When Rachel Zoe made the decision last year to hold her next fashion show in Los Angeles, she had no idea more major designers would be joining her on the West Coast.
“I definitely did not think it would be a trend,” she said during a phone call between fittings, four days before her first L.A. fashion show, which will take place Monday night at the Sunset Tower in West Hollywood. “For me, I had one of my most successful shows last year in February in New York. After that, I knew that I was going to take a pause, and that I wanted to do something a little unexpected next.”
She wasn’t alone. The traditional set-up of the fashion calendar is fraying as designers warm up to an every-man-for-himself approach to debuting their new collections, and fellow New York designers Rebecca Minkoff, Rachel Comey, Tom Ford and Tommy Hilfiger are ditching the clog of New York Fashion Week in favor of L.A. this February.
Zoe’s L.A. debut will feature a second industry trend: In addition to her Fall 2017 collection, she’ll introduce her first see-now-buy-now capsule collection. The eight items, priced lower than the main collection, will go on sale on her brand’s e-commerce store immediately following the show.
We spoke to Zoe about the decision to embrace L.A., the work it takes to pull off a see-now-buy-now collection and her business ecosystem.
Why did you decide to bring your show to L.A. this year?
I’ve always had this sort of tug-of-war feeling between coasts. I started in New York, and I’ve always considered myself a New York designer, but my headquarters are in L.A. and I live in L.A. Recently, the fashion landscape and the retail climate has changed. So I finally said, ‘Why don’t I own who I am?’ which is someone who’s worked in Hollywood for almost two decades. So I decided to try it. Fashion week in New York is saturated enough. There are so many shows and presentations, and you can get lost — there’s a madness to it. I felt a freedom to go off the fashion calendar for this season.
Is the fashion industry warming up to L.A.?
In years past, L.A. has had a stigma: Fashion can’t exist there. No one would ever do a show there. But there’s such a customer base here, and the lifestyle is appealing. There’s a fascination with L.A. When Hedi Slimane moved out here to design Yves Saint Laurent, something started to change. There’s a real fashion culture here, and it’s being taken seriously. It’s not looked down upon anymore, it’s a place for experimentation.
There’s lots of discussion surrounding the future of the fashion calendar, and the need for it at all. Is this overblown?
People are always dramatic about change. They don’t love it, but there will always be shifts — there has to be, otherwise there’s never any progress. In the case of the fashion calendar, it needs to evolve. It’s chaos. In New York, there are big designers and there should be incredible New York shows — you just don’t need hundreds of them.
So what does that mean for up-and-coming designers?
The retail climate has never been more challenging for newcomers than it is now. There’s always room for talent and new designers, but you have to bring something new to the table — a point of differentiation. And you have to change with the times, otherwise you shoot yourself in the foot. You have to really reflect your business with the changes.
Speaking of changes, you’re debuting your first see-now-buy-now capsule along with your fall collection. How did you come to that decision?
We wanted to offer our customer something immediate. Our e-commerce site launched a year ago, which really let us do this. I’ve been able to directly connect with our customer, so I was able to design items specific for a customer who is looking for something she can wear over and over, for the office, from day to night. We wanted it to be items she would see and immediately want to buy. It’s glitz and glamour at a more accessible price.
To do both collections at the same time must have been a logistical pain. How did you pull that off?
[Laughs] See-now-buy-now… it’s a different process. I’ll have to let you know how it went after Monday. It basically came down to forecasting and buying certain units in certain quantities for e-commerce. The thing I love about our new direct-to-consumer business is that I know what she’s buying and who she is, and we get accurate feedback. We reach 14 million people on our social platforms, so we’re using that to gain more insight about our customer.
That includes The Zoe Report and Box of Style as well, right? What have those properties taught you about your customer?
Yes, The Zoe Report is our online fashion and beauty destination, and Box of Style is a curated seasonal box of items we send to subscribers. It’s very helpful because there’s a crossover between all three points of the business, and that’s been the greatest understanding — just figuring out who this woman is. I’ve realized I’m talking to a 25-to-45-year-old woman. She’s intelligent, she works and she’s confident. When you have a clear idea, it makes the design process that much better. I know that she needs to go from day to night, and that she needs fabrics that withstand. She doesn’t want sheer. She wears bras.
Is there pressure today for designers to do more?
It works for me. If I had started out as just as a designer, maybe I would be just a designer. I don’t think Michael Kors or Tory Burch need to do 10 other things. And I’m not either — it’s media and design, and they overlap, and they feed each other. More and more, there’s synergy, and as each improves separately, they both improve.