KEN DOWNING: THE BEST OF THIS YEAR’S FASHION PRESENTATION AT DREXEL UNIVERSITY

This post is long overdue, but in April I visited Drexel University (my future home!) with my mom to hear Ken Downing, the Senior Vice President and Fashion Director of Neiman Marcus, speak about the past year in fashion. The presentation came a few weeks after all the F/W Fashion Weeks had ended, which Ken Downing had attended, and the presentation was marketed as a panel about the new trends, highlights of each fashion week and mentions of overall great designers/ shows.

The presentation ended up being less about fashion trends and more about how the industry is changing with new trends in industry practices. One of the biggest points that Ken Downing made was that technology has changed the industry so much and has kind of pulled the floor out from underneath it. The industry is resisting change but the consumers and some brands have adapted to these changes. Generally, we are seeing most brands embrace and try the new technologies, but as a whole the industry has not accepted the major changes that have come with recent technological advancements. This has left the luxury industry especially with a large problem on its hands: negotiating the fashion timeline.

High end brands show their collections about a 6 months before they are being sold in stores. It has always been this way in order for the industry to operate. Editors of fashion magazines, buyers, stylists and other industry professionals would attend these shows to be able to get started on brainstorming the next issue of Vogue, place orders for the upcoming season and help stylists prepare for their clients. This system worked very well because by the time the editorials in the fashion magazines were being published and printed, the items were in stores and (luxury) consumers could buy the new Chanel handbag they saw in Harper’s Bazaar that month.

Today, these fashion shows are happening at much larger scales. Celebrities and bloggers are invited to the fashion shows in order to advertise the brand to their hundreds of thousands of followers. With this extra publicity comes more brand recognition and good PR. But, what also comes with this is a skewed fashion calendar. 

With the rise of social media and live streaming (Periscope, Facebook Live etc.), consumers and admirers alike see the debut of the collections the second they walk down the runway. Each look is plastered all over every platform from Facebook and Instagram to individual websites like Vogue Runway and Fashionista.com. Its all fun and games until the consumer wants what they saw on the runway. 

Ken Downing showed us this major flaw in the system. Today, there are softwares that let us purchase items from a user’s Instagram post. We are buying things faster, without lifting a finger. Shopping is not the chore it used to be. When we see something we like, we buy it. Simple as that. This poses a challenge for all of the luxury brands debuting collections six months in advance because when loyal Chanel customers walk into Neiman Marcus after having seen their new collection on Instagram last night, it is not in the store ready to buy. Sorry, please stop by in six months. In six months time, there will be something new to want. 

This is an issue because it can result in a loss of business. What the consumer wants now is not what the consumer wants in six months. There will be newer, better things to buy and consumers will have long forgotten about the Chanel show they saw online six months ago. This is a result of living in such a fast-paced society. Our attention span is short and we jump from liking one thing to another very quickly. 

So, the fashion industry is posed with a question: what can we do about the fashion timeline? Ken Downing discussed a few options and his opinions on each. The most viable method, in his opinion, seems to be showing items in a fashion show at the beginning of the season in which they will be sold. So then the shows of fashion week act to kick off the shopping season debuting all of the designers’ new items and trends. That way, the brand still gets recognition and positive PR from the bloggers and magazines who attend the shows and their customers stay satisfied because the items in the show are currently available for purchase. 

This makes sense for a number of reasons. First, it is simply most logical to the consumers who are not familiar with the inner workings of the fashion industry. Second, there is nothing physical lost. Yes, the tradition and identity of the fashion industry would change by moving the fashion calendar, which Downing pointed out as one of the main arguments by many large European fashion houses , but it would positively affect sales and social media coverage, two arguably more significant factors.

There are a number of American designers who have already adopted this new model, like Rebecca Minkoff.  During NYFW in February 2016, instead of showing a future collection, she showed her S/S 2016 collection again (it was also show during NYFW in September 2015). This show acted solely as a promotional kickoff of her spring collection, which was for sale the day of the show. Downing confirmed this model’s success by disclosing that it was one of their best sales days, ever. 

I think this model is much more practical as we continue to become a technology based society in business and in our day-to-day lives. While yes, it disrupts the European (specifically Parisian) fashion and couture traditions, we can’t hold on to these traditions forever. Especially when they disrupt and potentially hurt business and sales. It just is not worth it. 

What do you think? Comment below & we can start a discussion! XO

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