Is the See-Now-Buy-Now Fashion Week Format About to Die?

The see-now-buy-now model for runway fashion seemed like a huge, innovative step when it first popped up about a year ago, but now its fate is hanging in the balance.

See-Now-Buy-Now Fashion Week Format Success Rate

There were five key brands that kicked off with the instant fashion format: Tom Ford, Burberry, Ralph Lauren, Rebecca Minkoff and Tommy Hilfiger. Just in the past couple of weeks, Tom Ford announced a shift away from the business model, so there are only four “figureheads” left.

See-now-buy-now fashion was never widely accepted in the industry, so losing key figures at any stage is going to shake up the progress that has been made toward establishing a foothold. With Ford out of the picture, there’s a lull caused by the uncertainty of what will come of the business model.

Yet, there’s no cause for panic just yet. Ford ducked away from the strategy, but the other key designers are holding onto it, as it has fostered success since its implementation. That doesn’t mean it’s a perfect system, or even one that will be around for long. A new innovation is bound to spark mass excitement, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see that dwindle in the near future.

Ralph Lauren and See-Now-Buy-Now Fashion

Ralph Lauren told WWD that the strategy is still working well, staying optimistic about its fate in the industry at large. Lauren showed a second fall collection for 2016 with the sole purpose of trying out the model in September; he also implemented the strategy for his February lineup.

He recognized that nothing regarding the model is set in stone, despite noting a successful run while using it. But all that matters is the here and now for the designer.

“It’s working right now. If it doesn’t work, I won’t do it,” Lauren said. “I don’t think it’s written in blood.” Lauren told WWD he is planning a see-now-buy-now collection for his September lineup.

See-Now-Buy-Now Fashion Week Format Success Rate: Ralph Lauren

Burberry and See-Now-Buy-Now Fashion

Burberry was one of the first brands to hop on board with the new model, helmed by Christopher Bailey, who is notoriously innovative and ready to try new things. The brand dove right in, nixing the seasonal fashion week presentations and opting for biannual seasonless shows. According to WWD, Burberry is planning on sticking by the model as it has been working well; several styles from the label’s see-now-buy-now collections completely sold out.

Bailey told WWD that he is using the new runway model as a learning process, and that he recognizes the move isn’t going to be static.

“We don’t have all the answers and we’re working through this,” he said after his first see-now-buy-now runway show. “There are lots of things to learn; we’re going to take stock and look at it in a very pragmatic way.”

See-Now-Buy-Now Fashion Week Format Success Rate: Burberry

Tommy Hilfiger and See-Now-Buy-Now Fashion

Hilfiger made extravagant consumer productions out of his recent Los Angeles see-now-buy-now lineups.

Hilfiger wasn’t the first to jump into the instant fashion game, but he has become the most immersed in the process — his “Tommy Now” branding was created in September just to focus on it. His two shows since then have reflected the immersion, with grand consumer events for both seasonal shows. 1,000 people were invited to his September Tommy Pier event, and 3,000 in total attended his Tommyland music festival event in February.

“I would say it’s been nothing short of incredibly successful and beyond our expectations,” Hilfiger told WWD. “I think we’re really rewriting the rule book, at least for us.”

He’s not exaggerating, either. 24 hours after his Tommyland event, sales on the brand’s website, tommy.com, were up by 150 percent. More than 50 percent of the increased traffic came from first-time brand consumers.

“We’re even seeing a halo effect on sales numbers across all our divisions globally,” chief brand officer Avery K. Baker told WWD. “It’s created an incredible amount of visibility and excitement in general in the brand from consumers around the world.”

See-Now-Buy-Now Fashion Week Format Success Rate: Tommy Hilfiger

This increase is also coinciding with Hilfiger’s collaboration collection with brand ambassador and beloved model Gigi Hadid.

“Gigi has been a big a big magnet,” Hilfiger told WWD. “We’re certainly selling out of the Gigi collection first, but it has been beneficial to the entire brand and particularly our women’s business.”

So perhaps the extent to which the see-now-buy-now fashion week model has been working for Hilfiger is skewed by his association with Hadid. But that just furthers the idea that everything related to this strategy is still up in the air during these first stages.

Rebecca Minkoff and See-Now-Buy-Now Fashion

Perhaps Minkoff isn’t quite as immersed as Hilfiger, but she was one of the first designers to recognize the potential in the strategy, first showing an instant fashion runway show in February of last year. Her production grandeur has been on a steady increase since that initial show, too.

This February, she took control of The Grove, a shopping center in L.A., for an entire day. The event featured yoga classes, hair and makeup styling, manicures, Q&A’s and special celebrity appearances. It was all open to the public; the runway show alone, though, only seated 500.

Uri Minkoff, cofounder and CEO of the brand, told WWD that execs from the label have been “blown away” by the results.

“We were thrilled with that experience,” he said. “The idea of releasing product at the right time in an experiential fashion with tremendous partnerships of other brands and properties and influencers — they really got an overwhelming amount of digital impressions, media, support and the resulting sales numbers.”

See-Now-Buy-Now Fashion Week Format Success Rate: Rebecca Minkoff

Luxury vs. Contemporary Fashion

Now, a key reason to the different experiences of these designers is that they’re simply different brands. Hilfiger’s music festival showing and Minkoff’s ultimate spa day drew a larger crowd of contemporary consumers, while Burberry, Lauren and Ford were creating a more luxurious experience for their consumers on a more intimate basis.

Luxury fashion from a see-now-buy-now model will never reach the same numbers as their contemporary counterparts. But that’s not to say they’re not successful showings. But designers like Hilfiger, who has been in business for 35 years catering to a youthful audience, are using this model to keep up and reconnect with their target audience.

“My fear has always been to lose the youthful consumer,” Hilfiger told WWD. “I’ve always been afraid of the brand aging. This allowed us to reengage with a youthful consumer, and I would say, reset our business.”

Uri Minkoff told WWD that creating a big event is all about drawing a large crowd of consumers. “It could be that there’s a big, large spectacle,” he said. “It could be a location. It could be the people that are involved. There needs to be some sort of an element of, how do you garner as much of the right type of audience as possible that’s going to convert?”

See-now-buy-now fashion certainly makes sense for contemporary designers, in that way. Perhaps the structure of the strategy will stay within that fashion subculture, but luxury fashion has its own needs, hence Ford’s departure.

The designer told WWD that he still finds great merit in the model, but that the shipping schedule required for the model doesn’t work well with the fashion show schedule.

“We had merchandise sitting in stockrooms all of the world,” he said, talking about keeping his lineup back until the day after the show when live. It resulted in a lost month of sales.

Neiman Marcus is the top stockiest for Ford in the U.S. Ken Downing, fashion director and senior vice president, said he did not see holding back the stock as a negative thing. He is one of the most vocal supporters of the see-now-buy-now model in the industry.

“We, as a retail organization, saw great success not only from the fall men’s and women’s collections that walked the runway,” Downing told WWD. “And because not everything was shipped that was shown on the runway and those goods continued to arrive in stores, it gave our sales associates impetus to reach out to the customer and bring them back into the store. …”

Downing told WWD that all the brands that are stocked at Neiman Marcus and that used the new model yielded positive results. So, he was upset by Ford’s decision. “Technology isn’t slowing down, nor is the customer’s desire for immediate gratification,” he said. “The industry needs to catch up and wake up.”

See-Now-Buy-Now Fashion Week Format Success Rate: Tom Ford

See-Now-Buy-Now Fashion On a Smaller Scale

There are more than the aforementioned four designers that have dipped their toes into instant fashion. Michael Kors has been using a smaller scale version of the model for the past three seasons: limited products presented in limited quantities. He told WWD that most of the in-season collection offerings are well-suited for the traditional structure, but not all.

“We have offered a limited group of products in limited quantities for the past three seasons and have found that it is an interesting addition to our retail mix that appeals to our most avid fashionista client,” he said. “Each season we will continue to assess what kind of mix we think is most captivating for this client.”

Kors has a small, lasting plan for the see-now-buy-now model, but other small fashion houses couldn’t find enough benefit from it.

Loewe and Paco Rabanne tried it in spring, but likely won’t be reviving it for fall; Proenza Schouler launched an eight-look capsule from the runway line last February (dubbed the Early Edition), but based on the results chose not to try it again.

Lazaro Hernandez, of Proenza Schouler, told WWD that the work aesthetic of him and partner Jack McCollough is a last minute process; they work in the moment. “Anticipating and locking down the collection months in advance was simply impossible for us and put too much strain on our organization,” he said.

McCollough noted that the Early Edition line increased visibility of the brand’s New York locations, but that he didn’t see the longevity of the model. “Instead we decided to shift our design calendar in order to deliver fashion to stores earlier,” he said. “We continue to believe that our collections need a longer time on the floor at retail for full-price selling.”

What’s the Problem of the See-Now-Buy-Now Model?

The see-now-buy-now model works well if the brand using it has an upstanding network of consumers to view and participate in instant fashion events. However, scheduling conflicts are a major draw that can and will deter some brands from regularly using it.

Ford’s problem of keeping designs in a stockroom for months before they can be released is part of a broader issue. The traditional setup for seasonal runway shows allows for a great deal of spontaneity, whereas the see-now-buy-now strategy has a lot more planning ahead. Again, this is an issue to some but an incentive to others.

Above all, though, this model is great in theory for ready-to-wear brands and other contemporary designers, but luxury fashion brands just don’t have the same call for instant demand from consumers.

Robert Burke, chairman and CEO of the retail/fashion consulting agency Robert Burke Associates, told WWD that luxury consumers generally don’t mind the 6-month wait between the runway show and the actual product becoming available.

“They’re used to it and there’s a certain anticipation,” he said. “I don’t think it’s nearly the issue that people thought it was going to be.”

So perhaps it’s not an issue of the see-now-buy-now model disappearing, but rather it having a more specific niche within the fashion industry. The fantasy that comes with luxury fashion house runway shows is a romanticized tradition; the labels that are grounded in that are the ones we don’t want to see forcing a system that doesn’t work.

Designers like Hilfiger and Minkoff who are right at home with creating extravagant events for contemporary, everyday consumers are benefitting from the new strategy, so we can expect it won’t disappear from the fashion world altogether. But hopefully it finds its place and is molded to become a standard system among the designers who can properly use, appreciate and profit from it.

For now, CEO and president of the CFDA Steven Kolb told WWD that the organization is considering creating a program separate from traditional Fashion Week solely for see-now-buy-now collections. He said he and execs will make the decision during scheduling for September’s NYFW.

Photos courtesy of Instagram

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