New York Fashion Week is in full swing with live-streamed runway shows and a more level playing field than before the Covid-19 pandemic. With the city in partial lockdown, designers haven’t had the need to book high cost venues or fight over models.
Yet, the positive attributes of virtual runways can’t make up for the pandemic’s impact on the fashion industry, including record low profit in 2020 amid declining demand. To celebrate and amplify the voices of emerging and established talent, the Council of Fashion Designers of America has partnered with American Express to connect card members to designers during NYFW.
The CFDA and the founding partner of its digital platform, Runway360, are offering a series of exclusive experiences to card holders, such as going behind the designs with favorite brands, and participating in conversations around diversity, equality and inclusion, female founders and sustainability. Labels such as A Potts, Jonathan Cohen Studio and Studio 189, among others, will offer insights into the creative process. In deference to the pandemic, all events are virtual.
There’s merch, too. Naeem Khan, Frederick Anderson Collection, Private Policy, Victor Li and Adeam, among others, are giving card holders access to pre-sales of their runway looks after their collections launch, and designers are selling pieces from current collections directly to card members via Shop Runway360, American Express’ e-commerce shop.
“Fashion remains a top interest for American Express card members,” said Steven Kolb, CEO of the CFDA. “We worked closely with American Express to identify a range of emerging and established designers. We also know that card members enjoy the special access and experiences that their American Express membership unlocks. We’re thrilled to bring them closer to the designers they know and love.
The CFDA and American Express looked for a range of aesthetics and the wherewithal to fill orders when choosing participating designers. “We worked closely with [the designers] ahead of their collections going live to ensure they could meet the demand from card members,” Kolb said, adding, “designers have worked independently to source and produce their collections.
Frederick Anderson “It’s great that the CFDA is trying something new,” said Frederick Anderson. “It’s fun to figure out new ways to try to expand your reach. More than 10,000 people looked at my runway show when it went live on Runway360 last night. It’s garnering the interest. By the end of the season, there could be 50,000 to 60,000 views.
“It’s been a hard year for everyone,” Anderson added. “We’ve all been trying to find new ways to fill in the gap. Some department stores have a lack of ability to sell right now. On the other hand, they’re able to reach so many consumers. You do need vehicles to expand the story. The direct-to-consumer piece is going to become more important.”
Anderson stressed that e-commerce isn’t the only answer, especially, for luxury brands. “Online sales still haven’t moved beyond 17% to 18% of total sales for high end brands,” he said. “It’s still a smaller piece of the pie. Clients want the service and want the alterations, and want you to deliver it to them.”
Jonathan Cohen, whose designs were worn by Jill Biden on the day before her husband’s inauguration, said the initiative is “a new way to connect with your clientele, especially in the digital landscape we’re in, where you can’t interact in person.”
“Sarah and I are used to personal communication, because we’re very focused on trunk shows,” Cohen said, referring to Sarah Leff, president of Jonathan Cohen Studio. “We’re in dressing rooms where we’re literally putting the dresses and shoes on the clients. In the last year that’s hit a huge pause, so it’s great to find a new, more digital way to connect with clients and find out what their needs are.”
Cohen launched a flower shop on his web site, selling digital floral arrangements he draws by hand, and added pieces made from upcycled remnants. “We had a ton of people buy pieces on our site and flower shop,” he said. “We saw people wanting to buy the brand in a way they could afford. It’s adapting to times. We love doing runaway shows, but we’re in a different time.”
Leff said the discussions with Amex
Cohen and Leff believe too much emphasis is placed on runway shows. “There’s so may things like product development and sampling,” he said. “Everyone so used to judging a brand based on that eight minute show.”
Cohen will give cardholders a preview of the new collection, which will be available in May. The CFDA and American Express partnership is an opportunity to provide individualized shopping and develop new relationships. “It allows us to have one-on-one conversations,” Leff said. “We thrive and grow by seeing what they love and why.”