LONDON (Reuters) - British designer Burberry sparked a debate at this year's London Fashion Week by skipping the usual six-month gap between putting its designs on the catwalk and into shops, prompting concern among smaller designers that they would be unable to compete.
This season's fashion week, which runs from Feb. 19 to 23, included references to Shakespeare and British artist David Hockney. Burberry showcased snakeskin trench coats, contrasting metallic dresses and embellished shirts in rich autumnal tones.
"The whole collection is already lined (in-store) for people to see and touch and feel. And if they want to, they can order it and we will deliver it as quickly as possible," Burberry Chief Creative and Chief Executive Officer Christopher Bailey told Reuters.
Amid fierce competition, luxury labels are having to find ways to bridge a delay between catwalk presentation and retail availability in order to meet demand from customers living in different climates.
Ken Downing, fashion director of U.S. department store Neiman Marcus, applauded Burberry's move and said he believed all fashion brands were heading toward doing the same.
"Customers buy now to wear now. They understand shopping in the moment and those are the clothes that they are looking for, so I applaud these moves. I hope more do it, it's the future of our industry," Downing told Reuters.
Bailey said his latest collection was also inspired by the Bloomsbury Set, an early 20th century collective of artists and writers centered around London that included Virginia Woolf, as well as by Burberry's own history and archives.
High-street retailer Topshop Unique, whose models wore tightly fitted long johns, sheer leopard-print dresses and oversized fur coats, drew inspiration from Shakespeare's works "The Winter's Tale" and "The Taming of the Shrew" for printed silk and floral embellishment on dresses.
Owner Philip Green said he was also thinking of how to get clothes to his customers more quickly.
"It's a challenging market. So we've got to be faster, quicker, newer," he told Reuters.
But London's smaller design houses expressed concern about a "see now, buy now" model, saying they needed more time to prepare their collections for wholesale and could end up with excess inventory if they were unable to gage customers' reactions first.
"As a small designer brand, we get the orders from buyers, put them into production, wait for the fabric, deliver that so we need to time to prepare that," said Jackie Lee, a Korean designer based in London.
Her comments were echoed by designers Jasper Conran, Roksanda Illincic, Holly Fulton. "If you are quite a small operation, it's hard to see how you can make that shift and have access to the funds to make that shift," said Fulton.
Additional reporting by Jane Witherspoon and Helena Williams; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky