Two days after the premiere of his film Nocturnal Animals at the Venice Film Festival, film director and THR top red-carpet fashion designer Tom Ford held a premiere of another sort, his first "see-now, buy-now" show at New York Fashion Week. (Instead of showing to a fashion insider group of editors and buyers six months ahead of time, 'see now, buy now' shows feature in-season merchandise available in stores or online to be purchased by anyone.)
Read more: Hollywood's Top 25 Red Carpet Designers 2016
Held in the glittery former Four Seasons Restaurant in midtown Manhattan, Ford's fashion event was produced to resemble an awards show, complete with red carpet. He enlisted his Hollywood pals as his supporting cast - 40 celebrities in all, wearing Tom Ford - including Tom Hanks, Rita Wilson, Neil Patrick Harris, Cindy Crawford, Zayn Malik, Jon Hamm and Rita Ora. Seasoned Golden Globes director Louis Horvitz worked 22 cameras to film what was happening on and off the runway - from the models to reaction shots from the crowd - for a live stream at TomFord.com. To cap off the evening, Leon Bridges performed three songs.
Says chief event architect Ford, "It only makes sense that you spend millions of dollars promoting a collection when the things are actually in the store." So that anyone could buy something from the show - if not the $12,450 blouson midi-dress - the designer launched a special lipstick to coincide with the event, Lip Contour Duo Runway for $53.
The exclusive, invitation-only fashion world depicted in The Devil Wears Prada is over. Ford's show - along with Burberry and other luxury brands experimenting with the 'see now, buy now' model - encapsulates much of what is rocking the fashion world right now.
Immediacy is the new currency; buzz is built in minutes, not months; and the value of a person, product or brand can be quantified and monetized through followers and impressions, all developments that have the power to change image building in media, advertising and on the red carpet.
"It used to be if you had an arresting silhouette, like what Armani did, you could influence consumers," says Teri Agins, author of the 2014 book, "Hijacking the Runway: How Celebrities Are Stealing The Spotlight From Fashion." "Now, it's about getting people to look up. Designers can no longer survive on their own aesthetic or taste. Today, for a fashion brand to break out, get traction and attract customers, it has to have some celebrity component."
To succeed in fashion, designers must cleave to celebrities (Gucci's Alessandro Michele to Jared Leto, for example), collaborate with them (Tommy Hilfiger and Gigi Hadid), or become one (Tom Ford).
And with retail sales in the doldrums, and social media accelerating how people consume fashion trends, designers are being forced to reinvent their runways and ad campaigns, with an eye toward capturing the attention of elusive, experientially oriented millennials.
THR top red-carpet designers Carolina Herrera and Chanel are featuring such young and beloved (or provocative) celebrity models as Kiernan Shipka, 16, Willow Smith, 15, and Lily-Rose Depp, 17 (Herrera also debuted her ad campaign on Snapchat). New hires Demna Gvasalia for Balenciaga and Raf Simons for Calvin Klein are expected to reboot these fashion institutions using a streetwear edge to connect with a new generation, while designers like Christian Siriano are vaulting to Hollywood red carpets by embodying inclusiveness, a.k.a. political correctness in a new form.
Most significantly, celebrities increasingly are being deployed by brands for their social media prowess, creating a bifurcated landscape where those with followings of millions will get different deals than those without. And shoppable runways already are having deal makers salivating over potentially shoppable red carpets.
A photo posted by Gigi Hadid (@gigihadid) on Sep 9, 2016 at 5:46pm PDT
Consider how fashion shows are being "eventized" like music festivals. After taking his bow, designer Alexander Wang launched a surprise Adidas collaboration and turned his runway show into #WangFest, complete with food trucks, a graffiti tagger, a DJ and performances by South Korean bad girl CL, rapper Travis Scott and Desiigner, all attired in Wang's Adidas clothing, some of which was available to buy on site. "The whole thing was so clever; is it any wonder young kids were hanging outside trying to get in like it's a rock show?" says producer-director Baz Luhrmann, who made the rounds at New York Fashion Week because he "likes fashion shows" and goes whenever he's in town.
Gucci's domination of the red carpet this year stemmed in part from its incredibly Instagrammable clothes and accessories, underlining that social media is the new currency. Celebrities with followings are in a unique position to market collections for brands, says fashion industry analyst Robert Burke. "That's the channel to reach the customer today. The reach a celebrity has and power they've always wielded on the red carpet is now being channeled into social media."
During NYFW, Tommy Hilfiger demonstrated his ability to harness the powers of celebrity and social media by hosting a fashion carnival on Pier 16 at South Street Seaport, debuting a collection designed in collaboration with reality TV royalty Gigi Hadid that was live-streamed on more than 300 fashion and lifestyle sites and sold in real time. The show was presented to 1,000 industry guests, including Hadid's friend Taylor Swift, and 1,000 members of the public. A Ferris wheel, popsicle carts and booths where customers could buy the collection rounded out the 360-degree experience. The Tommy Pier was open to the public for free the following day, when Hadid took selfies with the crowd. According to insiders, the extravaganza cost between $5 million and $7 million.
The results exceeded expectations, Hilfiger tells THR. The Tommy x Gigi event generated more than 2 billion impressions online (last season's show generated 984 million impressions), including Hadid's dozen Instagrams to her 22 million followers that garnered up to 3 million likes each. There was a 900 percent increase in traffic to Tommy.com in the two days the carnival was open to the public and a 154 percent increase in sales from Sept. 9 to 12 year-over-year. Hilfiger sums up the secret to his success: "The consumer wants to see something on the runway or their favorite model or celebrity, buy it that day and wear it that night." Observes Avery Baker, chief brand marketing officer of Tommy Hilfiger: "You see the power of celebrity in the looks we've sold out of, the first look Gigi wore in the show and the top Taylor wore to the show." The brand will be continuing the partnership, with a new phase being announced via social media in October.
TOM FORD'S FRONT ROW: Tom Ford and Rita Wilson (left); David Burtka and Neil Patrick Harris; Cindy Crawford and Rande Gerber. (Photos: Getty Images)
As for how this affects talent in Hollywood? Think cha-ching. "If you work in Hollywood, you have to be very happy because there's finally an ROI associated with celebrity," says Burke, the analyst. "Gigi Hadid's fee [for brand deals] just skyrocketed."
Rachna Shah, executive vp of New York-based PR firm KCD - who works on digital strategies with celebrities and fashion brands Tommy Hilfiger, Alexander Wang and Givenchy, among others - seconds the assumption. "From a PR perspective, celebrity endorsements in the past 15 or 20 years have grown in importance, from dressing and attending an event to, more recently, social media posts and activation with celebrity partners," she says. "With brands transitioning to 'see now, buy now,' the impact of an endorsement will be that much stronger." (Not all brands - and their backers - consider such endorsements critical for success. On the runway after wife Georgina Chapman's Marchesa show at NYFW, Harvey Weinstein shrugged off paying attention to social media followings: "I pay attention to talent.")
Explains Sharon Ainsberg, co-founder of VIP services firm SHO + Co., who has been working in celebrity brand placement for 15 years: "It puts talent in a great position. If they have a very big exciting social footprint across different platforms, from Snapchat to Instagram, Twitter to Facebook, and they are excited to communicate with fans, women want to buy off their backs." Shah singles out Chrissy Teigen as a celebrity "who can create authentic storytelling on social media around what [she's] wearing and really succeed. You hear her authentic voice when she's putting something on as opposed to she's a plate."
A-listers without a social presence soon may be adopting frowny-face emojis: The days of earning a one-time appearance fee to arrive 15 minutes before a runway show starts, pose for a few photos and leave, are passing. "It's beyond a red-carpet appearance or a campaign face, getting paid to come to a fashion show, or being on the cover of a magazine, which have been the norm for so long as a way for personalities to work with brands," says Trey Laird, fashion branding guru and creative director and founder of Laird + Partners, who spent a year working on the Tommy x Gigi partnership, from soup to nuts. "It takes more effort. There's more content required now. It's about things that are surprising or pop up, that happen in real time or at events."
Hollywood could learn from the new fashion experiment, too, adds Laird. "Buzz is important, but now it's immediate," he says. "I don't know if in the summer, you want to see a trailer for a movie that comes out on Christmas Day. Both industries, fashion and film, have been speaking to consumers using models built decades ago. And the world's changed."
One casualty of all this immediacy could be the exclusivity that has traditionally elevated both fashion and Hollywood. Some don't mind wearing a frock to a premiere that could be owned by a civilian, like Malin Akerman, who sat front row at the Marc Jacobs show that closed New York Fashion Week: "I've worn things on the red carpet that are in stores. It's nice when things can be accessible." At the Thakoon show, actress Priyanka Chopra praised the equalizing aspect of the new "see now, buy now" runway model, which has designer Thakoon Panichgul delivering fresh product to his store every two weeks, but wondered about the greater effect on fashion. "I can understand it's great for business - I can have an outfit whenever I want. But will it kill the role of anticipation and aspiration?" she asks. "I'm debating that."
Not to worry, Hollywood still will get preferential, first-look treatment - for now. Some brands in the "see now, buy now" selling cycle this season let stylists get a sneak peek at their collections in February. Top stylists including Kate Young and Cristina Ehrlich were shown collections ahead of time so they could pull for the upcoming awards show red carpets. And Shah says custom looks by many of the European luxury brands for stars attending major events still will reign: "There are brands for which the selling structure is different and the fantasy of the red carpet will remain."
INSTANT GRATIFICATION: Margot Robbie wears Gucci dress on 'Suicide Squad' press tour (left); Gucci rose print cotton poplin dress available on Gucci.com. (Photos: @kateyoung/Instagram; Gucci.com.)
Beyond fantasy, new revenue streams may emerge: With the runway proving shoppable, the red carpet could follow. WME-IMG - which produces a large share of fashion shows in New York (but not the major eventizing ones with 'see-now, buy-now' components like Tom Ford, Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren or Alexander Wang) - might want to take note. Stylist Kate Young sees an opportunity to curate online trunk shows around press tours. "For Margot Robbie's Suicide Squad press tour, she had four premieres and 20 looks that online retailer ModaOperandi.com was already selling. I could take the whole mood of what I'm doing [for any given event] and create a shoppable thing around it."
Helping the consumer buy into what social media already is selling 24/7 is the next step. "I'm very interested in changing the idea that only the privileged can access top stylists," says Brooke Wall, founder of the WME-IMG-owned Wall Group, who represents Young and other top stylists, including Karla Welch and Leslie Fremar. "How, through technology, can we bring their expertise to consumers? I would love some of our stylists to follow me around and tell me what to buy," she says, suggesting how an app, such as the newly-launched HEED, a joint venture between WME-IMG and AGT International, could evolve in the future.
"Fashion is becoming much more inclusive," adds Catherine Bennett, senior vp and managing director of WME-IMG Fashion. "The industry needs both Hollywood and consumers - it doesn't serve anyone to be exclusive and inaccessible. It wasn't working."