Instead of being a sea change for the fashion industry, see-now-buy-now has largely failed as a viable strategy for most fashion brands. Those who don’t have pockets as deep as legacy labels like Tommy Hilfiger and rely on wholesale partners for sales have found there’s not much payoff to overhauling the manufacturing cycle.
But that doesn’t mean designers are falling back in line and following the constraints of a traditional fashion calendar that no longer makes sense as a blanket-approach to showing off new collections.
“The consumer audience is there, and they’re ready for something new,” said Elizabeth Stafford, managing director of strategy at the brand engagement firm Sullivan. “But luxury fashion has a challenge ahead of it: to move successfully toward modern business models while retaining the sense of exclusivity and scarcity that drives true luxury. It’s going to take time and a lot of failing to do this.”
Several brands and designers took new approaches to redesigning the fashion calendar in a way that’s more fitting for their customers and takes the pressure off of creative directors to be designing new collections for a packed calendar full of seasons and pre-seasons. Immediacy isn’t the only answer to fixing the fashion calendar.
This year saw brands shifting attention away from seasonal collections, and the runway, by veering toward a project-based business model. The result: a series of smaller capsule collections, oftentimes with a rotating designer or lead partner in charge.
When Helmut Lang, under the purview of CEO Andrew Rosen, needed a new creative director and a brand refresh in 2016, Rosen decided to go another route and hire an editorial director, instead. Isabella Burley, the editor-in-chief of Dazed & Confused magazine, took the new position, accepting control over several new projects, including artist collaborations, regular archived collection drops and new collections that will be designed by a rotating creative director. Hood By Air’s Shayne Oliver was first up to design a collection under the brand’s new set-up.
“Instead of following the current fashion brand model, which is the creative director model, the idea was: What if you had an editor at the center?” said Burley. “I’m responsible for the creative direction across all departments, but I’m not the creative director. It’s in line with the way you put a magazine together: You choose the best people to be in charge of certain projects, but with one holistic, editorial point of view throughout. It’s a new way to approach a brand structure.”
At Theory, which is part of the same fashion group as Helmut Lang, Rosen took a similarly democratic approach to restructuring the brand when he set up Theory 2.0. The internal initiative to modernize the brand’s makeup was centered around four ongoing projects: an educational event series, a sustainability effort, a recycling program and a capsule collection designed by a group of employees recruited from across internal departments.
“I’ve constantly tried to and want to modernize the way we think and the way we do business,” said Rosen. “I want to be true to our culture and aesthetic, but I want to keep modernizing our methodology of business. Companies can’t be siloed. They have to be democratic. For ideas like this to come up and be powerful, they need to be able to make decisions quickly and put them into action.”
Elsewhere, a project-based business model meant relying more heavily on external partners, including department stores, which have recently been shunned in a push toward a direct-to-consumer business. Creatures of the Wind announced this week that it will no longer be showing collections on the runway, opting instead to work with partners like media companies and retailers to create much smaller capsule collections, more often throughout the year. The first partnership was with System Magazine and the L.A. boutique Just One Eye in May, which inspired the transformation. The collection was made up of just four handmade items.
“The traditional system of collections and the range that you have to produce on this very particular calendar just wasn’t what we wanted anymore,” Creatures of the Wind co-designer Shane Gabier told WWD.