Last week Dries Van Noten wrote an open letter to the fashion community, signed by peers including Joseph Altuzarra, Mary Katrantzou, and Marco Zanini. It was followed days later by a Business of Fashion initiative with many of the same designer signatories. Both documents cited the need for radical change. The COVID-19 pandemic has crystallized the many challenges facing the industry, from the outmoded runway-show system to the interrelated problems of out-of-sync deliveries and profitability-eroding markdowns. Even as the lockdowns begin to lift, the crisis’s impact is reverberating—see: Neiman Marcus’s bankruptcy, the closure of Jeffrey and Opening Ceremony stores, and the 800-plus designers and companies that have applied for the CFDA and Vogue’s A Common Thread grants.
Today, it’s the Council of Fashion Designers of America and the British Fashion Council’s turn to weigh in. The two organizations have issued a joint message to their respective members. Dubbed “The Fashion Industry’s Reset,” the letter covers similar ground, calling on the community to rethink the ways in which designers and brands do business and present collections. “We are united in our steadfast belief that the fashion system must change, and it must happen at every level,” it begins. What follows is a series of recommendations, starting with slowing down. “For a long time, there have been too many deliveries and too much merchandise generated. With existing inventory stacking up, designers and retailers must also look at the collections cycle and be very strategic about their products and how and when they intend to sell them.” That means “focus[ing] on no more than two main collections a year” and shifting the delivery cadence of merchandise “closer to the season for which it is intended.”
On the subject of fashion shows, the CFDA and BFC emphasize the importance, once the pandemic is over, of showing “during the regular fashion calendar and in one of the global fashion capitals.” Doing so would “avoid the strain on buyers and journalists traveling constantly.” But today’s letter does not go as far as the Business of Fashion proposal, which strongly encourages see-now-buy-now shows “as events primarily designed to engage customers…just before deliveries arrive in stores.” (It’s worth noting that a handful of designers experimented with the see-now-buy-now formula several years ago, but it was abandoned by all but Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger.)
Sustainability, which had been fashion’s cri de coeur in the months leading up to the coronavirus crisis, is another bullet point: “Through the creation of less product, with higher levels of creativity and quality, products will be valued, and their shelf life will increase.”
The CFDA and BFC letter is the latest indication that the industry is starting to rally around the idea of change, but there are major players, especially in Europe, that have not yet joined the chorus. Perhaps that doesn’t matter. The last time the fashion-show schedule shifted in any significant and lasting way was when Helmut Lang moved his show from Paris to New York circa fall 1998. A season later, all of New York was showing ahead of Europe, breaking decades of precedent. Now is the time for action, so who is 2020’s Helmut Lang?