I’m Just Gonna Say It: Fashion Week’s Calendar Makes No Sense in a Digital Age

Lindsey Lanquist
I’m Just Gonna Say It: Fashion Week’s Calendar Makes No Sense in a Digital Age
Photo: Yardins/Shutterstock.

Like most of the fashion set, I’ve spent the past few weeks enveloped in fashion month—attending shows, perusing street style, carefully curating outfits that feel fashion week-appropriate and fashion week-practical. And as I’ve traipsed around the city (and around various corners of the internet), one thing has become increasingly evident: Designers are doing it for the ‘Gram, but fashion week isn’t.

Myriad labels have transformed their runways with social media in mind, focusing on bite-sized, shareable moments—like Laverne Cox twirling her heart out to close 11 Honoré’s runway, or Gigi Hadid’s part-wedding dress, part-butterfly mobile at last September’s Moschino show in Milan. I attended an Alice in Wonderland-themed presentation filled with models and painted roses, and was invited to interact with the roses as much as I so desired; I spent more time engaging with (and photographing) my surroundings than I did the clothes in the collection—possibly a failure on my part, but more likely a result of how the presentation was designed.

This move to embrace one-off, social media-facing moments is representative of a larger, democratizing shift taking place within the fashion industry.

Runways were once a way for designers to communicate their collections to tastemakers—magazine editors responsible for sifting through these collections and passing on the most valuable bits and pieces to their readers. Fashion week was elite, exclusive, idyllic; laypeople dreamt of what went on behind the images they saw in their favorite magazines.

But as we’ve collectively shifted from the pages of print to the pages of the internet, this veil of exclusivity has been lifted. These days, anyone with a WiFi connection—or LTE coverage—has access to fashion week. We can Google past collections. We can get trend coverage in real time from our favorite outlets. And we can even vicariously experience shows as they happen live, through Instagram and Snapchat.

As far as fashion week is concerned, gatekeepers are (largely) a thing of the past—and designers understand that. Sure, tastemakers are still the only ones getting invites, but the word “tastemakers” now encompasses a whole host of Instagram-based citizen “journalists” (no sass intended) who have more clout than many people full-time media jobs. (Myself included.) Instead of catering to this once-elite crowd of gatekeepers, designers are creating collections and shows with the masses in mind; one-off, visually interesting moments are marketable—and likely to catch your eye in a passing scroll through social media.

The purpose of fashion week has shifted from a way to communicate art to gatekeepers so that they can eventually pass it on to you. It’s a way to communicate art to you directly, and the format has changed accordingly.

But the calendar hasn’t.

Fashion week’s calendar still reeks of the old guard.

As many of you likely know, fashion week runs on a six-months-in-advance cycle. Designers show their fall/winter collections in February, and their spring/summer collections in September. So if you were to attend September 2019’s NYFW, you’d be seeing pieces you couldn’t wear—and trends you couldn’t take full advantage of—until March of the following year.

When designers were communicating with editors, who were, in turn, communicating with print magazine readers, this six-months-ahead calendar made a lot of sense. Magazines are completed a couple months before they make it into anyone’s mailbox, so the six-month buffer offered editors a couple months to process what they’d seen at fashion week, and then a couple more months to translate that insight to the pages of a magazine.

But these days, the cycle feels outdated, at best—and irrational, at worst. Because even though print magazines still exist, they’re not the hub of breaking news trend coverage they once were. The internet—a format that allows immediacy, interaction and accessibility—is. And while designers, influencers and media outlets, alike, are keeping that immediacy, interaction and accessibility in mind, the overarching fashion week calendar isn’t.

During NYFW, I attended a presentation that was equal parts delightful and frustrating. It was well-assembled, well-hosted, well-styled, and the clothes were incredible. They were so incredible, in fact, that the only thing that frustrated me was my inability to buy them until August or September. These were fall/winter clothes—clothes I could theoretically wear now and enjoy for several months to come, as everyone knows winter doesn’t really end in New York until May. But they’re not available to me—or anyone else—for half a year.

This feels like a marketing misstep. Thanks to the internet, collections have hype the moment they’re debuted. But (almost) no one is capitalizing on that earned media attention and launching collections while people are excited about them. Instead, they’re waiting the traditional six months before making any of these pieces available for purchase. And it feels more like something we’re doing out of habit than something we’re doing because it actually makes sense.

Some designers have dared to break the six-months-in-advance status quo.

Prada, Rebecca Minkoff, Tommy Hilfiger and Burberry are among the labels that have dipped their toes into the see-now-buy-now waters. 11 Honoré made its February 2019 runway show shoppable. Rihanna closed September 2018’s NYFW with a Savage x Fenty Fall 2018 collection that became shoppable the moment the show ended.

The risks that these labels and designers took acknowledge the way we all shop: a couple months in advance—not half a year before we plan to wear the stuff we’re browsing. (Check Google Trends if you don’t believe me.) Progress to accept this shift in calendar is slow, and conversation around it seems to have dropped off since piquing in 2016.

Which is strange, considering McKinsey released a State of Fashion report at the start of this year that stated how vital it was for fashion companies to stay nimble in an ever-changing industry. “Regardless of size and segment, players now need to be nimble, think digital-first, and achieve ever-faster speed to market,” McKinsey reported. “The ones that will succeed will have come to terms with the fact that in the new paradigm taking shape around them, some of the old rules simply don’t work.”

The truth is simple: Fashion week is becoming increasingly democratic, and the six-months-out calendar is one relic of the past we need to stop arbitrarily clinging to.

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