PFW AW17: Whatever Happened To See Now Buy Now?

Balenciaga and Céline remind us of the thrill in waiting

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We've reached the end of another round of shows. Now let me ask you this: are you burning to buy all the coats, dresses, shoes and bags? Right now? This very minute? Last season, a substantial number of brands from Tommy Hilfiger to Tom Ford were banking on you doing exactly that. But now? Not nearly so many. After a spring/summer '17 season in which blink-and-it's-on-the-sales floor fast runway-to-retail collections were being hailed as the future of fashion, it's interesting that so few brands have revisited it for aw17.

Balenciaga aw17
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Even more telling: two of the most influential women's wear designers working right now have taken the most old school approach of all. In New York, Raf Simons used his big debut show at Calvin Klein to also highlight three pieces from his new made to order collection. Meanwhile in Paris, Demna Gvasalia ended his excellent show with a group of custom dresses, available for special order, to celebrate 100 years of the house and its history of couture.

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'I took those ideal dresses from Cristobal [Balenciaga] and started twisting them in every possible direction. And it was too much, I thought. And so I decided to stay pure to what these dresses were before,' he explained backstage of the gowns, which he made practical with pockets.

This is the opposite of see now buy now. This is see now, wait, and buy much later — after every detail has been tailored to your body and preference, of course.

Balenciaga aw17

Here in Paris, there's been much debate in those idle moments before a runway show begins about how some brands might be completely missing the point of what women want to wear — beautiful clothes that make you feel like the best, most intelligent, most beautiful, most sexually empowered, most professionally boss version of yourself.

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Balenciaga aw17

At Balenciaga, a hugely influential platform from where creative director Demna Gvasalia's influence has spread far, wide and quickly (it's everywhere from the rise of the dress + boot to the wave of plaid and check tailoring to all the vaguely Seventies belted coats), he showed a collection that struck that holy grail balance between critic-pleasing creativity and commercial viability.

For the former: there were tailored coats, with one side pulled dramatically across the shoulder, wrap skirts made of car mats (trust me, it worked) and sporty technical shirts with car tires built into the back, recreating Cristobal Balenciaga's famously unconventional, curved back silhouette.

Balenciaga aw17
Balenciaga autumn/winter 1958

On a less experimental level, there were also roomy knits and easy full floral skirts; updates on his popular puffer coat and graphic tent dresses; and a fresh round of Bazar bags.

But most noteworthy of all: those dresses, a nod to the house's history and a reminder (intentional or not) of the value in slowing fashion down. There's something to be said about a garment that can attest to the workmanship that has gone into it and is built to withstand the changing whims of a season or a brand's rotating casts of creative directors.

With the exception of a few such as Burberry, a company obviously large in resources, the problem with many of the see now buy now collections is that they were lacking in technical heft (cut, fabrication, construction) and sometimes felt disposable as a result. And while the direct to retail headline wasn't a dominant story for aw17 the way it was for spring, there was still a sense with some collections that we were missing that level of craft needed to inspire a woman to part with her cash. Even Burberry, the godfather of the runway to sales floor idea, made a strong case for considered, hand-made clothes with its finale of 78 capes, all available for special order.

Céline aw17

It's hard to want to buy into a designer's vision for a brand when there's a chance he or she might not be there in two years time. And so it becomes purely about the desirability of the piece (how it looks on the body, how it fits and makes you feel, whether or not it will survive wear over time.)

Céline aw17
Céline aw17

Longevity (for both the clothes and the career) has never been a problem for Phoebe Philo, whose latest Céline collection had plenty to keep her international cult happy. She gave credibility to the season's workwear trend, with crisp shirt dresses, pant suits in slightly tweaked shapes (a sloped, broad shoulder and a tapered trouser worn with a butterfly collared button down), and oversized trench coats.

And ironically, the brand is speeding up in its own very measured way: last week, it finally joined Instagram and there's a strong rumour it may even launch e-commerce sometime this year.

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