WALL STREET JOURNAL | RAY A. SMITH
To get consumers into their stores more often, mainstream fashion brands including Alexander Wang, Burberry and Public School are putting out new items more frequently, with “drops” of merchandise as often as 12 times a year, instead of the usual two to four.
The tactic—a hot concept in fashion today—involves more than just releasing new clothing more often. Designers typically promote a “drop” with lots of marketing hype on social media and limit the offerings so that items sell out.
The strategy follows a playbook perfected by influential streetwear brands like Supreme, Palace Skateboards and Nike . These brands, popular with millennials, have created buzz, long lines and a sense of urgency around releases of limited-edition products for short windows of time. Traditional designer brands and retailers are trying to whip up this kind of excitement at a time when, outside of streetwear, many consumers are choosing to spend on electronics or travel instead of fashion.
The goal: “Someone coming into the store knows there’s going to be something there they didn’t see a month ago, and they’re going to come back,” says Lisa Gersh, chief executive of Alexander Wang, which will soon start delivering new merchandise to stores 10 times a year instead of four.
MR P. has sought to put out clothes when men would actually need them. Instead of putting tropical-print shirts and linen-blend cargoes on sale in March or April, this year the line released a ‘high summer’ collection with such items in July.
Designers generally aren’t planning to increase the overall amount of merchandise they make each year, but are releasing it in smaller quantities more frequently. Alexander Wang will put out part of a new collection in October, and parcel out additional drops in November, December, February and March. In May, it will put out part of another new collection, followed by more in June, July, August and September.
The move reflects shoppers’ changing habits. “People used to go in the beginning of a season and buy their wardrobe for their season,” Ms. Gersh said. “Now it’s more common for a customer to say, ‘I’m going out this weekend, I need a dress’ on a Thursday.”
A model walks in a runway show for Alexander Wang, which will soon start delivering new merchandise to stores 10 times a year instead of four.
The idea is to create the feeling that “you’ve got to get here first and if you don’t, you lose,” says Fiona Firth, buying director at luxury menswear online retailer Mr Porter, whose new private-label line, MR P., puts out a limited-quantity, trend-driven collection every two or three months. MR P. has also sought to tie its clothing deliveries closer to the weather. Instead of putting tropical-print shirts and linen-blend cargoes on sale in March or April, this year the line dropped a “high summer” collection in July.
The fashion industry has faced pressure to speed up its metabolism for years. Traditionally, designers released two big collections a year. In the mid-aughts, as mainstream interest in women’s fashion exploded, designers began adding one or two more drops of merchandise. But the clothing still stayed on racks for months, leaving shoppers little motivation to return.
Meanwhile, fast-fashion retailers like Zara were quickly turning out reinterpretations of runway looks. And the rise of social media beamed images of runway designs instantly around the world, immediately dating the industry’s usual six-month wait to get runway looks in stores. In response, some labels, including Burberry, Tom Ford and Ralph Lauren tried “see now, buy now” collections that made merchandise available right after their runway debut, with mixed results. Robert Burke, chief executive of luxury goods consultancy Robert Burke Associates, views drops as an improvement on the “see now, buy now” concept.
Luxury streetwear-influenced label Off-White recently doubled the frequency of its men’s collections from two to four. Designer Virgil Abloh cited male consumers having ‘a higher bandwidth for new ideas in fashion.’
Some fashion executives warn that drops, while buzzy, aren’t a panacea for the industry’s ills. Louis Vuitton’s menswear line did a collaboration with Supreme that sparked a sales frenzy last year. This year it hired as its artistic director Virgil Abloh, the designer behind luxury streetwear-influenced label Off-White, which recently doubled the frequency of its men’s collections from two to four. Still, at Vuitton, CEO Michael Burke says that “‘Supreme’-like drops, for us, is not a fundamental business model.”
Mr. Burke believes that simply changing the timing of merchandise won’t fix a troubled brand. “If you’re having a problem with traffic in your stores or fundamental problems, a drop is not going to solve it,” he says.
Heather Gates, a graduate student from Brooklyn, N.Y., who likes brands such as Marni, COS, Everlane and Paris shoe label Philippe Zorzetto, said more frequent deliveries of merchandise might make a difference to her—but not necessarily. “It would very much depend on whether or not ‘new’ items really looked distinctively different from whatever had been available previously,” she says.
Here’s how three fashion brands are rethinking their approach:
A new batch of merchandise ‘definitely’ will drop monthly, if not sooner sometimes, said Public School co-founder Maxwell Osborne.
Burberry plans to move to a system of frequent deliveries beginning in September, after designer Riccardo Tisci’s debut collection for the British fashion house is revealed at its fashion show in London Sept. 17. Pieces from that collection will be available in a series of “instant drops”—where the designer may keep the exact release date a surprise to try to generate more excitement—in stores and online. Later releases could be as often as once a month.
A collaboration with British designer Vivienne Westwood will also be released with a drop strategy. Mr. Tisci, who joined Burberry as its chief creative officer in March, is familiar with streetwear and its merchandise-delivery tactics, having incorporated street influences in his previous job as Givenchy’s creative director.
In December, Public School, a New York-based label whose mix of streetwear, tailoring, sports influences and avant-garde silhouettes has earned it lots of industry buzz, announced it was converting its business from a designer brand sold through department stores and specialty shops to a direct-to-consumer model. In a few weeks, it will launch an e-commerce site, followed by the opening of a “Public School space” downtown where consumers can buy clothing or “be immersed in Public School’s world,” said co-founder Dao-Yi Chow.
Releasing new clothing more frequently is a big part of the strategy. A new batch of merchandise “definitely” will come out monthly, if not sooner sometimes, said co-founder Maxwell Osborne. “It can be two drops a month in terms of product and capsules. It’s less seasonal, more based on what we’re feeling.” Previously, Public School released new items four times a year.
Designer Scott Sternberg, who rose to fashion industry darling status in the aughts with his preppy-meets-hipster label Band of Outsiders, describes his latest venture, launched online in April, as nonbasic basics. For now he sells on Entireworld’s website and Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop, but plans to eventually sell in physical stores and in partnership with other retailers.
Entireworld plans a fluid, idiosyncratic delivery schedule that includes five drops during its first year that operate on a “cycle meant to trigger desire at different points of the year,” Mr. Sternberg says. The first delivery, in April, was of core pieces including socks, underwear, T-shirts, and camisoles, followed by “thematic” releases like “May Gray/June Gloom,” consisting of three men’s items and three women’s items made out of gray recycled cotton.
Mr. Sternberg said dates of deliveries will vary and that the company will mix it up with “a core drop every three to four months, and then little drops every other week or so. It’s less about the mood of the season and more about this idea of emotion and desire and how to stir that up in people.”