, following his decision last November to fold Burberry’s three separate lines — the high-end Prorsum, Burberry Brit and Burberry London — into a single offering. Then, as now, Mr. Bailey said the decision was made to be more responsive to customer needs.
A spokesman called the move one of “creative pragmatism,” responsive to the fact that as Mr. Bailey is known to say, “it’s always summer somewhere in the world.”
As an acknowledgment of the consumer demand for immediate gratification, the change is bound to send seismic shudders through the rest of the fashion world, which has been under increasing pressure to be more responsive to buyers’ desires, and flexible in its scheduling.
Other brands have been testing the idea with small capsule collections: Moschino also offers select pieces to buy straight from the runway, as does Versace. This season, Rebecca Minkoff is showing her spring line on the New York catwalk, as opposed to fall, which goes into stores in July and August, and which she will reveal by appointment only separately.
But Burberry’s global presence and reach — its more than 200 fully owned retail stores and similar number of department store concessions, its 5.9 million Instagram followers and over 17 million Facebook likes, its position as the only high-fashion member of London’s FTSE 100 — have the power to transform consumer expectations, creating a knock-on imperative for other brands.
Indeed, hours after Burberry’s announcement, Tom Ford, who had been planning to hold a series of small presentations during New York Fashion Week, said all appointments were cancelled, and he would now show both his men’s and women’s Fall collections together next September, at the same time as the clothes were available to buy.
“Showing the collection as it arrives in stores will allow the excitement that is created by a show or event to drive sales and satisfy our customers’ increasing desire to have their clothes as they are ready to wear them,” Mr. Ford said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Vetements, the buzziest new brand in Paris, told American Vogue that they were planning to move their show next year from the February collections to January, and would deliver the clothes on the catwalk the following month.
Still, the move may not be so easy for every fashion house, especially in London.
Though Burberry has the financial muscle and vertical integration to make this kind of switch (it owns many of its factories, and 70 percent of sales comes from its own retail network), smaller independent designers are dependent on wholesale partners for distribution, and such a relationship involves a six-month lead time between showing, placing orders and production. How they will adapt remains to be seen.
Even Burberry does not appear to know exactly how it will solve all the issues created by being the sharp end of the spear of show change. If the company wants to be part of glossy magazine spreads featuring spring clothes, for example, but it doesn’t show the spring clothes until the magazine is on newsstands, what happens then?
Executives are banking on a buy-in from multiple stakeholders that will have a domino effect on the industry. The risk is they end up the odd man out in a system that is simply too entrenched to change.
The new look show will be unveiled in September. There’s a season to try to figure it out.