Alexander Wang’s Strategic Farewell to NYFW

Alexander Wang’s upcoming Fall 2018 show will be the designer’s last at NYFW. As expected, the brand’s announcement has fueled an animated discussion about NYFW’s future which began seasons ago when some of America’s most ingenious designers began migrating away from the Big Apple. In fact, Wang’s decision to break away from the conventional fashion calendar – as a progressive designer and brand – doesn’t just add to a growing list of designers who have been leaving New York.

Stephanie Horton. Photo: Courtesy of the PR

The breakaway also symbolizes a generational exodus of sorts by some important, modern, and defining New York designers, including Altuzarra, which headed to Paris Fashion Week; Rag & Bone, which continues to find innovative ways to bypass the traditional show format; and last but certainly not least, Rodarte and Proenza Schouler, which have chosen couture in Paris to showcase their brilliance.

Unlike his peers, however, Wang is not setting course elsewhere. He will continue to present his collections in New York, but is strategically deciding to do so in June and December, so as to align more closely with the pre-collection schedule. Interestingly, it should be noted that most fashion insiders would agree that pre-collection time is a season understood and referenced mostly by them, and is an intermediate season consumers know little if anything about.

That is not to say that the idea of this new format is unsound or odd. The fact alone that Wang’s change of schedule is backed by the CFDA testifies to the contrary. Wang’s decision makes more sense when it is assessed strategically, from a business point of view, rather than as an infringement on traditional schedules or formats. By merging the pre-collections and main collections, Wang’s maneuver will set a new pace where products shown in June will be available starting from October, and products shown in December would be available starting in April. By making this move, the label will shorten the time between the presentation of their collections and the first product deliveries – giving customers faster access to the product.

Late last year, Alexander Wang, with yet another surprising move, relinquished his position as the brand’s CEO, appointing former head of Martha Stewart Omnimedia Lisa Gersh as his replacement. Stephanie Horton, former chief marketing officer of luxury marketplace Farfetch, was also brought on onboard as the company’s chief strategy officer. At the time, Horton was quoted saying she was looking “forward to working with the team to expand these capabilities, as well as looking outside of traditional channels and spectrums, to develop new and innovative growth opportunities for the brand.” As the discussion continues regarding Wang’s change of schedule and his departure from NYFW, it is clear her statement was not just uttered in passing and that her intent to look beyond the “traditional channels” and formats was not just a figure of speech.

ALEXANDER WANG SS18 womenswear show in New York. Photo by Gio Staiano for NOWFASHION.

Despite an incredibly busy week bookended by the Grammys and Alexander Wang’s last NYFW show next week, Horton generously took the time to talk to us about Wang’s ideology, why risks are worth taking, and why their global customer is key in how they define their strategies.

There seems to be a logical progression leading to Alexander Wang’s departure from NYFW after February, particularly in terms of how the two previous shows were organized and the “drops” that were orchestrated in collaboration with Adidas. Has the decision been a “long time coming”?

Stephanie Horton: As we continue to evolve our business, we have been exploring many different approaches to how we serve the market from collaborations to special capsules. We felt it was the perfect time to lead this change to be in line with the needs of the global consumer.

It’s possible other core designers might join in that schedule change, but it is not certain. To what extent do you consider this a risk?

SH: Yes, its’ a risk – but one we feel is worth taking. For the brand, it is a business decision. The new delivery cadence will bring a new selling approach that can contextualize the product in the month it is being delivered as opposed to a seasonal story, along with allowing for targeted exclusives for standalone stores.

Assuming a new model arises from this change of schedule you're leading, do you believe it will have a radical impact on fashion weeks, in particular NYFW?

SH: I think only time will tell.

You’ve mentioned that one of the key elements taken in considered when transiting into this new schedule was the production-supply side of things. How does this favor the brand and the consumer?

SH: Our collections are designed with our global customer in mind, already addressing seasonality in the commercial offerings. This allows us to additionally speak to our customer in different conversations that are not limited to just fashion week twice a year, bringing shoppers deeper into the Alexander Wang lifestyle. The changes we are making to our business are in response to the way the modern consumer shops and our customer’s needs in particular.

Steven Kolb, chief executive of the CFDA, expressed his enthusiasm about exploring the idea of establishing a more concrete fashion show schedule around pre-collections in June and December. Was the CFDA’s backing of this change of schedule a determining factor in moving forward with the decision to leave NYFW?

SH: Yes, for sure. Having the support of the CFDA was a big factor in the decision making process.

The last few Alexander Wang shows have been more event-like, setting aside much of what constitutes a traditional show. Why has this been important?

SH: Alex has always been at the forefront of creating and introducing what’s new and what’s next, not only in fashion but in and around pop culture. The shows represent this ideology as well.

ALEXANDER WANG at his SS17 womenswear show in New York. Photo by Regis Colin Berthelier for NOWFASHION.

From this schedule change to utilizing social media, ROI is probably a central and driving factor. Yet that "return" can mean a certain number of things or take different forms. Presently speaking, how would you define the return you hope for?

SH: I think the end goal is always the consumer and the ability to reach them in new and unexpected ways, be it through the show or a social media campaign.

Is there a social media platform that seems more efficient to achieve some of these goals?

SH: Instagram and WeChat, as with many other brands, are at the forefront of our campaigns.

Launchmetric’s recent “Front Row” report was, in part, produced to explore and determine what continues to make runways successful and how to invest accordingly. In turn, this consolidates the fact that the gathering and analysis of hard data has become a key factor in making sense of it all, especially in this digital era. Do you think it will permanently change most of the industry’s traditional formats and processes?

SH: I think it already has. Many brands are using AI for CRM analysis. Personalization has become a large part of the web experience, and technology is helping the in-store experience become more efficient and seamless. I think these trends will become even more prominent in day-to-day business.