“Merchandising is almost as essential as the design,” said Burke. “There’s no compromise in saying that, and in fact, it’s a huge asset.”
Robert Burke, of retail consultancy Robert Burke & Associates, said there is a “recalibration” happening in the way that merchandisers rely on data, describing the importance of intuition in an emotional market such as fashion.
“We’re not buying and selling commodities,” he said.
And purchase data isn’t the only type of information retailers use. According to business consultant Robert Burke, whose New York firm specializes in fashion and retail, predictive algorithms can collect data on the way customers interact with the brand’s social media posts, or follow their web-browsing habits, which helps the retailer anticipate what will sell in the future and even which products to stock in which geographic location and in what quantities.
“Sometimes it is impossible to predict a viral move when you are not the one controlling the action,” Burke says. But data helps retailers exert a surprising amount of control, even when it comes to notoriously fickle viral trends. Some retailers are even using predictive artificial intelligence to forecast what will become trendy in the future, and how many they should produce.
“The trend in the fashion retail industry is that bigger is not better, whether that’s stores or developments,” said Robert Burke of retail consultancy Robert Burke & Associates. “People are looking for more intimate stores, they’re looking for environments that are more personalised.”
“You know, we as Westerners can sometimes be very arrogant that the customer - the consumer should understand us. And the brands have realized today that have been successful that, no, you have to understand the Chinese customer.
“The luxury sector of luxury goods are not going to slow down. And I don't say that in an arrogant way. And, you know, for the high luxury brands, for the customer that's buying these products because they want to be distinguished socially, there's not going to be a slowdown.
“They’ve been extremely focused from the very beginning on how they were represented, how they designed, who the customer was, and they’ve really stayed so true to that vision,” said retail advisor Robert Burke. “People were skeptical when they started, but they are absolutely the opposite of celebrity designers.”
Today, the consumer really wants a lifestyle assortment of juice bars, interesting restaurants, fitness and different levels of fashion. Madison Avenue, on the other hand, has become very one-note … it’s not necessarily how the customer is shopping today.
High-end jewelry is popping up on men’s fashion runways at Gucci and other big luxury brands, said Robert Burke, an independent fashion consultant. He also pointed to the influential Dover Street Market stores in London, Tokyo and New York, which are highlighting men’s jewelry. Saks Fifth Avenue’s New York flagship this fall is also opening a jewelry area called The Vault that will showcase high-end men’s watches.
"The first purchase a customer may make would probably not gonna be a $4,000 handbag or $3,000 jacket. So the brands realized they needed to have these products, small leather goods, in variety of ways, accessories, in variety of ways”, said Robert Burke
“It used to be taboo to have these products, today it’s recognized that if you have a $400 or $500 item in your luxury brand, there is nothing wrong with that. In fact that’s a good thing…”
“Barneys is a viable brand,” said Robert Burke, who runs a namesake retail and fashion consulting business in Manhattan. “It has good recognition. There’s certainly a future there. How big the footprint should be has yet to be decided.”
“When I was at Bergdorf’s, the team at Barneys always kept us on our toes,” said Robert Burke, founder of a namesake luxury consultancy and a former fashion director of Bergdorf Goodman. “You knew you would walk in there and find something inspiring and undiscovered.
“I think Chanel has remained a very innovative example to brands when it comes to footwear,” added Robert Burke, chairman and CEO of Robert Burke Associates, a retail and fashion consulting firm.
Burke said, “Chanel has always kind of followed their own beat.”
“Everyone woke up to the fact that if they sold product directly, their margins could be so much higher,” said Robert Burke, a retail consultant. “This is how younger brands are looking at it today. They want to control their distribution.”
“Because the business has been challenging, there is an aversion to risk,” Burke added. “And because of the aversion, the consumer feels like nothing is exciting and nothing is interesting.”
“The thing is, the stores are going to be important,” Burke said. “But not important to the degree that you have to have one in every city in America.”
“First we go out and examine who else is in the market, what’s the competition and what they’re doing. It’s a market assessment to see where the opportunities are. Then we conceptualize the retail strategy for our client; what brands are right for the project. We act as a liaison between property owners or developers and the brands,” explained John Mitchell, president of Robert Burke Associates.
The RBA team brings luxury to many projects but leaves room for other categories, creating a spectrum of prices, products and services that the team feels are relevant to how people shop today.
“The customer who buys Chanel is the same customer going to NikeLab and they’re going to Apple and want to go to SoulCycle,” Robert Burke said. “You still have to have fashion. But what we’ve done in these projects is really mixing it.”
Ron Frasch advocates “humanizing,” or bringing down the scale of, brick-and-mortar retail. “I love small. It feels so valid today,” he said.
Robert Burke, the founder of the Robert Burke Associates consultancy, said: “The fashion world as a whole has a short memory span. It lasts about the amount of time from one show to the next.” (That’s around five months, which is in fact about how much time has passed between the Dolce China crash and today.)
Then he pointed out that fashion loves a comeback story and noted that John Galliano, who was ignominiously fired from Christian Dior after reports of a drug-and-alcohol-fueled anti-Semitic rant in a Paris bar, is currently the much celebrated creative director of Maison Margiela.
"Denim is in my mind having a resurgence, but coming back in a different way," says Robert Burke Associates CEO Robert Burke. "No longer is the customer as willing to wear an uncomfortable pair of jeans, or a restricting pair of jeans, or the Japanese denim that's as stiff as a board and takes months to break in." "When I look at why these things happen, it happens usually in multiple categories," he said. "I think we saw it with the trend of casual footwear and athletic footwear being acceptable in the workplace. Whereas seven years ago, it was only acceptable in the gym."
“Everything is in flux,” said Robert Burke, founder of consultants Robert Burke Associates. “What’s appealing today to the consumer, it’s not as traditional as what we have known in the past. When I look at someone like Virgil [Abloh] or I look at what’s happening today at Gucci, [with] Michele, being a very unknown designer, it’s impossible today to separate sheer design, classically trained design and marketing.”
In the most recent past, if you look at for example the 80s, 90s and early 2000s, luxury was defined primarily by a level of exclusivity that was driven by pricing. Luxury product was more heavily centered around logos, so these two elements together clearly conveyed a certain level of status. Now that we’ve transitioned towards “lifestyle” shopping, luxury has become much more multi-faceted. Luxury is now more about the value that the brand and its products add to the consumer’s lifestyle.
“The exclusives thing is getting overused and losing its effectiveness,” said Robert Burke, founder and chief executive at Robert Burke Associates. “It needs to be re-evaluated.”
According to industry watchers, part of the reason for this change in mind-set is the traditional model encourages sales executives to focus their attention on those that they think will spend the most money, which is now harder than ever to decipher. “Between Goldman Sachs announcing their dress casual to the Internet companies, it doesn’t behoove anyone to presume who the customer is or not,” Robert Burke, a retail consultant, said.
While the influence of the royal family has always had appeal, Robert Burke, chairman and chief executive officer of Robert Burke Associates, says Markle is even more popular than the Duchess of Cambridge because of her background. “Meghan represents a less-conforming [person] than the expected perception of a royal and I think she will connect with even more people. She’ll dress children pretty tastefully, but it won’t be as traditional and prim and proper; it will have more fun and whimsy,” he said.
Robert Burke, founder and CEO of retail and fashion consultancy Robert Burke Associates, backs FLANNELS’ strategy. “There’s a lot of validity in having stores in secondary markets,” he says. “For many people, that’s their only real source of luxury goods and [FLANNELS] has built a strong business that way.”
“The cargo pant trend has the life of a cockroach,” said Robert Burke, a luxury consultant and former senior vice president of fashion at Bergdorf Goodman. He puts the pants into the category of “ugly” pieces enjoying a new life, like “dad” sneakers and “mom” jeans. Cargo pants are also the rare style to hit every spending segment of the market, Burke added, without following the usual trickle-down pattern of a trend cycle.
Robert Burke, a retail and fashion consultant, says: "The jean industry in general had been heavily affected by how strong the athleisure and athletic market had become.
"Leggings, yoga pants, things like that had been chipping away and in many ways replaced the jean business as a category."
Galeries Lafayette has big ambitions for its new Champs-Elysées store, though it’s only a tenth of the size of the retailer’s Boulevard Haussmann flagship. “We’re seeing interest in smaller retail environments that are more intimate, where it’s easier to create a relationship with the customer and carefully select a mix of up-and-coming and big luxury brands. The idea that bigger is better is not the trend,” explained retail consultant Robert Burke.
Robert Burke, chairman and chief executive officer of Robert Burke Associates, who has been working with Farm Rio, said, “Farm Rio has been loved in Brazil for many years because of their vibrant and unique prints and how they encapsulate the Rio lifestyle. Fashion consumers today are looking for something unique, special and emotional. Farm Rio achieves that in the way it embodies everything Brazil represents.”
“We are in a new age, and designers can’t just rely on the quality of their product, it has to be marketed,” said Robert Burke, president and chief executive officer of consultants Robert Burke Associates. “The being the behind-the-scenes, behind-the-curtain designer is not the way things are moving. The whole feeling of anything manufactured or programmed to the consumer, especially the Millennial consumer, is a turn-off. They want to see something about the designer’s life that’s real,” he said, name-checking Virgil Abloh, Olivier Rousteing and Simon Porte Jacquemus as the new wave of designer digital marketers.
“For luxury brands, social media is the most immediate and effective way to market direct-to-consumer, especially since so many of them are pulling back from traditional advertising,” said Burke.
The drift toward relaxed workplaces began 1990s when companies started introducing “casual Fridays,” said Robert Burke, CEO of Robert Burke Associates, a retail and fashion consulting firm. It rapidly became entrenched with the rise of West Coast tech giants like Amazon and Facebook and their young moguls.
“Goldman was one of the last holdouts of a more formal dress code,” Burke said.
Robert Burke, founder and ceo of Robert Burke Associates, an industry consultancy, said, “It’s sad to hear because when one thinks of the Calvin Klein business and the Collection business and what it represented to American fashion and to the world, it’s sad to see it go away. It speaks to how delicate the fashion business is today.”
“And they certainly had the resources and the manpower to execute, but unfortunately it didn’t work. Sometimes it’s not just about the manpower and the financial strength. It’s really about product and talent,” added Burke.
“I think that fashion is aspirational and it has to have that element. I’m sure it gives pause for many of the big groups to question the importance of Collection,” he said. “Call me a romantic. I still think you need it. It has to make people dream and aspire to something. It’s really the launching point for everything,” he said.
Luxury consultant Robert Burke, chief executive of retail consultancy firm Robert Burke Associates, says many consumers who decide to spend $2,000 to $4,000 on a bag seek “longevity and recognition.” For trend-driven, Instagram-friendly styles, they have more options in the $400 to $600 range now than ever before.
For a millennial consumer, looking to make an investment, the Baguette and the Saddle “have a great deal of allure,” Burke said.
When I started my retail consulting business 12 years ago, department stores, specialty stores and retail developments were in a much different position than today. As the industry became fixated on e-commerce, many proclaimed retail to be dead. Retail isn’t dead, it’s just become really boring.