Are fashion weeks becoming unmanageable?
The Paris Men's Fashion Week which ended on June 23, bringing to a close a frenetic period which began a month earlier in Florence with Pitti Uomo, featured one of the most intense schedules in recent seasons. On the calendar, no less than 60 shows, up from 56 in January and 50 in June 2018, and on top of these, from two to three off-calendar shows a day, as opposed to barely one a day in previous seasons, plus a myriad presentations of special collections and collaborations, emerging label launches and events organised by brands vying for visibility in the French capital. Not to mention the seasonal trade shows and countless showrooms bursting with new names to promote and, in parallel, the women’s pre-collections’ presentations.
“It's a phenomenon we have been witnessing for some time, though it has intensified in the last two seasons. Notably in Paris, but also in Copenhagen, whose fashion week is becoming more influential, there is a proliferation of smaller, often very interesting presentations latched on to the official calendars. An increasing number of rookie labels is launching on the market with capsule collections and targeted lines, using all kinds of formats. Thanks to the web, which gives them instant visibility, it's become easier and simpler,” said Maud Pupato, in charge of luxury and designer womenswear collections at Parisian department store Le Printemps.
It is a frenzy verging on hysteria, and it is felt especially in Paris, according to David Kang, who runs Handsome Paris, a leading Korean fashion retailer, owner of the Tom Greyhound chain: “Other cities you can give a miss, but not Paris. It’s THE fashion capital! A must for buyers and the media. All the major [non-French] labels, and all emerging ones, want to show in Paris, because there's more visibility and the market is more important. The French haute couture and fashion federation receives from 30 to 40 new applications each season. Competition is harsh and it's very difficult to feature on the official calendar. Suddenly, the number of parallel events is ballooning. I receive hundreds of requests but, at the end of the season, I’ll choose no more than two to four new labels.”
Shows galore in Paris but lack of coordination makes life difficult for buyers
“It's pandemonium in Paris! The number of events is huge, over and above the traditional fashion week calendar. Everyone is putting on a show in the French capital. The energy is incredible. On every street corner, especially in the Marais, interesting new labels pop up all over the place,” said Beppe Angiolini, owner of Sugar, a store in Arezzo, Tuscany, recognising however that “it's become quite complicated. In the past, each sales campaign had a specific slot, but now, menswear and womenswear are all mixed up. Labels present their collections whenever they want, and often the dates of some labels’ presentations do not coincide, forcing us to travel to Paris twice. Inevitably, we miss some opportunities. There should be better coordination in general.”
“It's very tricky,” said Claudio Antonioli, boss of Milanese retailer Antonioli and co-founder of the New Guards Group (owner of brands including Off-White, Heron Preston and Palm Angels). “What happens is that my four buyers are travelling virtually for the whole year. Everyone shows on different dates; we continue to shuttle back and forth between Milan and Paris! There’s a clear lack of organisation. Paradoxically, fashion weeks have become shorter. In Milan for example, they now only last for a few days, but labels stage countless presentations and launches to sell more. We are facing huge structural changes,” added Antonioli.
Indeed, the commercial pace has increased, forcing retailers to bring their sales campaigns forward. Liliane Jossua, one of Antonioli's Italian colleagues, the founder of high-end multibrand retailer Montaigne Market, observed that nowadays “it’s new collection time the whole year round! Some labels introduce up to six [collections] a year. Major labels have made big changes in their calendars, bringing their campaigns forward. While we have less and less time for selling the products. Six months for pre-collections, between one and one and a half months for the main collections. For example, some summer collections, shipped out in October, include an increasing number of coats and sweaters, as though we’ve skipped a year and a half ahead.”
Faced with such a plethora of opportunities, buyers have to get organised. “It's a race, we must view everything, for fear of missing something. To keep up, we ought to have 25 appointments in a day. At most, we manage to have 17. We no longer have time to attend catwalk shows, it takes too long. Previously, we were able to spend up to two hours in a showroom, but now we dedicate 15-20 minutes per visit, at most up to 40 minutes, for the more important labels. Then we choose by looking at pictures. Above all, we mustn’t get too excited about the first label we see, there are another 200 after that,” said Jossua.
An opinion shared by Kang, who tries to make his choices in advance. “The pace has become very fast. Rather than a fashion week, it's a fashion month. But for us, it’s never too much. We can adjust. We try to understand the labels’ brand image and narrative on Instagram. We also talk a great deal with other buyers, we exchange opinions.”
Antonioli added: “Thanks to the web, it’s possible to see and learn a lot about a label. We find out who the label is working with and how it’s distributed, to understand if it's compatible with our stores."
Fashion Week Men an opportunity to emerge and capture attention
Caught up in the cycle, sometimes it is the retailers themselves who feed the system. Designer Alexandre Blanc, who worked with major labels for many years, launched his solo career at the women's Paris Fashion Week last February, and was then advised to go for the men's week, scheduled much earlier in the calendar.
“I’ve launched my women’s ready-to-wear line. But it's better for me to be ready with the pre-collections in June, during the men's week, so as to capture the attention of buyers who come to Paris for menswear,” he told FashionNetwork.com.
Judging from the variety of formats which have transformed fashion weeks in recent years, from co-ed menswear and womenswear shows to virtual shows, ‘see now, buy now’ collections and shifts from one calendar to another, the fashion system is undergoing a profound change. And with the ubiquitous spread of digital tools, giving the opportunity of viewing new collections virtually in real time during the shows, and of buying any product anywhere in the world, consumer behaviour too has changed radically. Crisis times are disruptive times. Mindsets change. “Many customers are no longer willing to buy clothes priced from €5,000 to €10,000. Not because they can’t afford them, but because we live in uncertain times and this has an impact on purchasing behaviour,” said Jossua.
“We consume differently these days,” said Pupato. “Customers are less loyal to labels. They are more curious. This stimulates designers, who tap these volatile customers, concentrating on niche collections and highlighting their own expertise. Desirability stems from these new labels sprouting up on the market. It's a self-sustaining phenomenon, supply and demand feeding on each other,” she added.
This situation has brought about changes in fashion retailers’ strategies, according to Pupato: “It's a real challenge for us. In our Maria Luisa [emerging designer] section, we feature many more up-and-coming labels than in the past because there are so many novelties. This season, we added an extra 25% of them. For us, it’s a way of re-thinking our purchasing strategy, introducing a more dynamic, diverse, open-ended range of products. The existence of all these young talents mean we can pick and choose at will, creating a more substantial selection.”
However, the arrival on the market of these emerging labels means competition is tougher and it is much more difficult for newcomers to stand out. “Anyone who can design a T-shirt is showing in Paris. There’s an increasing number of [designers] fighting for space in the French capital. Buyers are losing their bearings, and have less and less time for us. They are so flooded with requests they no longer read emails or listen to their voicemail. Unless you have a special relationship with them, they won’t meet you. For us [designers], it's back to the old door-to-door system, we have to go out and approach [buyers],” said young designer Philippe Périssé.
“It's very hard for emerging designers to stand out. Even if they have an investor backing them. Staging a catwalk show and reaching out to the press as they did in the past is no longer enough. Rookie designers must first of all create their own community, and need to deploy a commercial strategy before making their debut,” said Paolo Marsi, co-owner of Milanese showroom Style Council & Associates. “Each season, 30% of the requests we receive come from start-ups, often with not even a single season under their belt. Time-to-market is shorter and shorter, and in-store space increasingly shrinking, so we no longer take on new names, unless they have a genuinely special project. It’s not worth the risk any more,” added Marsi.
Many collections, (too) little emotion
“Every fashion school student dreams of becoming a designer, and they often commit themselves without a previous experience working for a fashion label. It’s a new trend, and it's become predominant in the last three seasons. The problem is that many of these newcomers neglect the production and delivery side of the business,” said Kang. “At times of crisis, creativity becomes extreme. Digital tools enable everyone to have a go and reach out to a community, but this is also inflating many egos. If you don’t have a story to tell, your product is obsolete. Today’s winning formula is authenticity,” said consultant Patricia Lerat, adding that “everyone is talking about sustainability, but that in itself isn’t enough to be creative. Of course, there are many fine-looking collections, but often they are simply a rehash, there isn’t enough in them to fall in love.”
“The problem is that, in recent years, we haven’t seen much design innovation. There’s a lack of fresh impetus. I’m struggling to find something exciting, something that strikes a chord,” said Antonioli.
“Nowadays, it all boils down to business, rather than to the creativity and excitement on which we based our experience. There are plenty of nice collections, but the ‘wow’ factor is missing,” added Jossua.
Pupato offered a more balanced view. According to her, collections “are increasingly creative. They address genuine issues, from sustainability to genderless style. There are fewer barriers.” However, she expects from young designers “something inspired by a comprehensive concept, and a real statement.”
Antonioli concluded: “We aren’t here to dampen the creative fervour of young designers. Even if their numbers are swelling and, sometimes, some of them wander off-topic, there's always something interesting. Each one of them is sending us a message. Let’s allow them to express themselves."
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