The fashion industry loves a bandwagon, and the see-now-buy-now one keeps rolling along. A murderer’s row of major brands, from Burberry and Ralph Lauren to Tommy Hilfiger and Moschino, has incorporated at least some element of instant gratification into their recent collections. Burberry and Lauren presented immediately shoppable runway shows, with the latter inviting attendees straight into the store after his spring 2017 show. Hilfiger made his Tommy x Gigi collaboration available to buy fresh off the runway, and Moschino’s Jeremy Scott has been offering capsules of his most poppy, instantly recognizable pieces — like this season’s slogan sweatshirts and trash-can bag. But it’s been tough, from an outside perspective, to see how they stack up — when a collection is trumpeted as “sold out,” it’s rarely revealed how many pieces were even available, or how long that process took.
In recent weeks, see-now-buy-now’s image as the silver-bullet savior of fashion has taken a hit. Designer Thakoon Panichgul, who had completely overhauled his business to focus on seasonless dressing and e-commerce, announced he was putting his brand on “pause” to rethink the concept. And Tom Ford, who tried out see-now-buy-now for one season, decided it wasn’t for him, telling Women’s Wear Daily, “The store shipping schedule doesn’t align with the fashion show schedule … you can’t have a show with clothes that have been on the selling floor for a month.”
Fashion has been bullish on instant shopping for several years now, with the conventional wisdom claiming that our immediate-gratification culture has spurred a Veruca Salt customer. (“Don’t care how, I want it now.”) And for people who follow fashion religiously, that is definitely the case. When I interviewed Jeremy Scott several years ago, he told me that his young customer was impatient for fashion: “I live in a world of Instagram fans who ‘like’ things,” he said, “and don’t understand, when they’re ‘liking’ it, why it’s basically not coming out of that phone right there for them.” But as Cathy Horyn pointed out after Lauren’s show, the strategy may work better for mid-price labels than it does for luxury ones. Contemporary brands like Rebecca Minkoff have been demonstrably successful at leveraging the possibilities of instant shopping — CEO Uri Minkoff tells the Cut that the brand’s sales were up 64 percent year after year, after adopting see-now-buy-now. “When we create an experience, the format is not as relevant as ‘What is the experience, who is involved?’” he says.
For example, their show last month at the Grove in L.A. was open to consumers and was stocked with influencers whose combined following totals over 20 million on Instagram alone, including Chiara Ferragni and Aimee Song. Some pieces were available to buy right after the show, while others dropped 30-45 days later, and Minkoff said that both sold “way better than normal,” with even the dress the designer wore for her bow selling out briskly online. Still, says Minkoff, “That’s what works for us. I’m not saying that everyone should do it. In a luxury sense, having a longer-term relationship and a romanticizing of something over a period [of time], that’s great.” Minkoff’s brand operates at what he calls “a more spontaneous purchase level.”
To bridge that gap between romance and spontaneity, some high-end designers have waded into instant shopping by offering small see-now-buy-now capsules, and continuing to show the rest of their collection as before. But according to Ken Downing of Neiman Marcus, “I don’t feel like doing just a capsule is the only way to attack this, because I actually think it confuses the consumer even more.” Downing is a strong advocate of see-now-buy-now as an overall approach – he mentions customers who come with photos of a runway model or a celebrity in something they just wore. “If they can’t find what they’re looking for that’s all about that moment, I’m sure they’re finding it in fast-fashion stores,” he says. Elizabeth von der Goltz of Bergdorf Goodman echoes this line of thinking. “When people have these see-now-buy-now capsules that they put enough marketing and social media behind, they work extremely well,” she says. “But you need to come up with a full strategy that’s not about this one shot. How do you continue driving your business through the season, versus this one time?”
One surprising discovery that emerges is that this new world of immediate shopping has some old-school aspects to it. (Maybe not that surprising — if you think about it, the old-school couture fitting and trunk show was the original see-now-buy-now.) Stores are putting their muscle into experiences. Von der Goltz points to recent events Bergdorf has done with Kith, Nike, and Fenty, as well as what she calls its “right off the runway” events, where customers can meet designers, see and touch the clothes, and place preorders. Downing, who was on his way to a customer event in Houston when we spoke, says, “they’re actually very successful events because it’s an experience. You’re interacting with a fashion authority who can give them ideas on how to put clothes together. It’s making the clothes that they’ve seen for some time look new by the way that we’re styling it.”
While its roll may have slowed slightly, everyone I spoke to agreed that see-now-buy-now is not going anywhere, even if a few brands have soured on it. Fashion consultant Julie Gilhart said she thought it would just become more commonplace, predicting that “many of the up-and-coming brands will just build this see-now-buy-now concept into their initial business start-up.” Minkoff even imagines consumer fashion shows becoming a draw in themselves. “Wouldn’t it be fun for consumers to be able to come to New York,” he muses, “and see three or four fashion shows rather than saying, ‘I’m going to see a Broadway show?’ He thinks that a few seasons from now, that could be the reality. “I don’t think the world is slowing down,” he says. “We are betting the ranch on this model.”