'See now, buy now': is this the end of catwalk fashion as we know it?
As Burberry champions 'see now, buy now' fashion at London Fashion Week, Meadhbh McGrath looks at why fashion giants are abandoning the traditional 'seasonal' calendar
Published 21/09/2016 | 02:30
London Fashion Week officially came to a close last night, but for some of us, it feels like the circus never ends.
Between spring/summer, autumn/winter, cruise and couture collections, we now have a seemingly infinite merry-go-round of catwalk shows spewing out ever more new trends for us to master.
The breathless pace of the current fashion calendar leaves designers feeling burned out and customers feeling left behind, as if they must constantly struggle to keep up with a look that will be outdated in six months' time.
Until this season, when it's all set to change.
For years, Irish shoppers have been wedded to the idea of 'the winter coat' and 'the summer sandals', but we may be about to witness the end of fast fashion and seasonal dressing.
On Monday, Burberry effectively sounded the death-knell for 'the season' as we know it with a collection deliberately conceived to be 'seasonless'. Inspired by Virginia Woolf's gender-fluid hero Orlando, the show fused menswear and womenswear with 250 pieces that became instantly available to consumers in 100 countries as soon as creative director Christopher Bailey stepped off the catwalk.
Burberry's announcement of its radical 'see now, buy now' concept back in February shocked the industry, and was followed - the very next day - by Tom Ford's cancellation of the press previews of his autumn/winter collections, opting instead to present them in September, to coincide with their delivery in stores.
"We have been living with a fashion calendar and system that is from another era," Ford said in a statement. "Our customers today want a collection that is immediately available. Fashion shows and the traditional fashion calendar, as we know them, no longer work in the way that they once did.
"We spend an enormous amount of money and energy to stage an event that creates excitement too far in advance of when the collection is available to the consumer."
The solution, he believes, is to reject the seasonal timeline, thereby reducing the gap between when a customer sees a product and when they can buy it. Several other brands have followed suit, including buzzy Parisian label Vetements.
Creative director Demna Gvasalia explained the decision to the 'Business of Fashion': "The pieces became kind of soulless, you know, because they had to be made, but didn't really have a reason to be. That was the most frustrating part for me. You need to have a jersey top because that's what the market requests - I can't do a jersey top at that very moment, you know?"
The move to a consumer-facing model obviously caters to impatient shoppers, but it could benefit brands too, as the unrelenting schedule of fashion takes a toll on the designers.
In the aftermath of sudden walk-outs from some of fashion's most celebrated talents - Raf Simons (who was creating six collections a year at the time), Alber Elbaz and Alexander Wang from Dior, Lanvin and Balenciaga respectively - everyone from designers to fashion editors to customers has been crying out for reform in the industry.
It arrives in the form of seasonless or "slow fashion", which has impacted both the luxury landscape and the high street. The 'see now, buy now' model could spell trouble for the fast fashion kings, Zara and H&M, who might struggle to churn out designer-inspired items at low prices without a four-month lead in before catwalk items hit stores.
But for those of us who have grown disillusioned by the high street's laser focus on throwaway fashion, the rise of seasonless dressing is only too welcome.
A number of affordable brands have already embraced the concept, including COS, Finery, Ganni, Jigsaw and & Other Stories, soon to arrive on Grafton Street.
Key pieces are making a comeback, as brands focus on the core, year-round pieces that form the backbone of a woman's wardrobe and make a case for "fewer but better".
Designer Caren Downie explains that her brand Finery was founded on the idea of "slowing down" fashion.
"We want to create a curated collection that our customer can build on each season," she says. "For us it is about longevity and creating pieces that people will love and cherish for a long time. Women are looking for quality clothes that have been well designed using beautiful fabrics and we feel that the notion of fast fashion loses these qualities."
Marks & Spencer has said the aim for its 'see now, buy now' autumn/winter range was to offer "clothes that work all year whatever the weather", while Whistles describes its collection as filled with "classics, but ones that work for now".
Of course, COS were the first to take this approach on the high street, arriving in Ireland in 2010 with a vision to "create pieces that are made to last beyond the season".
Later this year, we'll see the launch of the Swedish giant's sister brand, & Other Stories, beloved by the fashion crowd for its luxe minimalism at reasonable price points.
"We are aiming to create collections that can be worn over and over. 'Timeless wardrobe treasures' we call them internally," says Behnaz Aram, a designer in the Stockholm atelier.
"We're living in an era where 'dos' and 'don'ts' within fashion are not a big topic anymore. It's our goal to design fashion for women with a strong personal style. Our customer should wear the things that feel right to her regardless of her style or age."
Irish independent boutiques are also championing the move towards seasonless fashion. Wendy Crawford, who runs Scout in Dublin's Temple Bar, says she is considering dropping season-based brands.
"A recent buying trip to London saw me really rethink my buying process," she says.
"We went with the agenda that we weren't buying anything that seemed 'of the moment'. Instead it had to hit some boxes: fabric must be beautiful, and shape and style must be capable of all-season wearability.
"Seasons nowadays in a fashion sense are just weeks long. You used to at least get a few months. As an independent boutique, it's hard to keep up. Lack of buying power means your seasons need to last longer, yet big stores move through their seasons at an alarming rate."
Wendy sees slow fashion as good news for brands that tend to ignore the seasons.
"I think it will make the more discerning shoppers think about how they shop in a different way. They will realise by buying key wardrobe pieces that last, rather than frivolous fashion pieces, they can build a solid wardrobe that lasts and can re-use their pieces time and time again."
In a time where designers face increasing demand to cater to a global consumer and a range of different climates, collections based strictly on weather patterns are becoming impractical.
It may be topping 30 degrees in New York right now, but it's wet and windy in Ireland. Seasonless fashion makes more sense in a time when the definitions of spring, summer, autumn and winter are changing.
"I've found that certain things sell well all the time: a good quality t-shirt, a great pair of jeans or a timeless pair of shoes. Seasons don't affect these items and they can be pulled out all the time. If you can sell items like this each season, perhaps with a subtle update, you're winning."
The best of seasonless fashion on the high street:
Shirt, €69 at COS
Trench, €357 at Warehouse
Dress, €82 by Finery
Top, €65 at Scout
Straight leg jeans, €57 at Topshop
Boots, €219 at Whistles
Cashmere jumper, €125 at & Other Stories