Chiho Nishiguchi
Oct 13, 2016

Mixing brand immersion and retail therapy

Innovative fashion-show trends call into question the relationship between retail and the runway, writes Flamingo's Chiho Nishiguchi.

Chiho Nishiguchi
Chiho Nishiguchi

Last month's New York Fashion Week excited viewers on a whole new level, with fashion aficionados shopping for the latest ready-to-wear collections on the spot. As always, audience attention centered on the runway, the essential element in any carefully planned fashion spectacle. This time, however, visitors were in for a surprise.

Runways have always been the stage on which brands tested their designs before making them accessible to the public. Fashion shows acted as trend-setting events that enabled retailers—especially fast-fashion ones—to plan their retail stocks even before the original designs became widely available. In other words, runways usually served an inspirational, rather than a practical role. Now that is changing.

Ralph Lauren was one of many legacy fashion houses to reinvent the classic catwalk concept. The brand designed a ramp leading right into its Madison Avenue store, prompting audiences to follow the models inside and start shopping right after the show. The runway show could also be viewed on Facebook, and the collection was subsequently available at the online store as well. Whether online or offline, all people could feel as if they were the ones taking the walk of fame, eventually rewarding themselves with the appropriate garb.

Tommy Hilfiger also made its collection immediately available online, while Alexander Wang brought its collection into the streets through pop-up wagons, with locations announced on the brand's social-media accounts. By doing this, fashion brands were essentially tweaking both of the runway’s classic meanings: its central location and its timely importance as the bearer of new styles and trends.

However, these approaches by Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren are merely a recent manifestation of a much older phenomenon that began in Japan 11 years ago. The Tokyo Girls Collection, launched in 2005, is a fashion event initiated in the hope of delivering ‘real clothes’ from the runway directly to consumers’ wardrobes. In a society where fashion is conceived more as a means to show how well you fit in, rather than to express one’s uniqueness, runways introducing cutting-edge designs were mostly seen as sources of elevated inspiration.

To make fashion more accessible, over 20 brands gathered to introduce their latest ready-to-wear collection worn by the top models in Japan. The Tokyo event allowed consumers to enjoy a glamorous fashion show, and interactively engage by purchasing fresh-off-the-runway items with a click.

This article is part of the Cultural Radar series

The Tokyo Girls runway show also went beyond fashion to incorporate artists and other talent. Collaborations with famous musicians, celebrities, and non-fashion brands assisted in creating an aspirational brand-world in a limited space, making it possible for audiences to not just see, but also hear and experience various brand messages and lifestyles.

Innovative new runway shows call into question the role of traditional retail stores in the fashion industry. Retail has always been the mainstream channel for item purchases, but today we are seeing more and more immersive spaces where people can mix the brand experience with actual shopping.

Yet, if the runway show, the ultimate projection of the brand’s identity, is now evolving into a purchase opportunity, who needs the traditional store?

Chiho Nishiguchi is senior research executive at Flamingo Tokyo

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