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Four ways in which the fashion industry is changing in 2016

Brands like Burberry and Tom Ford recently announced a radical rethink of their show calendars, as the fashion industry finally reacts to the massive changes wrought by the digital revolution.

In fashion, trends come and go at the drop of a hat (speaking of which, hot right now: a trilby or a driving cap). But the fashion industry itself —  a mammoth trillion-dollar global enterprise — moves much more slowly, and has been unable to keep up with the avalanche of changes brought about by the fast-moving digital landscape.

Recently, several brands, led by English luxury powerhouse Burberry, announced major changes to their fashion-show calendars, kicking off what looks set to be seismic shifts in the industry. Here are four key things to know about the recent changes.

01: See now, buy now

Currently, fashion shows take place about six months before the featured items actually hit retail shelves. Right now, for instance, the women’s fashion weeks are underway, and the clothes shown in New York, London, Milan and Paris are from the Autumn/Winter 2016/17 collections. These pieces only start arriving in stores around August.

Several brands are now proposing a “see now, buy now” schedule that repositions the fashion show as a consumer-centred event. Starting this September, Burberry’s calendar will feature two shows, respectively called February and September, featuring a “seasonless” mix of styles that will  be available for purchase in-store and online immediately after the shows.

02: The Why

Digital advancements have greatly changed the way fashion shows are received. Since the beginning, fashion shows have allowed buyers and editors to preview new designs, and this interaction with industry experts allowed designers to have a clearer picture of which items are likely to sell well before putting them into production — a process which takes time as well. But now that every fashion-show attendee, from print-media editors to social-media influencers, is armed with a phone camera, images of the shows and the latest designs are seen around the world in real time.

Plenty of hype is generated during these shows, and it doesn’t make sense from a marketing POV that brands aren’t able to convert this mountain of publicity into actual hard sales. By the time the clothing actually hits stores half a year later, they can look tired to media-exposed fashion fans: In a recent New York Times article, the fashion director of upscale department store Neiman Marcus recalled a customer’s reaction to a just-delivered embroidered jacket: “But don’t you have anything new?”

03: The Who

Following Burberry’s announcements, a number of brands have also announced their intentions to change their show calendars. The list (so far) includes Tommy Hilfiger and Tom Ford, and brands like Proenza Schouler, Michael Kors and Rebecca Minkoff are experimenting with this new model by making selected new designs available for sale right after their recent New York shows.

04: Streamlined approach

Instead of having separate shows, Burberry and Tom Ford will show their men’s and women’s collections together. It makes sense, especially now that the gap between brands’ menswear and womenswear collections has narrowed: It’s not just because these two collections often share similar aesthetics, but also because of the growing notion that clothing does not have to be segregated by gender. Another way in which we are seeing fashion brands trim excess fat (just figuratively, of course) is by eliminating their lower-priced diffusion lines: Burberry is merging its Prorsum, London and Brit collections under a single Burberry brand; while Marc Jacobs has also folded its Marc by Marc Jacobs collection into its mainline.

This is just the beginning. And it’s about time.

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