Luxury fashion world upending tradition to join digital age

LONDON — Buying luxury clothes online right off the runway. Trying them on virtually. Not having to wait months for the new collection to ship.

SHAKE UP. A model displays a design during the Alexander McQueen Autumn/Winter show at the recent London Fashion Week. As the fashion world came to London for its semi-annual round of minutely choreographed catwalk shows, luxury designers are shaking up the traditional show and rethinking the way they reach customers to adapt to the age of social media and e-commerce. (AP PHOTO)
SHAKE UP. A model displays a design during the Alexander McQueen Autumn/Winter show at the recent London Fashion Week. As the fashion world came to London for its semi-annual round of minutely choreographed catwalk shows, luxury designers are shaking up the traditional show and rethinking the way they reach customers to adapt to the age of social media and e-commerce. (AP PHOTO)

As the fashion world comes to London for its semi-annual round of minutely choreographed catwalk shows, luxury designers are shaking up the traditional show and rethinking the way they reach customers to adapt to the age of social media and e-commerce.

Fashion shows have long been about dictating taste, a chance for designers to court powerful magazine editors like Vogue’s Anna Wintour in hopes of winning favorable reviews and, better yet, glossy photo spreads that fashionistas would pore over before going shopping. But in a digital world where trends rip through social media in an instant, bloggers and celebrities are increasingly deciding what’s hot. And customers want it now.

“There’s been a general view that the way fashion shows have operated has become increasingly outdated, especially with fashion shows more open to the mass market on Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook,” said Andrew Hall, a retail consultant with Verdict.retail. “People are able to see it instantly nowadays, when in the past they would be able to consume it only through fashion magazines.”

A host of designers are trying to reboot the system.

Rebecca Minkoff is selling the designs right away online. Her hashtag: #SeeBuyWear. Burberry has plans to ditch the time-honored tradition of showcasing clothes six months before the season they are meant for sale. Beginning this fall, it will increase its focus on seasonless clothes and make its designs available as soon as the models show it off. The company also plans to combine its men’s and women’s lines in a single show.

Diane von Furstenberg skipped the runway format altogether, offering an immersive experience that offers a vision of the shape of shows to come. She presented her latest collection with a party in her New York offices, featuring vignettes showing models wearing the clothes while traveling, working or getting ready for a party. Guests also got a chance to look up close at the garments — an effort at interaction with the public.

“This is a huge moment for the industry,” said Matthew Drinkwater, head of the Fashion Innovation Agency at the London College of Fashion. “The industry for some time has been moving in this direction.”

The Council of Fashion Designers of America, a non-profit trade organization, has asked The Boston Consulting Group to study the future of fashion shows, “with the aim of fixing what many industry experts consider a broken system that confuses consumers.” (AP)

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