New York Fashion Week officially kicked off February 6 and this year a startup--rather than a designer--opened the proceedings.
11 Honoré, a luxury online boutique that curates and sells designer fashion hosted its first-ever New York Fashion Week runway show Wednesday featuring styles from designers such as Badgley Mischka, Christian Siriano, and Marchesa.
The show was notable for several reasons: In an industry that's been heavily criticized for promoting unhealthy standards for women's bodies, 11 Honoré--a brand that only sells sizes 10 and up--sent exclusively plus-sized models down its runway. 11 Honoré's founder Patrick Herning told Inc. the show was about providing a "seat at the table for a customer who has otherwise been excluded."
In another rarity for the industry, the startup let attendees instantly scan the looks on their smartphones and make purchases on the spot. That part of the show was powered by e-commerce software company Shopify. Guests received a look-book of styles that appeared on the runway, along with QR codes for each item. Scanning the codes brought up an item's page on 11 Honoré website.
There were still a few kinks that needed to be worked out with the codes. They were tiny and difficult to scan quickly in dim lighting. Before the show, a camera man asked if he could film me scanning the codes, and after three awkward, failed attempts at adjusting my iPhone's focus and zooming in and out, I gave up.
While this may not be the first time QR codes have been used in the fashion industry, the idea that consumers can buy the clothes as they see them come down the runway is still relatively new. Luxury designers for decades worked around a six-month cycle and it wasn't until 2016 that brands like Tommy Hilfiger, Rebecca Minkoff, Burberry, and Tom Ford started putting pieces on sale immediately after presenting them at shows.
Fast-fashion retailers and the growth of direct-to-consumer brands like Casper and Warby Parker have helped spur the "see-now, buy-now" trend, which aims to put products in the hands of customers as quickly as possible. Nike introduced QR codes to customers at its NYC flagship store in 2018.
"Bringing this real-time experience to customers is just showing people what's possible, and where we should be headed in the future in terms of being able to really interact with your consumer at any place and in any way possible and not just a standard in a store and online," said Amy Hufft, VP of Brand at Shopify.
Few people appeared to be scanning items during the 11 Honoré show, instead taking photos or videos and posting on social media. Indeed, Hufft said the purpose of integrating the QR codes was more for customers to experience the technology and the products in a new way as opposed to driving a large amount of sales during the show. However, site traffic to 11 Honoré's website spiked over 100 percent during the show, according to the brand.
In the best case scenario, technology helps retail brands connect better with customers and vice-versa. Alexis DeSalva, senior retail and e-commerce analyst at research firm Mintel, notes that Anna Wintour hopefuls who can't get access to Fashion Week shows want to feel as if they're part of the experience and the brand's story, whether they're live streaming the event or watching it on Instagram stories.
"[Fashion Week] is no longer an exclusive VIP-only occasion," said DeSalva. "It's about becoming a more inclusive event and building a better connection with consumers and part of that is using technology to show the products, then granting that sense of immediacy by cutting out the middle man."
Inclusivity is 11 Honoré's guiding principle. After a career in experiential and influencer marketing, Herning founded the brand in 2016 after working on a project for Marina Rinaldi, who at the time was one of the only luxury plus-sized brands on the market. The experience inspired him to start 11 Honoré. The company, which has since raised $11.5 million in venture capital, sells exclusively online besides a brick-and-mortar pop-up that wil be in New York's Tribeca neighborhood for a couple of weeks this month.
To close the show, which has been described in the fashion press as a "triumph," 11 Honoré did what many brands do and saved its star for last: actress and LGBT activist Laverne Cox strutted and twirled down the runway under a shower of confetti tossing a flowy, red Zac Posen gown.