The month of September is once again upon us. Which, in the fashion industry can only mean one thing. Fashion Week. And not so long ago, the whole calendar and system was being reassessed under the premise of See-Now, Buy-Now, with brands left, right and centre joining the movement in a bid to keep pace with the faster demands of consumers, whose appetite for catwalk looks straight off the runway meant brands had to rethink the immediacy of how they delivered their collections.
Five years ago, companies like Burberry, Tommy Hilfiger, and Tom Ford, all announced they were adopting the operating model, only to quietly evolve it into their own interpretations down the line. Tom Ford trialled the concept for one season before moving his show to New York from London. Burberry said it was moving towards limited-edition product drops as popularised by streetwear brands, and Tommy Hilfiger announced it has started a Drop Shop programme that incorporates collaborations with influencers, sports personalities and artists on a smaller scale.
Now, the See-Now, Buy-Now model is back with a twist. In August, Farfetch introduced a new model that allowed customers to pre-order digital version of items yet to be produced, in a bid to supply the demand for the latest “must-have” products. In July, French fashion house Mugler said it was adapting its approach to “see-now, buy-now, wear-now”, reducing the number of collections it shows from four to two, and selling the clothes in stores or online at the same time that the public is able to view its latest designs. Mugler said it would also initiate “drops” throughout the season – some of which would be exclusive ranges for selected clients – and continue to showcase its key product ranges.
A few days earlier that month, French designer Simon Jacquemus announced his brand was introducing a more adaptive, modern and flexible approach. Its ‘La Montagne’ collection would be available for purchase straight after its show on its website, and through its selected partners like Net-a-Porter, Matchesfashion and Selfridges. “Our goal is to maintain the momentum between our presentation and product availability,” Jacquemus said in a statement.
“To us, this feels more relevant, more realistic. Our focus now is less seasonally specific,” he added. “This collection will be available to purchase immediately following the show, with more releases to follow. True to our independent spirit, we want to embrace challenges as well as reinvention,” he added.
Join Luxury Society to have more articles like this delivered directly to your inbox
The result, unsurprisingly, has been one that has deeply resonated with the younger consumer. “We have seen a huge demand for Jacquemus in recent seasons and anticipate this build of momentum will endure, especially since they have successfully tapped into the fashion conscious Gen Z market,” said Libby Page, Senior Market Editor at Net-a-Porter, one of the online luxury retailers that Jacquemus has partnered with.
Indeed, Net-a-Porter is no stranger to See-Now, Buy-Now, having partnered with Burberry back in 2016, when it first experimented with the operating model. “The whole concept resonated well with our customers,” said Page. “Being introduced by a power brand, fans were eager to shop immediately after the show in order to become the first to access the pieces. It was a new level of hype that we hadn’t seen before so it’s no surprise we are seeing more brands starting to experiment with similar models.”
“The most interest we have seen has come from our younger customer base who have more urge to keep up with the latest trends and have a large desire to purchase hero ‘of the moment’ items as soon as they become available,” she added.
For certain, it makes sense that the next evolution of See-Now, Buy-Now is occurring with the brands that have the most appeal with younger consumers, and the ones that are able to more easily adapt their approach to the operating model that suits them best. But does the concept as a whole still work for an industry, particularly in light of the global COVID-19 pandemic?
To put it simply, no one size fits all, said Robert Burke, CEO and Chairman of Robert Burke Associates. Over the past few years, the industry has seen a wider move from established brands lessening their dependence on multi-brand retailers and the embracing of direct-to-consumer from all the industry.
“What's happening is the whole ecosystem is undergoing a shift,” said Burke, noting Prada’s recent deal earlier this year with Net-a-Porter to use a drop-ship model – selling its products on the retailer’s website, but controlling more of its sales, logistics and customer data. “I think you'll see more and more of that,” he added. “We are at the stage where the brands want to retain more control over their sales, retailers are operating more and more like marketplaces, and independents like Dover Street Market or The Webster are the highly curated tastemakers.”
Both brands and retailers who are unable to pivot to more flexible ways of responding to the changes in the market may find themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place. “It's one thing when you're small enough that you can regroup and it’s another thing when you're so big, you can set your own destiny. It's everything else that’s in between.”
“Not all brands (are suited to See-Now, Buy-Now), purely due to the complex logistical transitions required to facilitate See-Now, Buy-Now successfully,” said Page. “There are many components involved to manage and create a seamless customer experience. With that being said, I think these quick turnaround models are more suited to those brands with particularly emotive collections where there is an immediate response and high desire to purchase immediately.”
What lies ahead for the luxury fashion industry may just be an evolution of operating models adopted by the brands able to survive the changes that are currently reshaping the market. Some may just choose to only have direct to consumer, some may still want to retain relationships with speciality retailers but all will have to rethink how to keep up with consumer demands in a way that suits their business, while at the same time trying to remain up-to-date.
“We do foresee this model evolving further and expect designers to experiment with new ways to keep up with customers’ demands,” said Page.
“However, I also think the runway shows will operate in the usual traditional cadence of fashion weeks by showcasing product six months before they are shoppable,” she added. “See-Now, Buy-Now concepts could probably appeal more to the younger luxury audience where the purchasing desire is much more immediate. If done well and seamlessly it can be really beneficial for brands to capitalize on the demand during the aftermath of the initial show.”
Burke believes brand will need to have a balance. “They’ll need a little bit of both,” he said. “They have to have direct to consumer. And then they have to try to get into the premier specialty stores, and have some personal business. That makes sense for them. But it's going to be tough.”