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The catwalks at the big fashion shows have long been exciting, experiential events. Celebrities and fashion mavens stake out seats in the front rows, and critics and fashion photographers weigh in on the looks that are destined to catch on, as well as the radically creative designs that are unlikely to ever be re-created in the real world.Lo-res_mhhe015361-S

But the modern state of the world means that nearly anyone can join in on these sorts of experience, at least virtually and at some level, by live streaming the events or following social media updates by attendees, posted in real time. As a result, the fashion houses are confronting a new and vexing problem: They can no longer “talk to a customer and say, ‘We’re really excited, we’re going to stimulate you and inspire you, but you can’t touch it or feel it for another six months.’” That is, the excitement created by fashion shows is now so widespread and encompassing that consumers are demanding immediate access to the looks that appear on the models striding down the runway.

In response, Burberry is giving it to them. In a radical departure from its traditional mode of operation—in which it would feature the season’s looks at a fashion show, receive orders from retailers, produce the goods, and then make them available to consumers about six months after the show—the fashion house has promised a “wear-now” option. Shoppers can see an outfit or piece in the fashion show, order it immediately, and have it in hand within a few weeks.

For the privilege of doing so, wear-now customers will pay full price. Burberry hopes that this option will help mitigate the trend by which customers have gotten so accustomed to end-of-season sales that they simply wait to buy products until they are available at a discounted price.

The move implies major changes for other members of the fashion world too. For example, fashion magazines have long been the arbiters of what is or is not great fashion. But if consumers can order the pieces on their own, will those magazines continue to play their powerful role? If consumers can make their own choices from the runway, will they even need to keep buying the magazines?

Another key player is the retailers that traditionally stock fashion brands. Although Burberry largely sells through its own stores, if other fashion brands adopt a similar direct runway-to-consumer approach, retailers might struggle to find customers who are willing to wait for the longer production process required before they can gain access to the latest fashions in stores.

Discussion Question:

  1. How will Burberry’s new strategy affect the fashion life cycle?

Source: Tom Ryan, Retail Wire, February 10, 2016