If you listen very carefully, you should be to hear a unanimous yawn.
The yawn is coming from fashion designers all over the world who are exhausted from trying to meet customer demands for off the-runway products. That is with the exception of Parisian couturiers who are saying, “to hell with that!”
But if this season’s Couture Week taught us nothing else, it’s that couturiers are hell bent on maintaining the integrity of exclusive luxury fashion. This Couture Week wasn’t an avant-garde spectacle of artistic expression, so much as it was a doubling down on the brand’s aesthetics in staunch opposition to the See Now-Buy Now wave sweeping over the rest of the industry.
Let’s take a step back.
Technically, couture fashion was created to service those who had the money to pay for exclusively made garments. Another way for the Haves to separate themselves from the Have Nots, it can be argued that couture is the only remaining pure form of artistic fashion.
Hear me out. Couturiers are not at the mercy of mass consumers and their fickle buying habits. The market for their bespoke pieces is small, in comparison, but those customers spend much more money than the typical shopper, which is what keeps them afloat.
According to Women’s Wear Daily, the French fashion business provides some 500,000 jobs and generates 125 billion euros. That’s over $130 billion in revenues; 40 percent of them achieved at export, and numbers support the suggestion that there’s a robust international demand for French apparel and leather goods. In short, Parisian designers are not on the struggle train, proving that their emphasis on clothing and craftsmanship, works for them.
A report conducted by the Fédération Française de la Couture du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode (the governing body of Parisian fashion), concluded that Parisian designers collectively said “No” to See Now-Buy Now.
Not only does this keep an air of mystery and exclusivity to the collections, but also because this would be logistically impossible for some Parisian designers. “Behind a fashion show is an industry,” Federation President, Ralph Toledano told Women’s Wear Daily. “There is a supply chain. It takes several weeks to produce fabrics. It takes some weeks to sew and embellish the garments. The supply chain is something very precise and very organized. It’s not something you can ignore. It’s a reality.”
Global Fashion & Events Consultant and Director of Fashion Programing for PIER59 STUDIOS, Christina Neault agrees, “I think when you’re talking about higher end designers who have a longer lead time on fabrics, and the way things are made, and the price points, I don’t see those brands going see now, buy now,” she told StyleBlazer. “I don’t think it’s even possible.”
And then you hop across the pond where RTW Fashion Week has gotten downright confusing. What was once a trade show for designers to show their upcoming collections to editors, and buyers has become a free-for-all.
The formula for a successful Ready To Wear show these days is:
Invite A-list celebrities to sit front row
Dress said celebrities in your latest collection
Create huge buzz on social media to gain attention for the show
Let the people at home in on the action via live stream
This all sounds like a good idea in theory.
The more people who see the show, the more clothes they’ll sell, right? Well that is until designers realized that these new consumers want to buy what they see on the runway when they see it. Mainstream audiences don’t care about or fully understand the importance of the lead time that goes from conception to production. They see a Kardashian/Jenner in it, and they want it ASAP.
This is a great opportunity for brands that have a reasonable introductory price point, and who can take measures to shorten their lead time. Hence, aspirational brands like Rebecca Minkoff, and Donna Karen can take advantage of this new business model.
“I think See now-Buy Now works for a lot of designers, especially those aspirational designers,” Neault told StyleBlazer.
London-based designers like Burberry, Tom Ford, and Mulberry are also joining in the wave. But, we have to wonder if the lead time continues to shrink, won’t we start to see a decline in Ready To Wear designer’s ability to effectively create unique products? When the bottom line becomes the main focus, doesn’t art suffer? This doesn’t necessarily apply in the realm of couture, because their market is small, informed, and respectful of the process.
“Our clientele is educated and informed on how the system works,” Toledano told Women’s Wear Daily. Which means the couture shows have the option to produce a much simpler affair where the clothes are the focus. The Chanel Couture show this season, for example, featured an old school vibe. Every guest had a front row seat, and there was a much more intimate feel. The focus was on the clothing, the design, and the art. There were little to no gimmicks or tricks to draw lots of media coverage, because their customers are already paying attention. This is a huge contrast to Lagerfeld’s Ready To Wear shows (remember the whole grocery store thing and the feminist protest?).
So what does this all mean? Fashion Week is going to be reeeeaaaallllllyyyy…interesting with a hodgepodge of different business models, locations, and consumers.
If history and the aforementioned facts have taught us nothing, it’s that in fashion, what Paris says, goes.