London Fashion Week’s young designers must use the power of technology to promote themselves, rather than taking a leaf out of Tom Ford’s book and shutting the door completely.
For a city known for emerging fashion creative talent, the news that American heavyweight designer Tom Ford was intending to show his womenswear line during London Fashion Week (LFW) this season, instead of New York where he first launched it last September, was quite a surprising one.
Before a flurry of brands returned to the UK’s capital around LFW’s 25th anniversary in 2009, there were few big designer names that chose to show their latest collections here. Even now, those that do – Pringle of Scotland, Burberry Prorsum, Matthew Williamson – are predominantly, and quite understandably, British.
Tom Ford’s presence therefore, makes a statement. Quite simply it says that London is truly back on the international scene, holding its own against its European counterparts as a go-to destination for fashion. This is in stark contrast to a mere few seasons ago, where LFW was skipped by many press and buyers entirely.
The former Gucci designer and Hollywood film director broke the mould in New York last season when he opted for an intimate fashion show event for just 100 guests.
In an age where the catwalk is live streamed online around the world, enabling consumers to feel like they themselves are on the front row, he also only invited one photographer (his own), turned away all the bloggers, and set a strict embargo on information about the collection so as to relate it more closely to the date the garments hit store.
“[Today] you see the clothes on the runway, and within an hour or so, they’re online,” Ford said at the time. “They’re overexposed… I wanted to pull everything back.”
It was a daring move, but it worked for him. Accordingly, he’s opted for the same strategy with his autumn/winter 2011/12 collection in London. Today, Ford will present his latest designs to a handful of monthly magazine editors only.
But I question whether his method is really suited to this city at all.
Given the current dire financial state of the country, this alternative to the lavish and extravagant productions fashion shows have become, is certainly no bad thing; it’s more Ford’s strict restrictions around any detail being released in real-time that doesn’t quite fit.
Turn to the strategy currently being employed by the British Fashion Council (BFC) for instance, and the complete opposite approach can be seen.
Aiming to reach a wider audience than ever before, the council’s dedicated digital policy will see a total of 37 shows live streamed by the end of the week as well as a series of fashion films.
And it’s not just online – an LED screen currently dominates the wall of the tent at the official home of LFW at Somerset House, which, when it’s not showing the live streams, displays daily video highlights as well as tweets from the @londonfashionwk feed.
The same is happening on various screens on the London underground – in Oxford Circus, Holborn and Charing Cross stations to name a few.
Meanwhile, later today Burberry will become the first ever brand to stream live on the Landmark 32m digital screen at Piccadilly Circus.
In doing all of this, both Burberry and the BFC are helping to pioneer a new fashion landscape where democratisation, or put more simply, fashion for the masses, is key.
“It’s about reaching out to broader audiences,” says the BFC’s CEO Caroline Rush. “Showcasing digitally is a fantastic opportunity for our designers to reach global audiences without obviously having to have those big advertising budgets.”
At a time when convincing consumers back into shops is crucial, she’s hoping the outdoor initiative will also help generate a sense of excitement about LFW with the public and eventually lead to sales too.
Ford’s argument however, as many of his counterparts would still agree, is that it goes against the notion of luxury to make yourself so accessible.
It’s for that very reason many designer brands have been slow on the uptake of digital in the first place – in some instances still not having their own websites, let alone pushing forward through social media.
But then Ford is now a big established brand, and the bulk of those on the LFW schedule are not.
“The luxury Tom has is that he’s had the opportunity to develop his name, reputation and audience through the likes of Gucci… most of the designers we have in London haven’t got that grounding and so [digital] gives them the means to reach much further,” says Rush.
Save for its hero returnees, the city remains largely a home for emerging talent. Putting a collection together, let alone producing a show, is expensive business, and having any cash left over for marketing is fairly unlikely for these small companies. In utilising technology, the very best of London Fashion Week can be catapulted around the world no matter what financial backing it has.
Only by taking advantage of the true power of technology will these new fashion designers build their future. By shutting the door to the digerati, these rising stars will jeopardise their careers before they have even taken off. Therefore I encourage them to follow more in the footsteps of digitally enlightened fashion houses like Burberry, and not, though it’s wonderful to have him here, Tom Ford.
This piece originally appeared on fashion.telegraph.co.uk