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The Relevance of Fashion Week: Why the Business World Should Care
FSW makes the case for fashion weeks as a critical lens into business strategy, cultural economics, and the future of fashion.
It’s New York Fashion Week (NYFW). Once everyone got over the excitement of Ralph Lauren’s return to the fashion calendar, the buzz quickly shifted to discussions over whether or not Peter Do’s debut Spring-Summer 2024 collection for Helmut Lang Friday night was a success or a miss. Fashion journalists seem fully divided. It’s the kind of intensely insular fashion industry debate that cause people outside fashion to scratch their heads and wonder what it’s all about.
In The Washington Post, Rachel Tashjian has only good things to say about Do’s first collection, noting his fresh take on core Lang vibes while bringing his own perspective. She comments, “[Y]oung designers should just do their thing. What is interesting in the Lang lingua franca is that sense of comfort and cool pride in your body, whatever it looks like — that’s very contemporary.”
Cathy Horyn, on the other hand, in her review for The Cut, believes that Do’s collection missed the mark. She writes, “We’re obviously at a point now where a T-shirt or a simple cotton shirt tucked into a pair of jeans means nothing. On Do’s runway, they were merely reiterations of Lang signifiers — devoid of meaning.”
At The New York Times, Vanessa Friedman’s assessment was more judicious but her conclusion was similar. She dubbed the collection “Lang lite. Easy to digest, but the taste doesn’t linger.”
Whether you’re pro-Do or you’re a Do-not, the fact that those of us who follow fashion feel this strongly over the rebirth of Helmut Lang reveals the extent to which we care about the industry and the designers we love (as Horyn notes, “[T]he amazing thing about Lang was that his clothing made you feel differently when you wore it.”) This kind of debate also shows that NYFW is not dead, at least not to those paying attention to it. And this is even given the shifting sands of the events themselves and the constant migration of designers between cities and on and off schedule.
The broader question is: Why should the business world outside of fashion care about NYFW or any of the other Fashion Weeks? Do they really matter?
As we will explore, Fashion Week shows are real-time case studies into brand and content strategy that provide a deep lens into not only the current state of the culture economy but also the future of business itself.
Fashion Week as B2B Strategy
From a B2B perspective, Fashion Week is a fascinating way to understand the complex dynamics of brand strategy for a $111.5 billion industry. There is no better way to study fashion and luxury brands than to observe what they do at Fashion Week.
Indeed, Fashion Week and all of the buzz surrounding it reveal what brands are prioritizing, what their goals are, what trends they think will drive sales over the next year, and how their audiences may respond. Fashion shows also can be a lens into our shared cultural sensibility as a kind of community forum.
Take the hot topic of Peter Do’s debut at Helmut Lang. The choice to appoint a young designer known for his superb tailoring yet affordably priced designs to the helm of such an iconic brand was deliberate. Whether it will pay off for the brand remains to be seen. That said, Do’s SS2024 collection is highly commercial, highly sellable, and likely more affordably priced than other luxury collections.
The Fashion Show as Content
And then there’s the content angle. For fashion and luxury, content comprises every touchpoint where consumers encounter brand messaging and product information, both digitally and IRL. In this definition, a fashion week show is a dynamic form of content. It is more than just a showcase for a collection of clothes. A fashion show is brand storytelling in motion with the designer as author, narrating the story of their inspiration and its creative results for the whole world to see.
As TikTok creators show on a daily basis, content itself is a product. Fashion Week is no different. It is a brand-driven, consumer-focused theatre designed to muscle creative vision as product marketing.
After all, Fashion Week is the one chance brands have a few times a year to show off the depth and uniqueness of their brand POV, storytelling, and craftsmanship to a wider audience. For ready-to-wear (RTW), Fashion Week is a highly practical affair: if the collection won’t sell, then it isn’t that useful. But, sellability is complex, often dependent upon the unknown factor of what drives a consumer to purchase. The sellability quotient is obviously why brands save their conceptual approaches for couture. But it’s also why so many collections fall flat or don’t seem to deliver. Finding the right balance between story and commerciality is a challenge.
While a brand’s sales are hardly dependent upon how well a particular show is received, the impetus towards see-now-buy-now inspired by social media means that brands need to articulate a value proposition for each collection that recognizably connects to their core brand vision. Otherwise, any individual collection may get lost in the shuffle. In the model of fashion show as content, then brands need a holistic, integrated content strategy to connect their content to create a seamless brand experience for consumers across channels.
Story doesn’t sell clothes; content strategy does.
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