See now, buy when? Catwalk-to-shop retail model divides brands

MILAN/LONDON (Reuters) - With minutes until show time, a group of seamstresses are adding the final touches to designer Ermanno Scervino’s latest creations to be unveiled on the catwalk.

Embellished coats, mosaic print suits and lace dresses are among the outfits the Italian designer is presenting at Milan Fashion Week. It will be months before they hit the shops.

With the amount of craftsmanship involved, Scervino says his clothes take time to make and he has no plans to follow other labels selling their items straight off the catwalk, effectively bridging the traditional six-month runway-to-retail gap.

“I think that it is not for me, it is not for (products of) excellence,” Scervino told Reuters. “We have long (designing) time frames. I am not interested.”

The recent autumn/winter 2016/2017 fashion weeks in New York, London, Milan and Paris have seen designers divided over retail models some labels are adopting to put their items immediately on sale after their catwalk presentations.

In an age of social media - where fashion shows are streamed online - and with competition from high street retailers regularly updating their collections, Britain’s Burberry and designer Tom Ford announced new “see now, buy now” strategies last month.

“If we are Instagramming, live-streaming and showing the collections, we can’t expect a customer and a consumer to tie in with a traditional kind of calendar,” Burberry Chief Executive Christopher Bailey said.

Slideshow ( 6 images )

“So I do think we all need to evolve and change but I don’t think that there’s one rule that fits everybody.”

Other labels such as Prada, Diane von Furstenberg and Monique Lhuillier have made similar moves even if on a smaller scale, selling a select few items. Designer Karl Lagerfeld said Chanel is already putting its pre-collections designs in stores fast.

“I realise that when people see an image they want it right away,” said Lhuillier, who put five looks for sale after her New York show. “This is the way we’re experimenting to see if this is how we want to show.”

Buyers are welcoming the fast fashion move, namely when brands have customers in different climates.

“I think the changes have been a long time coming,” Ed Burstell, managing director of Liberty store in London, said.

“No one can understand now when they see something ‘why do I have to wait six months to buy it’.”

Slideshow ( 6 images )

However, opposition remains from those who say preparing collections is a lengthy process.

“When you want to make a collection creative, you need the time, you need to study the fabrics, specific research,” Carlo Capasa, head of Italy’s national chamber of fashion, said.

In Paris, label Dior echoed that.

“How can a collection like the one you’ve just seen be delivered to the shops tomorrow?,” Chief Executive Sidney Toledano said after Dior’s show.

“That would mean we’d manufactured it six months ago and put it in the fridge ... When you put a collection in the shops the following day, that means that the selection from the runway has already been made -- you’re taking a risk.”

Reporting By Alicia Powell in New York, Li-mei Hoang, Helena Williams and Jane Witherspoon in London, Marie-Louise Gumuchian in Milan and Astrid Wendlandt and Johnny Cotton in Paris; Writing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian Editing by Jeremy Gaunt.