Although the fashion industry has been quick to use digital media to become more accessible to consumers, certain designers are using the same tools to keep catwalk access exclusive.
While I watched the ICB by Prabal Gurung show at New York Fashion Week it struck me that although the fashion industry is embracing the openness digital media provides, the backlash against it is also beginning.
I wasn’t at the Lincoln Center; or any other grandiose venue across Manhattan, but rather in front of my computer screen.
However, the difference to any other live-stream of a show during a fashion week, was that this one was online-only.
I am a strong proponent of watching shows from the comfort of my own home or office anyway. As media editor of an online trends service, my defence is that I’m actually the geek that prefers being able to more easily tweet while still focusing on the collection. The biggest bonus of all is that you get a far better view of the garments first time around via the stream, than you often ever do when you’re there next to the catwalk.
As Christina Binkley, style columnist for the Wall Street Journal said on Twitter: “Watching the ICB by Prabal Gurung online fashion show is like watching football on TV. You’re not there, but you see more than if you were.”
However, what you don’t often get with either, unless you’ve headed straight backstage or you’re booked for follow-up salon appointments, is that close detailed view; a true second look. Believe me there have been many times when I’ve peered forward from my seat, or better yet hit pause and CTRL + to zoom in on the screen – it’s not quite the same.
But this is why ICB was perfect. Every look was already there in high-res jpeg form. And every detail had a dedicated picture too – the fabric textures, the handbags, the prints and the make-up choices. There were also informative notes on each piece and a video of Gurung discussing his inspirations. All can be replayed and revisited.
And what’s even more interesting about all this, is that the ICB show was also invite-only. Even my colleague next to me couldn’t login – her email address wasn’t on the list.
This new exclusive online-only strategy has made me wonder – is this a step towards an anti consumer all-access sentiment? Are Gurung’s team trying to buck the trend for offering everyone around the world a “front row seat” via the web? Could this be the beginning of a backlash to the fashion industry’s rapid adoption of burgeoning social media platforms?
We first saw it with Tom Ford, who has a strict no photographs and no reviews policy for at least three months, and Phoebe Philo at Céline, who likewise calls for no shots or tweets from backstage at her shows. Those decisions have been met with mixed reception, but both are essentially attempting to close the gap between the hype of a new collection and the time (on average six months later) it actually hits the shop floor.
ICB is adopting the same exclusive strategy, albeit with a less established brand and solely on a digital platform.
“The password is just a replacement for your seat number,” said Ed Filipowski, co-president of PR company KCD, who was behind the concept. “To me, it’s not MTV, it’s not YouTube. It’s for the industry.”
While the time lag wasn’t enforced (I for one was tweeting as I watched), it seems, if anything, at least an attempt at rediscovering a sense of authority in the industry. Enabling the likes of Vogue and the major newspapers to be the first to comment once again, rather than your dime-a-dozen blogger is an interesting step.
Likewise, the British Fashion Council is reinforcing the importance of focusing on the press and buyers who attend London Fashion Week this season. Although consumer access to the event, which kicked off on Friday, has become increasingly open over the past few seasons, and is set to be its biggest yet with 46 shows streaming live, those in the trade are being prioritised once more.
For the first time, their passes to the fashion week grounds provide a constant stream of live content, thanks to an ongoing partnership with image-recognition app Aurasma. By scanning them, they’re directed to live news from the London Fashion Week organisers. While that content isn’t exclusive, it is confirmation of ensuring the experts have easy, on-the-go access to everything they need, especially given the fast-paced nature of such a week.
But on the other hand, London is also seeing a continuing focus on consumer-first. Burberry kickstarted it with the Tweetwalk last September – offering those on Twitter a glimpse of each look seconds before those actually in attendance. The same is planned for tomorrow’s show, with a delayed version of the image-stream also being posted on the giant Cromwell Road billboard in London (Europe’s longest advertising outdoor space).
The brand’s main focus is reach; getting out to as many of the public as possible, which is why they’ll also be live-streaming to Liverpool Street Station, as well as on mobile and tablet device.
Harrods is taking it one step further again by handing the buying decision of the forthcoming Burberry collection over to its Facebook fans.
On Tuesday, the day after the designer’s show, the department store will post images of every look on its Facebook page. Those that receive the most ‘likes’ will be incorporated into the store’s purchases for the season.
The argument almost certainly is that it’s common sense those outfits proving the most popular at this stage will end up being the ones that sell once they hit the floor later in the year (although the profile of the Harrods Facebook fan versus the actual Harrods shopper could be questioned).
Similarly, back in New York and Oscar de la Renta turned to crowdsourcing, inviting consumers to become a part of his creative process by launching a virtual pinboard open for anyone to post their ideas to. The idea is similar to Pinterest, the new picture-based social network, that has been attracting lots of attention of late.
“The Board” is a call for anyone and everyone to help the designer with inspiration sources for his resort collection.
Both of these initiatives aren’t just about providing consumers with increasing amounts of access anymore then, but actually involving them in the entire behind-the-scenes process; from concept to sales rail.
Combined with ICB, the result of these conflicting digital strategies is an overwhelming sense of the fashion industry being drawn into a “whirlpool”. There is now a battle between a tightening industry grip on the one hand, and an all-access opening to consumers, on the other.
Neither side is right or wrong, but there’s still that gaping hole from one extreme to the other, and more importantly from the season we’re seeing to the season we’re buying.
The question is can the industry, defined by these biannual fashion weeks, the world over, adapt fittingly while continuing to embrace the benefits of digital media?
This piece originally appeared on The Telegraph