The fashion industry is in the throes of a tectonic shift, one that is partly a result of its last shift, when critical mass began to embrace social media in 2010. The recent international Fall/Winter 2016 fashion weeks had an unprecedented number of players suggesting new models of business, beginning with Burberry’s announcement to consolidate its men’s and women’s shows. Their most provocative decision: nix the six-month waiting period between runway to retail.
The decision to offer products direct to consumers right after its show was widely lauded. It was also a much-needed move, if only to shake up an industry set in its ways. So far, the fashion industry had been following a universally accepted convention: show collections months before the actual season when they would reach stores. In the days that followed Burberry’s announcement, American designers Tommy Hilfiger and Tom Ford came out with similar decisions, opening the watershed for a heated global conversation.
Given India’s relatively nascent fashion industry, one that’s been struggling to meet international delivery timelines for years, this news appears fortuitous. Could it be that global consumption and the pace of fashion could be changing to meet us closer to our capabilities, especially given longer lead times much of our textiles require? The day may not be far off when Indian fashion would finally be assessed for its creative contribution instead of its ability (or not) to meet strict delivery timelines.
Adding together textile development, production lead times and the flexibility of domestic retailers often comfortable placing orders within weeks of delivery, it seems as though there is an alignment with the current global tide that also appears to be more open to flexible timelines.
In India, multiple models (of fashion showings versus the delivery of those collections to stores) have existed for years. The Delhi-based Amazon India Fashion Week (AIFW), the industry’s largest trade event, follows the classic calendar of showing and selling Spring/Summer collections in October of the previous year. Since it is usually held two weeks after international fashion weeks have ended, most buyers have used up their budgets, making the potential spend within our industry smaller still. Indian designers interested in showing in Europe or North American trade shows often have a tough time straddling both showing schedules for the same season. Some choose to skip a runway collection instead, citing limited budgets and importantly, creative and production bandwidth.
Sunil Sethi, president of the Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI), which organises AIFW calls himself a ‘contrarian’ in these times. “What is important is that buyers come here (to India) and order. What follows is the ability of designers and their production logistics to meet the pace the buyers want. If Burberry is making this decision it is because they have their own stores, they know the numbers and can predict. If designers have their own shops, there will be no problem in adapting the new format, but that’s not the case for most in India.”
Others echo Sethi’s sentiment. Like Pankaj Ahuja of designer duo Pankaj and Nidhi. “I’m still one for thinking it should continue to be the conventional way—simply because of the backend. How do you estimate how much needs to be produced? As an idea, sending new collections immediately to stores seems interesting and new— but I don’t think it is going to revolutionize fashion.”
Having skipped showing last October, Ahuja admits he loathes the idea of skipping a season. “We had to for personal reasons. That being said, it did not make a dent on our business, but it is not something one can take comfort in. It is a part of our job: you have to let people see what you’ve made,” he argues.
Added to this is the renewed interest at fashion weeks especially abroad in the ‘presentation’ format. It is a classic alternative to runway shows, devoid of the catwalk and constraints of a single line of models. Over the last few seasons global luxury brands have increasingly been engaging in this format given its adaptability, intimacy and often, lower cost. Even Diane von Furstenberg, veteran designer and president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America opted to show in her New York headquarters. She transformed the space into different settings in which one could observe the DVF woman – apparently having a grand time at a cocktail party.
Given India’s fragmented fashion system, could this presentation format offer more options and alternative ways of expression instead of a routine fashion show? AIFW board member and designer David Abraham of the brand Abraham and Thakore didn’t let the current season—as defined by AIFW–affect his brand’s desire to explore. They participated last month in AIFW Autumn/ Winter 2016 edition but through an off-site (and off calendar) presentation at their flagship store in Delhi. Citing the intimacy of the format as a major consideration, they showed a pre-fall collection instead that would be available for immediate order and delivery within a few weeks.