Burberry’s Latest Move Could Change the Fashion System

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Available right now!
Available right now!Photo: Catwalking

Burberry is the latest — and most prominent— fashion house to make a bold shift in the way it conceptualizes fashion seasons. In plain English: No more waiting months for the runway looks to hit stores.

Per a release sent out today, the brand will adopt a new model this September, showing in-season collections that will be available to buy immediately following the show. Its advertising campaigns and social media will shift to reflect this immediacy as well, with ads appearing just after the collection walks, rather than with the typical four- or five-month delay. Significantly, Burberry will also combine its men’s and women’s collections, showing them together on the women’s calendar (though it sounds like they’ll still be doing something unspecified an event perhaps? — around London Collections: Men).

“The changes we are making will allow us to build a closer connection between the experience that we create with our runway shows and the moment when people can physically explore the collections for themselves,” said Burberry CEO and chief creative officer Christopher Bailey, adding that “our shows have been evolving to close this gap for some time.” It’s part of a gradual reinvention of the brand: Burberry announced in November that it would consolidate its Prorsum, London, and Brit lines under one (checkered) umbrella.

Livestreaming and social media have given customers so much access to fashion shows, conditioning them to grow so easily bored, that fashion organizations and brands have been racing to adapt. The CFDA is seriously mulling a consumer-facing New York Fashion Week, Tom Ford and Vetements just announced that they will do in-season shows, and brands like Thakoon and Rebecca Minkoff are remodeling their business strategies to adapt to the consumer schedule. At Moschino, Jeremy Scott has been offering small selections of runway designs to his fans right after the show — when he assumed the mantle there two years ago, he told me, “I live in a world of Instagram fans who ‘like’ things and don’t understand, when they’re ‘liking’ it, why it’s basically not coming out of that phone right there for them.” And Chris Benz has reinvented the old American workhorse Bill Blass as a buy-now, wear-now label that lives outside of the fashion calendar. (Credit is also due to Donna Karan, who’s been singing this tune for some time now.)

The tendency when reporting this kind of news is toward hyperbole — this ad, or this collection, “CHANGES EVERYTHING,” only to be forgotten next week. But given Burberry’s huge pull, this really could make an impact, the same way McQueen livestreaming made it conceivable for other brands to think about livestreaming, or Tom Ford reinventing the fashion show in various ways (videos, closed-off presentations) influenced others to try the same tactics. So while Burberry’s thinking isn’t new, its adoption of a plan like this is a big deal, given its status as a major brand known for technological innovation. (In his statement, Bailey likened it to a natural progression of the company’s early adoption of livestreaming, social media, and other technologies that other luxury brands were more leery of.)

Naturally, it all boils down to economics: They’re betting that the excitement around the show will fuel interest in buying the collection immediately, at full price. The question is, now that customers — yes, even some deep-pocketed luxury customers — have adapted to waiting for items to go on sale, will having that dream item, whether it’s a monogrammed blanket or a shiny trench, trump concerns about price?