See Now, Buy Now… What Now?

See Now Buy Now appealing to mass consumption


If fashion is fizzled down to immediate satisfaction we are losing the build up of joy, long term innovation and yes even long term commercial gains.

As plastered across this week’s Breaking News, for Thakoon and Tom Ford, “see now buy now” has come full circle, with both luxury brands deciding against continuing with fashion immediacy. Their departure from the operating model du jour places a big fat question mark on the craze, as well as its impact in the future.

See now buy now was adopted by various brands in 2014, most notably Burberry and Tommy Hilfiger due to a fear that consumers especially Gen Y and Z were frustrated in having to wait 6 months time once a product was shown on the runway. That jacket you see now on Instagram – you want to buy and wear now – was the initial idea. Filling that lag was thought to make more business sense for a globalised and connected world, immediately satisfying a growing appetite. Another major positive for the industry, was that fashion immediacy stifled pesky fast fashion copy cats, who could produce and sell nearly identical designs months before an original design was in store.

Through the past years, many white papers have been written, discussions held, investments made and ongoing shifts still today shake up the fashion frontier to hope to better adapt the industry to an increasingly volatile environment. Ken Downing, fashion director of Neiman Marcus told the New York Times, “There was no question for us that customers were getting tired of product long before it had even arrived in the store…Retailers are in the midst of a very challenged trading environment right now, so for the future health of the industry, this is a model that in some variation more of the fashion community will realise it has to embrace in some capacity.”

Editorial from Vogue Italia March 2017 Shot by Steven Meisel

However, in order to reach success within fashion immediacy it takes huge prerequisites, some of which a Thakoon or a Tom Ford did not possess.  Firstly, one needs a serious consumer following and efficient direct-to-consumer channels, a hyper-coordinated supply chain and significant ongoing investment to sustain the marketing momentum generated by a fashion show. On top of these herculean tasks one needs to schedule buys before the runway show and fend off the press and any hungry bloggers along the way. To pivot in  becoming immediate takes a huge investment, where financial benefits still today in 2017 are not proven.

On the other hand , notable designers and creative opinion leaders have spoken against a seemingly detrimental system. Karl Lagerfeld mentioned to the Financial Times backstage at Fendi how See now buy now is  “A mess…The reality is that you have to give people the time to make their choice, to order the clothes or handbags, and to produce them beautifully so that editors can photograph them. If not, that’s the end of everything.”

Indeed, the key word in Lagerfeld’s statement is time.

 The incubation period from runway to shop floor is mandatory for both consumers and businesses. The 6 month period firstly is a time for generating want and desire. Like any marketing textbook would tell you, if you are exposed to a repeat stimulus of an object that object sticks better in your brain. The term is dubbed “effective frequency” which describes the number of occasions a consumer must be exposed to a specific message before achieving the desired response of purchasing the product. Effective frequency suggests there must be a certain concentration of media to cross that threshold.

Image from Vogue Italia March 2017 Shot by Tim Walker

As Anabel Maldonado wrote in her piece for the Business of Fashion, time is obligatory for the consumer to decide upon an object. That includes projecting themselves who they will be in 6 months time, how they will earn that piece, and having the time for desire to blossom within them. Maldonado’s example were the Gucci furry loafers that needed time to convince the public- the early majority would not have bought immediately without a little convincing from the press!

Within the 6 month gap, editorials bring magic to a product inviting consumers to take part in the dream.

The message behind a product lies within editorials through spectacular imagery and storytelling, simultaneously adding cultural value to an item’s desire. Within the 6 month gap, editorials bring magic to a product inviting consumers to take part in the dream. It is important to note, fashion is not only a commercial entity, it is a medium of reflection and culture. Wouldn’t it be a tragedy if fashion were reduced to only transactions?

Cover from Vogue Italia March 2017 Shot by Steven Meisel

Another point against fashion immediacy is taking the design team’s point of view.  Designing a collection and afterwards shelving it for six months prior to a runway show breaks the natural flow of a story and thus extinguishes creative spontaneity.

I would say that see now buy now is not a one size fits all solution. Fashion immediacy may work for brands which are more commercial and contemporary. However for brands and designers who wish to dictate through influence and create long lasting desire – you need that 6 month incubation gap. Camera della Moda president Carlo Capasa says, “Instant fashion is more for brands that are more marketing- or product-oriented, or driven by merchandisers. But those that have the ambition to influence the future and work on research are not into it.” As Mercedes once famously said about Lexus, “We are not in the same market” and that could be equally applied to a Valentino to a Hilfiger – while both in fashion, not the same market and not the same operating model.

If fashion is fizzled down to immediate satisfaction we are losing the build up of joy, long term innovation and yes even long term commercial gains. In other words if you take away that gap, you are essentially killing the goose that lays the golden eggs taking away the aura, the desire, and the magic of fashion.