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Alexander Wang at New York Fashion WeekPhotography Evan Schreiber

Why this fashion week is kind of a big deal

From Tom Ford to Topshop, brands are rejecting the fashion system – here’s what to expect

If you keep up with fashion, you’ll know that the clothes you see on the runway won’t be available to buy for months – constantly a season ahead, the catwalk is a showcase of what we’ll all be wearing next, not what we should be wearing now. For years, this system worked. Shows were limited to press, buyers, and VIPs, with photographers shooting images on film, to be printed in newspapers and glossy magazines and filtered down to readers. And then the internet happened. Suddenly, everyone could see what was on the runway – every part of a designer’s latest output was there for the masses to absorb, and later, scroll through, like and regram. Previously the domain of a select few, social media gave unprecedented access to fashion shows, allowing moments to be broadcast live to millions.

The problem is this – fashion still works months ahead, and in the age of Instagram, that’s a very, very long time. That outfit Kendall Jenner is stomping down the runway in mid-September? Not available until next spring, which is a concept that will be alien to many of the model’s young followers. In the meantime, they may well decide to buy one of the high street rip-offs that will soon pop up, and for a fraction of the price. So, the question is: when people are increasingly accustomed to having everything now – with standard delivery giving way to next day, and even same day options – can the fashion industry really afford to make them wait months for something?

After dipping their toes in with shoppable capsules and accessories (Moschino, Prada, and Louis Vuitton have all experimented with making smaller runs of items available post-show), this season, fashion houses are taking on See Now, Buy Now in a bigger way than ever before. First to rock the boat back in February was Burberry, who revealed that it would adjust to better meet the demands of digital-era shoppers, scrapping the current fashion model. Starting at London Fashion Week on 19th September, the British house will show two collections a year, mixing menswear and womenswear and making clothes available online and in-store soon afterwards. For Burberry, it’s the latest step in a strategy which, over recent years, has seen it adapt to the world of social media. “From live streams, to ordering straight from the runway to live social media campaigns, this is the latest step in a creative process that will continue to evolve,” commented Bailey.

But Burberry is far from the only one keen to change with the times, and although most will be debuting their SS17 collections at New York Fashion Week as it kicks off today, some of the city’s designers will be the first to put the new system to the test with instantly-shoppable Autumn lines. First up is Tom Ford, who called the existing way of showing “antiquated” when he announced plans to combine his men’s and women’s shows and make them shoppable shortly after Bailey. Ford is keeping his show tonight an intimate affair, but looks set to launch a fragrance alongside the new AW16 collection – which is already waiting in stockrooms of every one of his stores in the world, ready to be put out on shop floors tomorrow. “I think it could help take fashion back from a spectator sport...into something that actually impacts their lives,” he told WWD on the potential of See Now, Buy Now. 

Another brand embracing the change at NYFW is Alexander Wang, which announced that it will incorporate the concept into its SS17 show by simultaneously presenting a shoppable resort collection. Meanwhile, after introducing an Insta-pit last season (a section for Instagram-specific photographers and influencers), Tommy Hilfiger has announced #TommyNow – a See Now, Buy Now show where items from the AW16 collection and recent Gigi Hadid capsule will be available to buy. 1000 tickets to the event on the 9th are being set aside for consumers, while the show’s location, a Tommy-themed funfair, will also turn into a public space for fans to shop the collection the day after the show. Even more underground designers will be getting in on the action, thanks to pop-ups hosted by MADE and Red Bull Studios which will aim to bridge the gap between young brands and the public.

“When people are increasingly accustomed to having everything now – with standard delivery giving way to next day, and even same day options – can the fashion industry really afford to make them wait months for something?”

In London, Topshop, which appears to be the most enthusiastic adopter yet, will offer an edit of pieces from its ‘September 2016 collection’ for sale immediately after the presentation during London Fashion Week on September 18th – both physically in a pop-up at the show venue, and at select Topshop stores around the world as well as online. The rest of the collection will be made available in later this year, in November.

While these shifts may sound like a reasonable fix for the currently messy and “antiquated” fashion system, others have resisted. Designer Ermanno Scervino said in March that his clothes take time to make and he has no plans to follow other labels by selling his designs straight off the catwalk, effectively bridging the traditional six-month runway-to-retail gap. “It is not for me, it is not for (products of) excellence,” Scervino told Reuters. “We have long (designing) time frames. I am not interested.” He joins Jason Wu and Rick Owens, who are also shunning the push towards faster fashion, as well as Francois-Henri Pinault, chief executive officer of Gucci-owner Kering, who has said the See Now, Buy Now notion “negates the dream” of luxury.

It's undeniable that times are changing, and after all, fashion is an industry that’s all about change. It seems reasonable for brands to want to capitalise on the exposure that comes hand-in-hand with runway shows and to better connect with customers by feeding into their desire to be gratified instantly. The internet and social media have revolutionised the way we consume fashion images, and now they are set to revolutionise the way we shop – just look at the newly launched, which offers street style suggestions alongside products. Of course, not everyone will be on board with an industry that only looks set to get more fast-paced, and what might be right for Burberry won’t necessarily be right for an emerging designer. Still, if all goes well – this could be a season that goes down in history.