How Burberry's brave new world will rejuvenate luxury

Burberry: acknowledging the traditional fashion calendar is a waste of time and money
Burberry: acknowledging the traditional fashion calendar is a waste of time and money

It has now become a common assumption across both the fashion and digital communities that Burberry is a constant for pushing the digital envelope and setting industry standards for best practice, writes Glenn Ebert, social strategist at SapientNitro.

A few weeks ago Burberry made good on furthering that reputation when it announced that it would be overhauling its business model to adapt to a "see-now, buy-now" approach during its fashion shows, making collections immediately available online and in-store as soon the curtain fell.

The brand went one step further elaborating that each collection would be season and gender neutral, showcasing looks for both menswear and womenswear, breaking from typical industry season monikers to deem each simply "February" and "September".

Luxury darling Tom Ford and French fashion collective Vetements quickly followed Bailey’s lead with similar news, and earlier this week Tommy Hilfiger and Michael Kors joined the fray, albeit only with selected items and collections.

The reaction across the industry ranged from shock to a sigh of relief at seeing the end of the insistence on presenting collections during industry fashion weeks, then making consumers wait nearly six months to deliver on the hype at retail locations.

Meanwhile countless photos have done the rounds across social networks, and much more detrimentally to the bottom lines of luxury brands, high street fashion brands such as Zara have sold similar, cheaper designs at much lower costs.

Beyond the fashion show

As jarring as the announcements from all three houses may have seemed, it shouldn’t have been a surprise given prior less bold, more tactical moves these same brands recently made. Tom Ford not only cancelled his brand’s annual presentation slated for New York Fashion Week last September, but quietly pulled out of London Fashion Week in January.

Ford himself also told Vogue last September that the b rand’s customers want a collection that’s immediately available and that fashion shows as well as the traditional fashion calendar no longer work.

So what does this mean for brands?

While all the glitz and glamour may appear to lie within the fine fabrics, tales of brand heritage and exclusive events, the real story is found within the balance sheet.

From drafting initial sketches, scouting exotic textiles, getting them into production and supplying retailers with product, often on the condition of being paid once an item is sold, the pressures on margins are enormous. Not to mention retailers have long tried to push the cost obligation down the supply chain, often paying designers once an item sells; meaning designers often loan clothes to stores in the hopes they sell.

Then there are the fashion shows.

Once championed as a sacred crescendo for creative directors to present their latest vision to an elite crowd of media, retail buyers and celebrity admirers, fashion shows are now perceived as a necessary evil of extravagance.

Often costing north of $1m before one model sashays down the runway, they are a dichotomy of grand spectacle and poor investment for luxury brands in the digital age. It’s no surprise the likes of Tom Ford and many smaller, more cash-strapped brands are opting for more intimate presentations or abstaining from the entire pomp and circumstance entirely.

Yet, this is also as much about power as it is about sales figures.

It’s about the power to better control the fulfilment process and protect brand equity and cost. Even more important: the power for creative directors to restore control of their vision.

While the dawn of social media presented a new opportunity to tell a more amplified, always-on story, luxury brands felt the unease and stress that comes from an engaged and always-on audience of users, influencers, retailers and press watching their every move and demanding more.

Focusing on a "see now, buy now" model tips the scale. Suddenly spending grandiose amounts of cash for a fashion show seems more justified if you know the audience, who are tuning in, live streaming and documenting your show in real-time, can instantly be redirected to a robust e-commerce page and converted into customers.

Once a threat to compromising brand mystique, the avalanche of web traffic, user generated content, retweets and Instagram photos morph into an enabling tool to feed the frenzy in a manner which can be correlated to sales. 

While discussion continues on what the long-term ramifications will be for these brands and those who follow in their footsteps, we are unquestionably at a watershed moment for an industry that has been mostly lethargic in its approach and willingness to embrace and adapt to the modern, digital consumer.

Regardless of what new iterations of transformation emerge from other brands, models such as those proposed by Burberry, Tom Ford and Vetements will affect and transcend the key players in the fashion industry, system and retail experience.

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