By Chere Di Boscio
Burberry made headlines recently when they announced it was about to launch a ‘fast fashion’ approach to its collections. That is to say, the brand is planning to consolidate its shows and make collections available to buy immediately after each runway show ends. Some in the industry heralded the move, claiming fast fashion stores copy catwalk looks immediately and produce them faster, thus robbing the luxury brands of some exclusivity. Fashionistas have also welcomed the decision, saying it will make it easier to buy clothing and accessories from the shows, and some designers, including Tom Ford have announced they will follow Burberry’s lead. But Kering boss Francois-Henri Pinault isn’t so sure.
Burberry’s plan “negates the dream” of luxury, said Pinault. As the CEO of one of the world’s largest luxury fashion groups, which includes Alexander McQueen, Gucci and Stella McCartney, he’s saddened by this culture of instant gratification, and believes making consumers wait as long as six months to buy a collection “creates desire.”
We’re a bit shocked by this merging of luxury brands into fashion’s fast lane. Although it seems to be a good idea for waste reduction if the runway is used as an ‘order book’ for buyers and shoppers to then place orders for production directly, this is not how it will work. Rather, Burberry will already have produced what they present on the catwalk. So, if the collection is a dud and orders are low, that means a lot of wasted clothes. It’s hugely risky, and it’s a model smaller brands can’t follow. Jasper Conran, Roksanda Illincic, Jackie Lee and Holly Fulton have all expressed concerns: “As a small designer brand, we get orders from buyers, put them into production, wait for the fabric, deliver that so we need time to prepare that, said Lee to Fashion News. Holly Fulton adds that smaller operations don’t have the funds to produce full collections without having received payment first from customers. In short, not only does Burberry’s proposal threaten to create more waste, but it could put small designers out of business, too.
Burberry’s concept of consolidating men’s, women’s and accessories lines into one runway show is probably a good thing for editors and buyers, who won’t need to attend as many fashion shows each season, but distributing this mass of clothing to consumers immediately afterwards seems like something the likes of H&M or Topshop would do (especially since now both brands are doing catwalk shows in London).
Former Gucci designer Tom Ford makes a good point when he says the traditional fashion show concept is “an antiquated idea that no longer makes sense,” but not because clothing should be available to consumers faster – instead, we believe the fashion cycles today have become too fast and too frequent: apart from bi-annual couture week and men’s and women’s weeks held in all major cities around the world, there are also now resort collections to be shown, swimwear weeks in some regions, and horrifyingly, even children’s weeks.
All of these shows not only put far too much pressure on the designers, their teams, editors and buyers, but if garments are to be sold ‘catwalk fresh’, this puts enormous stress on the workers who put the clothes together. Pressure is already on these workers as it is, but with even faster product turnaround, it’s hard to imagine how Burberry won’t be outsourcing to Chinese or other ‘fast fashion’ textile and clothing manufacturers abroad.
Pinault himself also pointed out that consolidating shows would present a challenge for luxury brands with different designers for men’s and women’s collections, and would encourage the notion that ‘fashion moves fast’ and clothing must be bought frequently and quickly to keep up.
The differences of approach between Burberry and Gucci seem to reflect the recent turnover of the respective luxury-goods makers. Gucci reported better than expected growth this quarter and has shown its strongest revenue growth in three years – this is expected by analysts to strengthen this year as their new creative director Alessandro Michele’s collections hit stores. Burberry, on the other hand, has struggling to grow due to slowing luxury demand.
It seems Gucci’s strategy of keeping luxury slow, rare and exclusive is working, but of course this strategy isn’t for everyone: “There are some brands for which a runway show is a communications event,” Pinault said Friday. “Burberry has doubtless decided what suits it best. What we will decide will be what suits our brands and our vision of luxury.”