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The Shifting Jigsaw Puzzle of Fashion Week Schedules

As the sun sets over Manhattan on Friday,Riccardo Tisci will preside over one of the most anticipated shows of New York Fashion Week. Anticipated, not only because Tisci will transfer one of Paris’ hottest tickets to Manhattan; he has also flung open the doors to the public, inviting 820 guests who last week entered an online ballot to win coveted seats to the Givenchy show, alongside 280 local fashion students. Sat above the throng of buyers, press and celebrities, the lucky 1,200 will have the opportunity to watch the show, devised with Tisci’s friend, the artist Marina Abramovic.

Givenchy's New York sojourn is already one of the most talked about happenings of the season, and the event hasn't even happened yet. This marketing coup is a perfect prelude to the opening of its 4,000 square foot Madison Avenue flagship — the first in the city since the brand's last flagship shut in 2006. Givenchy’s objective? Greater penetration in the US market. The way in which the brand is ushering in the public illustrates how the very nature of the show is shifting away from the industry and in the direction of the consumer.

Givenchy’s appearance in New York isn’t the only major change to the fashion week calendar. For various strategic reasons, brands this season are moving slots within the historically straight-jacketed schedules across the four fashion capitals, while some are moving countries altogether.

In Paris, Chloé, Hermès and Isabel Marant have opted for earlier slots in the week. For Chloé, the move forward from Sunday afternoon to a 9am slot on Thursday is ostensibly showroom-motivated, enabling more selling time for visiting buyers. “It allows [us] to respond to growing business demands,” explains Geoffroy de la Bourdonnaye, president of Chloé. “This includes being able to fulfil ongoing requests from our retailers by extending the sales period of our commercial showroom. The brand’s significant increase has attracted more attention from the markets. And the unveiling of the collection in the first few days will give us time to make the most of the week that follows.”

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What de la Bourdonnaye fails to mention is that by separating itself from the Celine show, which has traditionally fallen right before Chloé on Sunday, it removes the opportunity for comparison, a great temptation for press, particularly as Phoebe Philo of Celine is a former Chloé creative director. This season, Chloé will kick off day three, with Balmain following much later in the day. A member of the Balmain army and a Bohemian Chloé girl don’t ask for comparisons half as readily.

For Hermès, a late slot after Miu Miu on the final day of Paris Fashion Week — and subsequently, the last day of the long-winded fashion month — has never been ideal in terms of pleasing weary editors and buyers. By jumping 48 hours ahead to Monday, a few hours before Saint Laurent and the day before Chanel (indisputably the biggest spectacle of the week), the brand is much better placed to receive its favoured list of invitees. One brand director who wished to remain unnamed says: "Any slots that bookend fashion weeks are a nightmare. Editors are leaving town and buyers are up against it in the showrooms. Everyone has to be very strategic about when and where they show."

In Milan, Emilio Pucci welcomes both a new designer and a new slot this season. It has switched its traditional evening slot to 3pm on Thursday, ahead of Prada’s evening show. The change coincides with the arrival of Massimo Giorgetti as creative director and the departure of Peter Dundas to Roberto Cavalli. According to deputy chairman and image director Laudomia Pucci, “For the Spring show, we want to be in a very new location that can express a different fresh vibe and with a strong energy."

Versus, Versace’s second line designed by Anthony Vaccarello, will show on Saturday as part of London Fashion Week. Donatella Versace made the decision to move the show, as she predicted more buzz in London than in her hometown of Milan.

A New York mainstay and hot ticket, The Row will move its show to Paris. But this is not the first time the brand has decamped for Paris. The Row designers Ashley and Mary-Kate cancelled their Spring/Summer 2011 show in New York due to late sample deliveries, and consequently showed in Paris instead. Rumours suggest this may be the case again this season. Either way, the Olsen twins’ presence in Paris could have a knock-on effect, in terms of reaching customers in what is an unfamiliar territory for the brand. Like many of this season’s manoeuvres, the move highlights the growing desire to rise above the noise of increasingly over-crowded fashion weeks and capitalise on precious customer engagement.

Livestreaming, blogging and social media channels is set to transform what was once a highly secretive, trade-only event, putting consumers directly at the heart of the action. For Spring/Summer 2016, Ralph Lauren will livestream its New York show directly into London’s Piccadilly Circus via social media app Periscope. On 14th Street in New York, large screens will broadcast shows and a free New York Fashion Week app will bring the front row to your phone via a livestream.

“As soon as social media was created, that curtain was drawn back completely. This clandestine activity that consumers had only seen from magazine coverage at some point in the future was suddenly right in front of them. Consumers have been brought into the front row via Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and all the other channels,” says Simon Lock, chief executive officer of Ordre.com, an online showroom platform.

“What this has done has made designers realise that one of the most valuable assets produced from fashion week shows is consumer engagement through social media," Lock adds. "It’s creating demand from consumers. The travesty to a certain extent is that while we generate this demand through social media, the new product isn’t available for six months time. It’s a key infrastructure problem that the industry has at the moment."

But plenty of brands are willing to try and change that. Christopher Bailey was one of the first, making select catwalk products immediately available at Burberry stores as early as 2010. Plenty of others have followed suit, from Roland Mouretto Henry Holland, who showed his menswear range in June and made it instantly available at Selfridges in the wake of the show.

Tisci may not be selling accessories or key looks right after the Givenchy show, but he’s almost certainly creating a new template for the show as a consumer marketing tool.

“I love that Riccardo made tickets available to the public. That’s one of his great skills — being popular and populist,” says US Harper’s Bazaar editor-in-chief,Glenda Bailey, who believes that the event will prompt change in the system that, in reality, is little changed since its post-war infancy. “I think at the speed new technology is developing, we’ll be able to stay in our offices and watch holograms, something that was unthinkable when Kate Moss magically appeared at Alexander McQueen [Autumn/Winter 2006]. Soon, I’m fully expecting a runway show on my desk.”

Any major change is always initiated by one or two torch-bearers. “These are the revolutionaries. This is the democratisation of fashion in its truest sense, and good on them,” says Lock. “They recognise that fashion weeks are valuable for branding and driving consumer interest. All the business is done already. It’s not done during fashion week on the front row, that’s not where the business of fashion is done anymore. Let’s face it, what’s on the catwalk is not back in the showroom. It’s not designed for buyers, it’s designed for social media outcomes, to get celebrities excited, to get Tim [Blanks] and Suzy [Menkes] and everyone else talking about it.”

For Lock, the big shift is not about slots and scheduling. It will come when someone influential links up the dots and takes a broader leap: “Someone who has incredible insight and power in the industry, in my mind, will be someone likeKarl Lagerfeld. But, right now, I still don’t think the industry realises the depth of the impact that social media has had. The consumers realise it because they are sitting — metaphorically at least — front row at Dior now.”

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