Wednesday, September 21, 2016

A Breakfast Talk On the Changing Fashion Industry

The discussion at Skylark with, from left to right, Ariel Foxman, Ron Frasch and Gary Wassner.
Instagram influencers, e-commerce, see-now, buy-now collections – the world of fashion, like the world of media, is going through seismic changes, and these disruptions and more were discussed over breakfast recently at the swanky Skylark lounge located 30 floors over Manhattan in the center of the Garment District. The marketing communications agency LaForce organizes Tuesdays at The Skylark, a program series where leaders in fashion, technology and business network and connect, and discuss trends, topics and insights, so I found myself recently perched there enjoying breakfast and coffee and listening to an interesting discussion about fashion in flux.

The breakfast was moderated by Ariel Foxman, the former editor-in-chief of InStyle magazine, who asked smart questions of Ron Frasch, formerly the president of Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman and now a partner at the private equity firm Castanea, and Gary Wassner, president of Hildun which finances young designers and has worked with Marc Jacobs, Tommy Hilfiger and Alexander Wang. At the retail level, the panel noted that while shopping online is convenient, e-commerce has a high rate of returned merchandise. In stores, personal service is very important, and both Frasch and Wassner observed that the new Saks Fifth Avenue at Brookfield Place in lower Manhattan has successfully created a compellingly curated merchandise presentation rather than a traditional department store scheme. Fast fashion, offered by the likes of H & M and Zara, has opened up new trends to more people, and made men and women more sensitive to what they wear at a younger age.

Criticism fell on the fashion delivery calendar, which illogically dictates that heavy fall clothes are delivered into stores in August at the height of summer heat. Some August deliveries are now beginning to move to the more appropriate month of September. The panel also had doubts about brands that don't clearly define themselves. Said Gary Wassner, "If you launch a brand, you have to think who are you? What do you represent? What is your story? Most brands don't think about that."

Rosemary Feitelberg from Women's Wear Daily, who reviewed my book How I Look, asked the panel what they were most encouraged about for the future of fashion. "That we are talking about this," replied Ron Frasch. "Appropriate delivery at the appropriate time is very exciting. Now we are listening to the consumer." Gary Wassner was optimistic about "the abundance of talent we have in New York City. It's now possible for young brands to emerge sooner via social media."