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NYFW - Bellwether of New Fashion Ecosystem

 Disruption is the new fashion ecosystem, and the only way to compete, create and cultivate is within the social sphere.  Hence the imperative of social intelligence and listening.

Everyone drank the Kool-Aid for too long, but it’s just not working anymore,” exclaimed CFDA President Diane von Furstenberg. “We are in a moment of complete confusion between what was and what will be. Everyone has to learn new rules.”

Furstenberg, who has been leading fashion’s digital mandate for years, intimated that the industry had met its Waterloo in an antiquated system. 

NYFW was the staging ground for bold brand assertions that they don't intend to wallow in or be dragged down by what Furstenberg suggested was an industry existential crisis.  Consistent with its early adopter digital leadership, Burberry shot the opening salvo over the bow of Mothership NYFW as it prepared to launch.

Although Burberry was an early digital adopter, raising the bar for other luxury fashion brands, unexpectedly, it fell from 4th to 12th place in a 2-yr NetBase Luxury Passion Report. Falling social media passion for a luxury brand like digital darling Burberry is indicative of how complex—and competitive—digital strategy has become.

If luxury can be considered a bellwether for where fashion is heading, then take note. With a compound 30% annual growth in past 3 years, luxury e-commerce, according to McKinsey & Co., is set to grow from 6% to 18% by 2025.

In addition to greater investment in e-commerce brand sites, pure-play sites like Net-a-Porter/Yoox and Moda Operandi are becoming shoppable direct from runway, which Paul Smith activated for his collection during NYFW.  Beginning in September, Tommy Hilfiger’s collection will be Instagram broadcasted and instantly shoppable from his site and other retail channels.

To its credit and a testament to fashion’s prowess, NYFW revealed fashion’s agility and desire to respond to consumer demand for what is being called “immediacy,” i.e., closing the 6-month runway to retail chasm—an antiquated vestige of a pre-Internet era.

To remain competitive, both mega and small fashion brands have announced plans to curtail or replace runway shows, invest in e-commerce—both brand and third party channel—as well as implement other solutions to stem and buttress the widening gulch between consumer desire and on-demand delivery. Among a growing list of revamping measures are blending gender collections, augmenting personalized shoppable omnichannel capacity and investing in mobile video production.

In order to track consumer sentiment and emotion and measure the ROI of their disruption experimentation, fashion and beauty brands also realize the imperative of investing in social media listening and robust intelligence—no longer an option, but an imperative. The NetBase NYFW Brand Pulse Leaderboard depicted below, for instance, registered real-time brand impact and sentiment in social.

 

 

 

Like many brands, Burberry has suffered from a highly competitive and product flooded market—not to mention shifting Millennial tastes and fickle customers. Burberry, in tandem with other brands, also recently announced it is folding its diffusion lines into a single brand.

Along with Burberry, Tom Ford, Paul Smith, DVF Diane von Furstenberg, Provenza Schuler, Michael Kors and scores of other fashion brands are quickly responding to the mantra of consumer immediacy. But the definition is elusive, if only because of so many broken spokes in fashion spinning wheel.

Burberry is also revisiting influencer strategy, (stealthfully mastered by Chanel).  Shifting from an exclusively celebrity-driven model to a "Kardashian-esque" [sic] model of recruiting youthful high profile Insta-brand ambassadors.  While many of these young celebrity influencers have celebrity pedigree, they’re forcing the passion lever in social media, growing emotional traction for brand affinity beyond Millennials—to Gen Y and Z audiences.

To wit, 16-yr-old Brooklyn Beckham (6 million Instagram followers) was hired to shoot Burberry’s new fragrance ad campaign, despite the ire of professional design photographers. (Beckham pulled in 15 million viewers for Burberry during 8 hours when the shoot was live.)  So far, the strategy appears to be working.  Brooklyn’s younger Gen Z brother Romeo is also a valued Burberry influencer.

To its credit and foresight, Burberry’s creative digital ingenuity paved the way for luxury laggards.  For its London Fashion Week SS16 show last Fall, Burberry released its entire collection on Snapchat the day before its actual runway show, registering huge lift and brand passion for the brand.

While “consumer immediacy” may be fashion’s new buzzword, it has many tentacles to unravel. A brand’s performance now requires “tracking immediacy,” as well, shown in the NYFW NetBase Brand Pulse below.

 

 

The shortlist? “Fashion Immediacy” is being spurred by shifting attitudes, consumer values and an archaic distribution system. Tensions in the fashion market stem from oversaturated markets, over-production, currency fluctuations, non-harmonized global pricing, lack of runway-to-retail alignment, the artificial separation of women's and men's collections and designer burnout.  And that’s only the tip of the iceberg.   

With the democratization and globalization of fashion, logical remedies point to season-less fashion, Instagram only “non-runway” runway shows, capsule direct to consumer runway collections.  Demna Gvasalia, creative director of Vetements and Balenciaga, also wants to remove the cogs from fashion’s production and distribution wheel, by offering fewer collection drops—mainly pre- and pre-pre, for which buyers allocate larger budgets. 

Fashion must also respond in earnest to younger consumers, including luxury affluents, to cultivate new mobile and experiential digital emotional connections. Younger consumer values and demands for ethical fashion, sustainability and diversity cannot be dismissed for brands to compete and thrive in the new ecosystem underpinned by permanent disruption.

The whole “runway” thing is in also being questioned as a relic.  Fashion, after all, has finally become democratized in social. Consumer brand ownership simply translates into immediate consumer gratification through experiential surprise and delight moments.

Even luxury brands are now challenged to redefine exclusivity.  Although celebrity endorsed static ads may create brand allure, enduring emotional connections to luxury fashion are now being measured by the ROI of brand passion in social media. A notable example is the Chanel vs Louis Vuitton example highlighted in the NetBase Luxury Brand Passion report. In the 2-year study Chanel replaced Louis Vuitton to rise to first place brand passion ranking. Chanel’s enhanced YouTube strategy vis-à-vis Louis Vuitton in the chart below is notable.

 

 

Cross-channel clients spend on average more than 60 percent more than in-store-only clients. Cross-channel or omnichannel clients have increased the portion of their luxury spend online every year from 30 percent in 2011 to 37 percent in 2014, according to Exane BNP Paribas.  Chanel’s exemplary owned media and influencer strategy is evident in its Instagram advantage over Louis Vuitton in the table below.

 

Much has shifted in the past year.  Today, to remain competitive, fashion’s leading digital cognoscenti navigate very slippery runways, treading the fine line between brand awareness, loyalty and conversion.  The stage is now set for a content creation skirmish where omnichannel creativity, retail strategy, mobile video content saturation, storytelling and conversion will all play a central role.

I think the world has gone mad,” Paul Smith told Business of Fashion. “There’s this absolute horrendous disease of greed and over-expansion and unnecessary, massive over-supply of product.”

Fashion is in a state of permanent revolution.  As the tectonic plates shift, fashion’s ecosystem will likely be in a state of permanent disruption for the foreseeable future.

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