Online retailer About You organizes 17 fashion shows during Milan Fashion Week
From September 20 to 25, the biggest names in Italian luxury will gather in Milan to present their Spring/Summer 2023 collections. German fashion online retailer About You will also unconventionally participate in this event with a series of 17 fashion shows held in the Italian fashion capital starting this Tuesday.
The e-tailer, which recorded a 48% increase in sales in 2021 to €1.73 billion, is taking its 'open to the public' fashion week concept to Milan, after already being previously tested in Berlin. The organizers expect more than 8,000 people to attend over a five-day period, with an audience consisting of a mix of VIP guests, influencers and fashion lovers in a festival-like affair. For the occasion, About You teamed up with the creative agency Villa Eugénie and created its AYFW Village in the large Zona Farini, north of Milan, in a space of over 15,000 square meters filled with containers. On site, the villa is anchored by a 20-meter-high tower made up of screens arranged in a circle.
The e-tailer and its brands, as well as partner labels, will offer experiences to visitors, with the aim of allowing content creators, particularly with a space entirely dedicated to TikTok, to convey the atmosphere of the event designed as a big party mixing fashion, art and music. After the inaugural About You fashion show on Tuesday, presentations of the website's brands will follow one another throughout the week, as well as renowned brands such as G-Star, Adidas by Stella McCartney, Hugo and Puma. Julian Jansen, content director of the retailer, elaborates on the ambitious goals of this first About You Fashion Week in Milan.
FashionNetwork.com: When and how was the concept of About You Fashion Week born?
Julian Jansen: We launched the idea of About You Fashion Week three years ago. We have seen, in Berlin and at other Fashion Weeks, that fashion week events are always very exclusive, that they are reserved for VIP guests and influencers, and that normal people are not usually invited to attend. We wanted to democratize this somehow. We had to focus on fashion and models, of course, but transform it into a very entertaining show. So we started the project with the slogan 'Exclusive for everyone' in the first edition during Berlin Fashion Week where anyone could attend, sit in the front row, next to an influencer or a VIP guest. It was really great. The second Fashion Week was during the pandemic. It was 100% digital, but it was also a huge fashion show. And last year, again in Berlin, we started working with Villa Eugénie and we held eight branded runway shows in Berlin.
FNW: What lessons did you learn from these first sessions?
JJ: The most important thing is that, for us, these events are much more than models walking down a runway. We are retailers. When we, or even Adidas, present new products, you can't compare it to a Chanel, Celine or Gucci show. We don't want to play in that field. We want to put ourselves on a more personal level with our show. What we realized quite quickly is that we have a lot more freedom than others, that the shows can be fun with dancers, singers, and performers. The important thing is also to get the audience to come to the different shows. Influencers and VIP guests are important. It's great to have a perfect mix between a demographic of cool people and regular people. You have to be able to successfully balance this. Of course, you need your VIP guests, like Bella Hadid. You need influencers from Spain, Italy, France and Germany. And you need a bunch of cool kids to come to party, bring good vibes and have fun to liven up the atmosphere for all attendees.
FNW: Why did you leave Berlin this year?
JJ: We always wanted to bring this dimension of fashion to About You. And since we are in the midst of expanding our business internationally, we wanted to be able to have a presence in one of the major fashion capitals. It made a lot of sense to go to Milan because Italy is one of the key markets we would like to develop in. We have our About You show which opens the fashion week and that will be quite exclusive, with 600 VIP guests, partners and influencers. And the other 16 shows will be less exclusive with an audience of 300 to 400 people.
FNW: This opening to the general public reminds me of what one of your competitors, Zalando, did with the Bread&Butter festival in Berlin?
JJ: Zalando created this event for the general public. But I think the big difference is that we created our Fashion Week ourselves and did not take over an existing concept. This means we have our own unique vibe, our own DNA. It has a really different approach; Bread&Butter was originally a B2B event. We do things our own way from start to finish. It's really about people that we allow to have this encounter.
FNW: Brands such as Adidas, Hugo and Puma are participating in this 2022 edition. What are your agreements with them?
JJ: About You was created eight years ago and since then we have around 2,500 brands that have joined us. We have a very strong relationship with these brands, especially with the bigger ones. This means that our business relationship with them is solid. And most of them are interested in our activations, especially in our IRL (real world) projects, since few brands do things like that. So we know which brands we'd like to move forward with and invite them to participate. And most allocate their marketing budgets a year in advance and contact us for a spot in our program. But there are only 16 slots. It's still a commercial relationship and about working together on the runway shows.
FNW: How do you establish a strong link between the activation and the business behind it on the website?
JJ: We build sales periods around great stories like this. We have the best conversion rates when we have this type of activation like About You Fashion Week. We also have influencer and social media activity that attracts more customers or live shopping that helps with conversion.
FNW: Do you live stream the event on your website?
JJ: Actually, we did the first year. We don't want to do it anymore and we won't do it anymore. It's actually bad for the hype. When you live stream this type of event, it isn't as special for the consumer watching the show. We did it the first year and it didn't work. It's very complicated to capture the public's attention for 10 or 15 minutes of a fashion show. Instead, we are permanently live via the influencers who post or film their experience. These are strong personalities that bring the event to life in their community. Sometimes they also take over our channel. And that's what really generates FOMO (fear of missing out) and fuels interest in the event. But this requires one-minute interactions at most.
FNW: So no one watches the full runway shows?
JJ: Very few people are interested in fashion at this level. Instead, 24 hours after the shows we have videos showing the event with the runway show, the concurrent events, the celebrities present. It's more filmed like a show. We also shoot on secondary sets where we highlight the models. It's more like a film that allows us to present the brands.
FNW: What about live shopping? Is this a first for you?
JJ: We tried it last season, especially for our own brands. We have more than 60 today, mostly with celebrities like Kendall Jenner, but many others who are celebrities or influencers from Germany, Italy, etc. They are 45-minute sessions with these people, who highlight their pieces presented in fashion shows or the 'best' of their collection.
FNW: What do these private labels developed with VIPs represent in your business?
JJ: Last year we had 26, so it is a business segment that is growing very rapidly. Our goal is to partner with the most important international celebrities to offer these collections with us. We will present some of them at our Fashion Week. Of the 16 brands, nine are our own brands. These brands represent a double-digit share of our business as a whole, while, I remind you that we have a portfolio of 2,500 brands.
FNW: From a business standpoint, what do you expect from such an event?
JJ: About You Fashion Week is a whole experience. We will certainly have some pieces on special offer on our website, but that's not the point at all. The idea is rather to allow people to discover these pieces. And it's very interesting for us to break into the Italian market. We are going to have this event in person and Milan's networks, but we will also push it with a poster campaign, a TV campaign, etc. We want to share our brand identity with Italians and we want to do it in our own way. It also allows us to have international visibility during this week when all eyes are on Milan. It's the perfect place to spread our message.
FNW: But aren't you afraid to compete with big luxury houses during this period?
JJ: We are here to present ourselves. And we are very strong in this field, to explain who we are. We are distributors; we are not here to compare ourselves with luxury players. We are here to bring Fashion Week to normal people, to people who want to have fun.
FNW: How many people do you want to reach exactly?
JJ: I think during the last Fashion Week we surpassed the one billion mark in networking contacts. We want to reach a lot more this year. But I'm feeling very optimistic about it.
FNW: And after that, do you plan to set up shop in Milan or potentially bring the concept to Paris or even New York?
JJ: We would like to expand the concept. We are open to new destinations. Unlike traditional Fashion Weeks, we are not tied to any one city or country. The first year it was Berlin, this year Milan and next year it could be New York, London, Paris or any of our target markets. We are like a big circus that travels the world!
FNW: What is the budget for such a project?
JJ: I can tell you that it's more than a million euros.... More seriously, it is, of course, a substantial investment. But the impact is far greater than simply having a campaign in one country. The financial support of the brands involved in the fashion shows, as well as the players involved in the Village, makes all of this possible.
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