Runway reform: How the traditional fashion model is changing

Story highlights

  • Burberry recently announced that it would be switching to a new runway show model
  • Designs shown on the runway will be available for purchase immediately after the show
  • Some industry members responded positively, but many feel the change won't go much further

(CNN)Before the days of live-streaming and social media, the world of high fashion felt mysterious and inaccessible. Runway shows were as closed as film sets, and it was only through magazine editorials and red carpets that the general public knew what to expect in stores in the coming months.

But now it looks like the gap between the runway and the consumer is getting smaller. Last week, Burberry Chief Creative and Chief Executive Officer Christopher Bailey shook the industry when he abandoned the traditional show model, showing both men's and womenswear, a portion of which was available for order after the show, as opposed to six months later.
    But what startled most was Bailey's pre-show announcement that his next collection, to be shown in September, will all be available for purchase immediately after the show.
    According to Bailey, "see now, buy now" runway is a rational next step for Burberry, now that live-streaming (which the brand introduced in 2009), social media campaigns and ordering straight off the runway are so widespread.
    "I think it's frustrating for people to say you have to conform to the way the industry works, even though we're showing it to the public in a very different way [through live-streaming]," Bailey told CNN.
    Further emphasizing his goal of immediate, international reach, the clothes themselves were suited for a variety of climates because, as Bailey put it, "In some parts of the world right now it's boiling hot, and in other parts of the world it's freezing cold, so it feels a bit odd to be doing a collection that's only for one region."
    Days after Bailey announced this shift in focus in early February, American designer Tom Ford -- who had previously abandoned convention by banning press from his shows and presented his collection through video instead of on the runway last season -- said he would be following suit.
    "In a world that has become increasingly immediate, the current way of showing a collection four months before it is available to customers is an antiquated idea and one that no longer makes sense," Ford said in a statement.
    Burberry has made the move toward showing collections that are available immediately after their shown on the runway.

    A history of progress

    While Burberry may be the biggest and latest brand to champion the concept of buying directly off the runway, it is not the first to do so. Rebecca Minkoff, for example, showed a shoppable spring collection this past New York Fashion Week.
    In Milan, Jeremy Scott has included shoppable capsule collections in his runway shows since he took the helm at Moschino in 2014.
    "People see things on their iPhone, they push 'like' on Instagram, and they don't understand why [the new collection] is not popping up. And that was kind of my whole reason to do this in the beginning: to get things to people as soon as possible so they feel the excitement of it while it's happening and while they're feeling passionate about it," Scott told CNN after his Autumn-Winter 2016 show in Milan, which included a cigarette-themed capsule collection.
    "For it to have grown after two years to be a seismic change in the industry, I feel quite excited about that ... Honestly, I kind of started this."

    In Paris and New York, conflicting outlooks

    But it could be a long time before the fashion industry as a whole follows suit.
    The Council of Fashion Designers of America has hired Boston Consulting Group to conduct a study into the future of fashion shows, focusing on the possible shift towards more consumer-facing fashion weeks. Conversely the Fédération Française de la Couture du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode -- the governing body behind Paris Fashion Week -- recently announced it would stand by the current system.
    Many within the industry have also pointed out that there are practical issues with the see now, buy now system. Acclaimed British designer Hussein Chalayan agrees that, in the digital age, it's not ideal to expect consumers to wait six months to buy a collection, explaining, "it's so oversaturated. Before you see the product in the shop your eye is bored already." But he points out that Burberry's model probably won't be possible for smaller or less established brands yet.
    "I like the idea of alignment but at the same time Burberry is a big company [and] can afford to change the system. For smaller brands to change the system it is a big undertaking and a very expensive one. There has to be other ways of tackling this," Chalayan says.
    "But I am interested in it because why not see something on the catwalk and want to wear it more quickly? Rather than having to wait six months, by which point you've seen images of it everywhere, and you don't want to put it on."

    A knock-on effect

    There's also the rest of the fashion ecosystem to consider. Little has been said about how this change could impact magazines, whose editors use fashion weeks as a chance to pick looks to feature in future issues.
    One area that some feel may benefit is the ongoing issue of copycat designs, with fast-fashion chains knocking off runway looks.
    "As it stands, there are four months to copy what is on the runway," Vogue critic Sarah Mower said in an interview with The Guardian. "This stops that, which is a positive thing."
    Regardless of the uncertainty that lies ahead, Christopher Bailey is confident consumer-facing shows are a move in the right direction.
    "You can't take something that is built and designed for the industry, then invite a broader audience and expect [the runway system] to be the same, because it's not," he says. "I've always believed that."
    CNN's Fiona Sinclair Scott, and Angelica Pursley contributed to this story