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Digital pioneer Burberry does it again, this time radicalising its whole fashion calendar

This post first appeared on Forbes.


If there’s one thing the fashion industry is talking about this morning, it’s Burberry’s move to “align runway with retail”. The British heritage brand, and renowned digital innovator, is shifting its fashion week calendar so it shows in-season in both February and September (starting September 2016), meaning collections will be available to buy “immediately” after they’ve appeared on the catwalk, both online and in-stores.

Speaking to The Business of Fashion, Burberry’s chief executive and chief creative officer, Christopher Bailey, said: “There’s just something that innately feels wrong when we’re talking about creating a moment in fashion: you do the show in September and it feels really right for that moment, but then you have to wait for five or six months until it’s in the store… You’re creating all this energy around something, and then you close the doors and say, ‘Forget about it now because it won’t be in the stores for five or six months’.”

The move will also see the brand combine both its men’s and women’s shows together at London Fashion Week, and call the collections for the month they appear and not “spring/summer” or “autumn/winter”. Digital and print ads will also launch instantly.

Bailey added: “It often felt slightly superficial to be talking about an autumn/winter collection, when it’s 90 degrees in a third of the shops we’re selling it in. We are a global company and the world is not one weather pattern.”

Such a change inevitably has implications for the company’s supply chain, and was the side that needed the most consideration and thought in order to become more agile and flexible, Bailey says. It will now be designing and manufacturing simultaneously, as opposed to one leading to the other. Wholesale partners will also have to work more collaboratively, and be trusted to work to new embargoes set by the brand. But Bailey says it will also provide opportunities to create exclusives for certain stores and special events for their VIP customers.

Burberry is not the first to announce a shift to this “see now, buy now” model, but it’s certainly the biggest so far. Other, smaller brands including Rebecca Minkoff, Misha Nonoo and Thakoon are also changing the way they do things to better suit a direct-to-consumer model. The Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) has also hired the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) to conduct a study on whether or not New York Fashion Week at large should change to become more closely aligned with retail drops.

The moves come of course as fashion weeks become increasingly public-facing forms of entertainment, rather than mere trade events. Ever since live-streaming began in 2010, designers have battled with capturing that “energy”, as Bailey refers to it, when there was no instant gratification to be had for the broader audience. Many, led by Burberry at that time, attempted to offer exclusive items available for pre-order (and arrival in more like six weeks than six months), but that only ever really felt like a cheap fix.

Where Burberry goes, others will of course now follow. Expect to see multiple other brands, no doubt big and small, start to shift to a current-season view. Topshop Unique is a very obvious one. The likes of Tommy Hilfiger in New York too. But does it suit the more traditional luxury houses in Milan and Paris?

In a piece I wrote on this subject in December, Caroline Homlish, a New York-based digital brand strategist who recently launched her own agency following senior digital positions at Chanel and Alexander McQueen, said she didn’t imagine such cities changing anytime soon, but that perhaps a line could be drawn between what’s considered “luxury” and “contemporary” these days.

It could be that we end up dividing the industry, positioning couture and ready-to-wear as they’ve always been, and introducing a third consumer event series alongside suited to those actively able and agile enough to go direct to the consumer. Burberry for instance, sits very wholeheartedly under what could be considered “mass luxury” today, comparative to some of its European counterparts.

What will be particularly interesting to see come September then, is whether what’s shown on its catwalk shifts too. Fashion weeks, no matter their form, have always been a tool for promotion; a PR move to generate hype around a brand (and of course wholesale buys for it), even though that specific ready-to-wear collection was quite likely not what generated the most revenue. Other pre-collections, the broader retail product mix, not to mention entry-level accessories and fragrance/beauty items were in place for that.

If the catwalk collection is available immediately to buy, it’s quite likely there will be an aim to promote a variety of product through it. Burberry’s luxury arm (what was called Prorsum before the brand moved all of its lines under one “Burberry” umbrella) will still have its place, but it’s likely we’ll also see big pushes around its bags – think of the nylon backpack last season – scarves, and quite likely some cheaper apparel.

In an ultimate aim to make it more relevant in a toughening global luxury market, the biggest test will be to see how sales perform thereafter. Here’s looking forward to September.

By Rachel Arthur

Rachel Arthur is Editor-in-Chief of Current Daily, the leading news source for fashion, retail and innovation, and the co-host of its weekly Innovators podcast. She otherwise serves as Co-Founder and Chief Innovation Officer of Current Global, a transformation consultancy driving growth within fashion luxury and retail. By background she is an award-winning business journalist and consultant, contributing to titles including Wired, Forbes and Business of Fashion.

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