Last Resort: What Do Destination Shows Mean To The Fashion Industry?

The opening-up of boundaries by blogs and insta-fashion is on its way out like last season's It-Bag. The No Trespassing signs are about to go back up, rendering fashion once again Private Property.

Dolce & Gabbana's Alta Moda show in Taormina, Sicily in 2012

         EACH SEASON, IT becomes painfully clear that "Fashion Week" will soon be a thing of the past. It seems like ages since fashion shows made sense like they once did, as a place of commerce, ritual, and rite.

What has evolved, however, is a "circus of fashion", as Suzy Menkes puts it, that is divisive, ambiguous, and completely neurotic. Like Lord of the Flies but with house accounts, there are rival organizers, self-appointed leaders and reactionary decrees about rank and who actually belongs at the shows. Last year, bloggers were the scapegoats. (Remember my Op-Ed "Don't Write Off Fashion Bloggers Just Yet"?) This year, designers and editors alike are largely disinterested, as is Mercedes Benz, which in 2014 announced it would be pulling its sponsorship from New York Fashion Week.

"It's a little scary what's happening now," Fern Mallis, who is credited with creating a centralized Fashion Week in New York, said at a recent lecture at the MFA in Boston. "With IMG, which ran the shows when I was there, it was all about the centralization. And now, that's over. The contract is up at the Lincoln Center, so this September there will probably be about 300-400 shows and 200 locations.'

Factor in the countless offshoots that have sprung up, demanding and diffusing attention. There’s Men's Fashion Week, Couture Week, Resort shows, Pre-Fall shows. Every city worldwide, from Stockholm to Cincinnati, is trying to do its own Fashion Week. So it's not surprising that a lot of brands and show-goers are feeling the fashion show-fatigue.

Fendi's 2008 show at the Great Wall of China

For a split second fashion, the underlying lifeline of which is undoubtedly exclusivity, nearly seemed to be democratized in the Internet Age of All-Access. And with so many shows and people and photo-ops competing for attention, many brands are feeling the pressure to differentiate themselves from the masses with bigger, better, and more FOMO-inducing productions than ever before. And lately, that has meant shutting down the Great Wall of China for a runway show.

So instead, some designers are foregoing traditional, sales-driven and easily accessible shows (the Lincoln Center is literally surrounded by subway stops) for far-flung, Resort-oriented events.

 

Is this the industry's way, in true "You can't sit with us" style, of weeding out the weak ones? By offering up shows in exotic locales that require billionaire backers to throw - and a lot more than press credentials and an AirBnB account to attend, it seems so. Little by little, Indie brands and indie buyers, bloggers, and fashion fans alike are eliminated from the games, leaving just the giants of the industry standing.

Many designers have compared the level of planning a show and the anxiety that comes with it to a wedding (like Michael Bastian), which is arguably all about location, location, location - and the dress. Deciding on a destination wedding - St. Lucia, anyone? - while complicated to execute in its own ways, is sure to shrink the size of the guest list to VIPs only. A fashion show is no different. And for newly-minted seasons like Resort, Pre-Fall, and Cruise, being free from the shackles of a rigid scheduling leaves brands a lot of freedom. "There's not a 'Resort Week', so there's a little more flexibility for destinations," says Mallis.

And so, following in the footsteps of Karl Lagerfeld, the first to famously - and consistently - produce Resort shows in places where his clients actually had vacation homes, other top houses (Dior, Louis Vuitton, and Dolce & Gabbana) are putting on shows that are more expensive, more extravagant, more obscure, and even more Instagrammable than ever.

         IT’S LIKE THEY say: “If you build it, they will come”. Editors, influencers, and select buyers are now constantly on the go, logging more frequent flier miles than ever before. But the pocketbooks? Those are just for show. When it comes time to sign travellers checks, the majority of expenses are on the brand.

"Most of these shows are Resort, and they are from the huge luxury brands like Dior, LVMH, Chanel. Those companies spend many, many, many millions of dollars," explains Mallis. "They pay for everyone to go to them. They put everybody up, including the celebrities. All the entertaining - its an enormous expense but it's all part of their marketing and PR budgets and they can afford to do it."

Besides a free trip, there are a plenty of perks. Louis Vuitton's show drew crowds to Palm Springs (post-Coachella!) and made it worth their while with goodies by the bucket-full.  "Afterwards, there were lunches and dinners, and a carnival on the lawn with machines and booths and everything you want - there were just buckets of Vuitton wallets and leather cases and makeup cases," Mallis, who wasn't at the show herself, said. "People went home with buckets of Vuitton product. And that's what those companies do. That show, that season is a special event."

Now the question remains, as always, what's it worth to the design houses and their investors? How do they monetize on the success of beautiful and massively photographed production that is less about actual buying - on a B2B or a personal client level - and more about ambiance and exclusivity? Take, for example, Fendi's 2008, Lagerfeld-produced pageant at the Great Wall of China, where models walked the 2000-year old runway in clothing that the house had debuted in Milan just three weeks earlier.

Surely that show wasn't about having an coveted first look at the latest from the brand (at three weeks old, runway images of the collection from the Milan show had already made their rounds and newspaper reviews were lining birdcages). Instead, it was about the spectacle, the drama, and the power of Fendi and Lagerfeld to move the critical mass of the industry across the world for a photo-op.

Rather, a destination fashion show functions like an ad campaign - a living, breathing diorama that encapsulates the vibe of the collection while also wooing editors and influencers, but with perks like travel and continental wallets instead of (or in addition to) fat advertising checks.

From there (and for now) it seems super-exclusive destination shows are the only ticket back to the Brand--> Editor--> Retailer--> Bargain Bin trickle-down model parodied in The Devil Wears Prada.