What will be the future of fashion? The industry is abuzz with the question right now. Change is afoot; the “runway to retail” catwalk collection that is sold in store straight after the show has found real momentum with Tom Ford, Burberry and Tommy Hilfiger signed up; the show schedule is ping ponging around the world with ever more vivacity as brands seek to leverage publicity; and we all endlessly speculate about the new creative leadership abroad.
So, it seemed right that I should ask Diane von Furstenberg the same when I found her shortly before the AW16 “experience” she was about to stage at her Meatpacking studio space headquarters. No show for her this season, instead she brought everyone “back to the house” with a series of staged 1970s-style vignettes — which included a model-populated office, travelscape and nightclub in which supermodels Gigi Hadid, Karlie Kloss, Lily Aldridge and Kendall Jenner lounged, danced and sparkled before a thousand iPhone screens.
“What is the future of fashion? I don’t know either,” she purred from her perch on a white marble staircase which was halogen-lit by flatteringly blinding bulbs. “As the representative for the fashion designers of America (she has been president of the CFDA since 2005), I take this issue very seriously. So many things are wrong. The seasons. The shows. The way we present things . . . ”
She had every confidence, however, they could be fixed. “Everybody will do what they need to do,” she reassured me. “I think the presentations will become more intimate. And I think that we’ll end up doing big production shows that are more relevant to the consumer. But everybody has to wear a different lens. For me, the lens is this: what does a woman want and when? And then we work backwards from that.”
Like so many brands currently negotiating their way through major industry change and global economic fluctuation, the house of Von Furstenberg has taken a long, hard look in the mirror of late. “I call it power to the brand,” explains the brand’s chief executive Paolo Riva, who joined DVF last year and was joined this month by a new chief marketing officer, Sarah Willersdorf. “We can control our future. We’re not dictated to by a broken system. The first prêt-à-porter was in the 1960s,” he continues. “And that format has not really changed in 50 years. Brands have fallen behind, especially those with a legacy. And that’s not good.”
Von Furstenberg’s team are only just starting to tinker with the broken system. The studio presentation was a way in which to create a new experiential-based engagement with followers: believe me, the studio party looked a lot more fabulous on the Instagram feeds than it did from behind a thousand heads. Riva has also rethought the brand’s pricing structures so that they can be constantly recalibrated, paying especial attention to the house’s “hero” wrap dress which appeared in the AW16 collection in a longer, retro length.
For this collection, there was also an early experimentation with the “see now, buy now” retail model: three looks from the collection were available to buy straight after the presentation and Riva had adjusted the prices at the last minute to make them more “accessible”.
“We’re trying to put things together according to what makes sense to our brand, and not be a sheep that follows,” explained Riva. “No one knows really how the ‘see now, buy now’ model will work. I don’t know if we’ll sell more. I don’t know if a consumer really means that they intend to buy the dress from the catwalk, even when they say it. But we’re empowering the consumer.”
If one thing remains unchanged, however, it’s the 69-year-old designer, who was partying alongside Gigi and Kendall looking just as fabulous and undimmed as she did on the dance floor of Studio 54 30-odd years ago, and totally immersed in her experience. She talks persuasively, and often, of how these changes at her house will allow her to “step back” from the company and how her focus is now building its legacy. Looking at her, right in the centre of the party, still absolutely the star of her show, a step back seemed unimaginable. Only a handful of designers, precious few of them women, bring this sort of star power to a brand. Her wrap dress may be a hero but Diane von Furstenberg is her own greatest asset. Let’s hope she is not in a hurry to change that any time soon.
For more reports from the shows, go to our fashion weeks page
Photographs: Courtesy of DVF Archive, photographed by BFA