Is “See Now, Buy Now” The Future Of Fashion?

Or just a way for designers to satisfy the new demands of consumers?

Nowhere is the idea of what goes around comes around more accurate than in the world of fashion. But as the now-to-be-expected trends have left only to return again (think: feathers, ruffles, and graphic patterns), there has been a movement that not only hasn’t left after Fall 2016 but has grown in size come last fashion month: the "see now, buy now" model.

The framework, which seemingly started as a somewhat of an experiment in the industry, is based on a direct-to-consumer approach that cuts out the six-month time period between when a brand shows their new collection to press and buyers and when it drops in stores. With the introduction of the "see now, buy now" movement, certain designers have allowed people to buy pieces immediately following the catwalk or presentation, thus enabling customers to experience instant gratification by purchasing that boot we’ve seen all the bloggers covet—and, of course, Instagram—in real time.

“Traditionally, after we showed our collection, consumers would see it all over blogs, celebrities, and magazines—by the time the product arrived in stores, they had moved on,” says Rebecca Minkoff who, for her namesake label, had taken an entirely shoppable runway show literally to the streets outside of her Greene Street store in Manhattan during September’s NYFW. “We no longer wanted our customers to suffer from what we are calling ‘image fatigue.’ We wanted our show to be more than a coming attraction; we wanted it to be something our customer could wear the next day if she loved it.”

Really, it's a natural progression that was possible to see coming. In the last decade, we have witnessed the end of collections debuting on the pages of long-lead magazines months after showing because live streaming, social media, and instant reviews have become ubiquitous. With our ever-shortening attention spans, see now, buy now comes at a time when consumers are no longer interested in shopping half a year after first spotting something on Instagram. Not to mention the times they can't even remember what initially caught their eye a season prior, with the seemingly constant cycle of collections appearing on our feeds courtesy of resort, couture, and every international fashion week possible.

It, again, then should come as no surprise that the increasing disconnect between collections showing and consumers shopping has pushed designers to begin a direct conversation with their customers, conversations unmediated by media, PR campaigns, and retails distributors. With that in mind, over the last two seasons, luxury brands like Tom Ford, Ralph Lauren, and Burberry, classic mainstays like Banana Republic, Topshop, Tommy Hilfiger, and Club Monaco, and edgier contemporary favorites like Rebecca Minkoff, Alice + Olivia, Thakoon, and Baja East all tried their hand at the model.

While some designers, like Minkoff, made the entire collection available for instantaneous shopping pleasure, others have opted to release a select number of pieces to test the retail waters. Along with their global brand ambassador and all-around It Girl Olivia Palermo, Banana Republic unveiled more than a dozen of early-release styles that became available immediately online and at Manhattan’s Flatiron location after the brand’s Spring 2017 New York Fashion Week presentation. “We’re always looking for new ways to innovate and keep our customers engaged, especially as styles are live on social media and in the press,” says Michael Anderson, Banana Republic’s senior vice president of design, of their second "see now, buy now" offering. “This program eliminates the wait and offers immediacy to our customers with the ability to purchase a limited run of select styles.” With a carefully Palermo-curated offering of styles, the clothes were versatile classics that could just as easily be worn next spring as this fall. “Digital channels have opened the dialogue with our customers. Given their excitement, appetite, and urgency to get product sooner, it’s been fulfilling making product turnaround quicker from NYFW,” adds Anderson.

The model also plays into the influencer currency—you might not be one of the select few to be invited to the physical show, but what does it matter if you saw the show on your screen and purchased the item you saw, both without a crowd or queue in sight? Plus, in addition to serving consumers—that have previously been left behind the scenes—better and faster, retail-to-runway formula stops fast fashion rip-offs in its tracks by cutting production time from its schedule. “With fast fashion [brands] not being able to see new collections ahead of time and knocking them off before my goods hit stores, my hope is that over time, the consumer will buy the designer's goods, and fast fashion becomes less relevant and wasteful,” says Minkoff. Given how many cases of bigger brands ripping off smaller designers have been brought to light recently, this is not to be taken lightly.

But contemporary apparel designers aren’t the only ones getting in on the trend. Shoe designer extraordinaire Tamara Mellon, formerly of Jimmy Choo, recently reorganized her namesake label by abandoning the traditional fashion cycle after she too realized that “women are fed up of seeing things they love at the shows and then having to wait six months for it to be delivered to the stores.”

Instead of having collections being delivered months after presenting, which just didn't make sense to her, Mellon is now focusing on maintaining an all-year-round selection, titled the Collection, while also delivering season-appropriate, limited-edition offerings through the Lab line.“We have a collection that stays online throughout the year, of timeless edgy classics that we all repeat buy, and then every month, we deliver fashion product to keep things exciting,” she says. “We talk to our customer every day about how we can react to what she wants in real time.” Not to mention that Mellon has eliminated the wholesale margin from her markup, making price points approximately 50 percent below traditional luxury retail pricing, to “pass this value onto the customers instead of paying department store rents.”

HOUGHTON designer Katharine Polk has also begun rejecting the traditional calendar in her bridal wear, an industry that witnesses even more time discrepancy in terms of production (usually a year), when last season, she turned the bridal fashion world on its head, inviting real brides to shop directly from the presentation. “I feel that making brides and the public wait so long to get their hands on a collection after you show has become such an archaic model. When we are now living in such an instantaneous culture, why would we still offer clothes to be in store a year later? I want to eliminate that and allow brides to order the day the collection hits the runway,” says Polk. This October, she recreated the model again while also debuting an empowering movie to showcase the collection and a not-your-mother's bridal capsule collection of sweatshirts, T-shirts, and beanies based on the “Hopeless Romantic,” “Not Your Baby,” and "Fuck Boy” jackets that were hand-painted for the film. “I love offering accessibility to the public and our brides. I love seeing them at the show falling in love with something and being able to order it that day,” says Polk.

While there has been some criticism in regard to whether the direct-to-consumer allows for the same level of creativity and risk-taking, since the brand has to actually produce clothing that has to instantly sell with no feel for what the buyers and editors are thinking about the pieces, designers we spoke to reject that notion, saying that it allows consumers to have a new medium in which to shop and pushes designers outside of their comfort zones with no cushion of time padding production time should something go unplanned. “New formats always challenge the norm. We never want to remain static, and we’re continually challenging ourselves to push creativity. This exercise has certainly spurred innovation from our teams, which is inspiring,” says Anderson.

Polk also points to the benefits of not having a store curate—a common occurrence in bridal salons where space and sample availability is limited—the looks that the bride can see when it comes to wedding wear. “I can take risks and don’t have to wait for the filter or stores as the middleman; I can get direct feedback and reactions from the bride,” she says, adding:

Often stores are afraid to take risks on looks even if they look great on the runway or have a strong reaction in the press. This model allows the consumer to dictate what they want without the buyers curating and changing what's in front of the brides once it hits the store. I wanted to let brides order from what they saw rather than having to choose from an edited selection in their local store six months later, potentially giving them the same opportunity as buyers.

So, ultimately, will the runway-to-retail formula be the future of fashion? While Mellon says that "see now, buy now" is “how the next generation of luxury brands will be built,” Anderson, Polk, and Minkoff all confirm that it's a model that's been working for them and that they will continue employing, changing, and evolving based on the feedback. While it remains to be seen whether the model will entice the consumers enough to drive up sales, it's encouraging to see fashion back in the hands of the power player—the paying customer—as opposed to editor or buyer. It is when the novelty wears off, that we'll see whether the format is indeed the future of fashion, but given the digital age, it sure seems to be heading in the right direction.

At the end of the day (season?), the shoppable runways serve to satisfy and, no easy feat, interest a plugged-in customer. Minkoff summarizes it best:

This model aims to get the consumer excited about retail again, by breaking down the barriers and allowing them to be a part of the conversation. I think being able to give the consumer something that they can be excited about and get right away is something that we have to do, especially now with social media and the over-proliferation of images.

And at the end of the day, what's not to like about that?