4 lessons high street retailers have learnt from London Fashion Week
From the runway to the real way, eric’s fashion guru Torri Mundell takes a look at London Fashion Week and ponders what the high street has learnt from it.
London Fashion Week is a trip. But in between the big ideas, the clever design and the endless inspiration, there were moments when the solemn pageantry of catwalk presentations felt a little out of date. And during those moments, even though I’m a bona fide fashion person, a very subversive thought occurred to me: sometimes it’s more fun to shop on the high street than it is to watch a catwalk show.
When fashion bloggers can make or break a brand with a single Instagram post, when the Duchess of Cambridge steps out in Reiss and L.K.Bennett, and when ‘disrupter’ brands can unsettle the fashion industry, is there anything left for the high street to learn from the catwalk? Sure there is, but the shrewdest (and chic-est) retailers have assimilated the best elements from the runway – and left out the boring bits. Here’s what’s working for the high street brands that are winning at fashion in 2017.
1. Adding personality – and sticking to it
Catwalk shows are the distillation of a designer’s signature look or the story they want to tell that season; buying a piece from their collection grants you instant membership to the tribe (when someone paws at your bag and says “ooooh, is that Mulberry?”, trust me, it’s a rush).
more and more, ‘fast fashion’ brands are using their efficient turnaround times to listen to what the customer wants
The high street has always offered up affordable, trickled-down versions of those runway pieces – you can see this successful fashion formula in action on the shop floors at New Look or H&M. But over the last decade, the brands with the most loyal following are the ones that have developed an aesthetic they can call their own, season after season. Think of COS and their nearly-Amish tailoring and apron dresses, L.K.Bennett’s fit-for-a-princess frocks and kitten heels, or the Goth rocker-chick tops and biker boots at All Saints. Arket, the latest import from the H&M group, has even taken an anti-trend stance with their eternally chic and timeless clothing and homeware.
2. Listening rather than telling
For catwalk brands, the quaint six-month time lag between seeing a catwalk collection splattered across your social media feeds and the moment you can actually buy from the collection is a big commercial headache. Burberry and Tommy Hilfiger are the only first division players to have nailed the see-now-buy-now format; the majority of luxury brands can’t make it work with press, production and store shipping schedules.
By contrast, the high street’s production cycle moves at lightning speed. And more and more, ‘fast fashion’ brands are using their efficient turnaround times to listen to what the customer wants, rather than what the catwalks are telling us we should wear. A case in point: rather than rely solely on catwalk trends and instinct, Zara’s in-house design team test run their key pieces and will only put a garment into high volume production once it’s already proved popular on the shopfloor.
3. Injecting a little theatre in-store
Nothing garners more excitement, headlines and Insta-Stories better than a buzzed-about catwalk show. In London, Anya Hindmarch created a 3-D pastel suburban home to showcase her latest range. In Milan, Gucci created a museum/ discotheque backdrop for their presentation. Can a high street brand compete? Unless you’re a big-league, big-budget player like Topshop who host their own catwalk show, the best way to get grammed and re-grammed (beyond creating truly excellent clothing) is to add visual theatre to the shopping experience. Even if you can’t get Rihanna to skid into Dorothy Perkins on a motorbike (true story – this happened at the Fenty show in New York), it’s important to organise fun and engaging in-store events and to create shop window displays that make customers stop in their tracks. Even in this era of e-commerce, the shopping that happens IRL really matters.FENTY PUMA by Rihanna - Getty Images
4. Including a few showstoppers
Chanel’s dazzling two-tone sequin booties might be this autumn’s ‘it’ piece, but thanks to the proliferation of social platforms, and the number of style-setters using them, it’s not just high-end clobber that brings customers to a fever pitch of desire. This month, I watched M&S’ constellation-print dress (perfect midi length and spot-on transitional buy) sell out twice, along with & Other Stories’ appealingly slouchy double-breast navy blazer. It’s easy enough for a high street brand to step up production to meet demand, but some canny retailers may choose not to restock - or not to restock in any significant volume. For devoted shoppers, once you know a brand is likely to call your bluff, the fear of ‘once it’s gone, it’s gone’ is truly compelling – the only nudge you need to take your finds to the checkout.
So that’s the winning high street formula: the best elements of the catwalk, a bit of license to go your own way and most importantly, enough insight to serve up just what the customer wants rather than telling them what to buy.
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Title pic: Getty Images