For fashion zealots around the world, Mercedes Benz Fashion Week is like Christmas, Halloween and the Fourth of July all in one. Happening twice per year, it is the jubilee for any and every fashion devotee. Fashion Week for Fall 2012 kicks off in New York City Feb. 9 and will usher in a slew of chilly-weather collections.
In recent years, Fashion Week has not only catered to elite aficionados, but also to the end-consumer. Magazine editors, bloggers and even celebrities tweet live from the front row of elite gatherings. Collections are debuted during star-studded fetes with a red carpet and decadent cuisine. Designers send out Instagram shots of their newest designs to give potential customers a taste of what is to come.
Yet, it takes months for runway styles to hit shelves and reach the consumer. Production and delivery could be tweaked, but structural changes would take years to implement. How to fix this conundrum? Some brands are established on a real-time system; others use pre-order availabilities for success in this instant gratification-era.
Victoria's Secret is in the Real-Time
Take the annual Victoria's Secret Fashion Show, photographed live and then broadcast a few weeks later on network television during primetime hours. The multi-million dollar event garners millions of viewers each year, and hogs headlines the day after. The Victoria's Secret Fashion Show is a blockbuster event. In 2011, it featured 38 models, 69 looks and cost more than $13 million.
Not even Victoria's Secret has always had its attack mode down pat. In 1995, the first show aired in August. Then it was held in the days following Valentine's Day. Finally, in 2001, the show took place in November and has premiered around then ever since. Why? It comes just in time for the holiday shopping season.
Christmas is the single biggest commercial opportunity of the year and it's also a great time to do a fashion show special, Ed Razek, Chief Marketing Officer of creative services of Limited Brands, the parent company of Victoria's Secret, told Business of Fashion editor Imran Amed.
The show successfully attracts those prized end-consumers; and the results are palpable. Mr. Razek said: You see sales results almost immediately. On the night of the show you see substantial increases in our web business from all of the news coverage. The day after the fashion show runs [on television], you see substantial increases in our web business.
This tactic provides unparalleled brand awareness. Victoria's Secret Direct, which encompasses online and catalog sales, raked in $1.5 billion in 2010. This makes Victoria's Secret Direct about twice the size of Neiman Marcus Direct ($715 million in revenues in 2010) and more than eight times the size of Yoox or Net-a-Porter (about $200 million in annual sales each), cites BoF editor Amed.
A case study published in 2002 by Tuck Business School at Dartmouth College detailed how when Leslie Wexner bought Victoria's Secret in 1982, the end-consumer was an essential part of his business plan. He sought to make Victoria's Secret stand [out] as an integrated world-class brand. Across all channels - catalogue, stores, Internet - the same products are launched at the same time, in exactly the same way, with the same quality, and same positioning.
Razek was honest when comparing Victoria's Secret marketing and communications tactics to those utilized by luxury brands. The obvious difference is that we're showing fashion in real-time, during the season, things that are accessible in the stores now. They are showing Fall in Spring, Spring in Fall. How does the end customer connect with that, particularly with all of the live-streaming? he said.
They're living in the past, he concluded. There aren't three fashion magazines anymore...the world is so broad, there are so many opportunities to communicate. You have to take advantage of them all. My personal opinion is that a substantial portion of the designer community is involved in an exercise of mass collective denial.
Pre-Order Lures the Eager Customer
Pre-order is one solution to the real-time snafu faced by fashion designers. Designers show Fall 2012 collections in Winter 2012 and clothes do not hit shelves until the end of summer, if not early autumn. Pre-order allows fashion fanatics to order luxury goods right after they glide down the runways.
One can place an order for, say, a Rachel Zoe dress after her Fashion Week show in February and receive their purchase in July. Though there is a significant amount of wait-time in between, and most consumers like immediate tangible goods when money is exchanged, pre-orders provide a captivating outlet. They lure the eager customer, striking while the iron is hot.
Stylist and fashion editor Sophia Neophitou-Apostolou had some advice for the designer fashion industry. It's about selling the dream, that's the main thing. Don't be too literal. Create the fantasy. Don't be afraid of it, she told BoF's Amed. I think people become so concerned about: 'Is it wearable; Is it wearable?' McQueen in the day was always about fantasy. John Galliano was always about fantasy. Even Azzedine [Alaïa] takes you on a journey; in his little shows he creates his own universe. I think that's the trick. Don't be afraid to dream!
Every [look in the Victoria's Secret show] has a piece of product so you can physically buy the pieces, Ms. Neophitou-Apostolou continued, mixed in with whimsical pieces, including those dreamy angel wings.
It's the best piece of marketing I've ever been involved with, she said.
How and Where to Pre-Order for Fall 2012
More major brands are beginning to use pre-order for end-consumer marketing. Burberry just offered an exclusive pre-order event after its Men's Fashion Week show in London. The pre-order sale lasted from Jan. 19 through Jan. 21 and allowed customers to shop runway coats and bags for the allotted time. Oscar de la Renta currently offers pre-order for his Spring 2012 collection.
New and emerging brands are collaborating with pre-tail trunk show sites. Moda Operandi is one such site. Moda Operandi requires enthusiastic shoppers to first join the Web site. Then, with an invitation to join, consumers can pre-order directly from the runway. Moda Operandi (M'O) was created by Vogue veteran Lauren Santo Domingo and Aslaug Magnusdottir.
How does the Web site work? A designer will present his or her collection at a runway show or in a showroom. M'O shoots photographs and records videos of the complete collection. Following the show, M'O runs an online trunk show for three days. Members of M'O can pre-order the pieces they want by putting down a 50 percent deposit. After the designer clothes are produced and distributed, M'O receives the merchandise and charges the remaining balance. The merchandise is then shipped and customers are styled in season.
Some current trunk shows on M'O include: Alberta Ferretti (ends Jan. 27), Yigal Azrouel (ends Jan. 26), Thakoon (ends Jan. 25), Peter Som (ends Jan. 24) and Derek Lam (ends Jan. 23). These are Pre-Fall 2012 collections; some feature items available for immediate delivery. However, continually check back to modaoperandi.com for the latest trunk shows. After Mercedes Benz Fashion Week, you can surely expect to get your hands on the latest and greatest threads from designers like Marc Jacobs, Phillip Lim, Proenza Schouler, Christopher Kane and more.