It was an interesting fashion week season – a mixture of new names at big design houses, new go-to market strategies at others and a bevy of tech initiatives thrown in for good measure.
While the biggest shift surrounded those moving towards the “see-now, buy-now” initiative – countering the “broken” system of showcasing six months before product is traditionally able to buy – others used the past month as an opportunity for a more experiential type of marketing.
Across New York, London, Milan and Paris there were tech and digital launches spanning wearables, mixed reality, chatbots and more. Head over to Forbes for a wrap-up of five of the coolest from brands including Burberry, Tommy Hilfiger, Chanel, Hussein Chalayan and Rebecca Minkoff.
On to Paris Fashion Week and things have certainly been quieter on the digital and technology front. The furore around bloggers and editors continues (yawn), while a little ray of hope shines through in Intel’s partnership with Hussein Chalayan.
On top of that this past week has been everything from why the store of the future doesn’t want to actually sell anything, the new Mr Porter x Apple TV app launch, and the fact even Chanel and Hermès are struggling in the current climate.
Technology isn’t normally the first thing you think about when it comes to Paris Fashion Week. The home of the most traditional of luxury brands, it remains the slowest on the uptake of much in the way of both digital and technical innovation, instead sticking with more conventional collections and catwalk shows.
Unless you turn to Hussein Chalayan that is.
The Cypriot-British designer has long experimented with the relationship between his garments and the role technology can play. He has introduced looks that changed shape thanks to microchips and animatronics, dresses embedded with 15,000 LEDs to recreate a pixelated screen and even a coffee table that turned into a skirt.
“Only with technology can you create new things in fashion. Everything else has been done,” he has previously said.
Turn to today then, and he’s partnered with Intel to bring something new in the shape of wearable tech to his spring/summer 2017 fashion week show. Head over to Forbes to read all about it.
Technology is due to get a big nod of acceptance from the fashion industry in 2016 as the theme of the next Costume Institute exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
“Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology”, will focus on the dichotomy between handmade haute couture and machine-made fashion, according to Vogue. It will showcase over 100 pieces of fashion, and unsurprisingly, be sponsored by Apple.
“Traditionally, the distinction between the haute couture and prêt-à-porter was based on the handmade and the machine-made,” explains Andrew Bolton, curator of the Costume Institute. “But recently this distinction has become increasingly blurred as both disciplines have embraced the practices and techniques of the other.”
Expect to see traditional techniques including embroidery, pleating and lacework placed alongside new technologies such as laser cutting, thermo shaping, and circular knitting. Workshops on areas including 3D printing will also allow the public to see designs taking shape in real-time.
While there’s no information yet as to whether the exhibition will span into the embracing of digital by the industry thus including brands such as Burberry through to Ralph Lauren, there will no doubt be pieces on display from the likes of Hussein Chalayan, Alexander McQueen and Issey Miyake.
Further hints lie in the fact Nicolas Ghesquière, Karl Lagerfeld and Miuccia Prada will serve as honorary chairs of the Met Gala due to take place on Monday, May 2. Apple’s Jonathan Ive as well as Idris Elba and Taylor Swift will join Anna Wintour as co-chairs.
Memorable moments during fashion month used to surround incidents like Anna Wintour being splattered with paint by anti-fur protesters, or Naomi Campbell taking a tumble in those sky-high Vivienne Westwood shoes. There have been incredible sets – Fendi on the Great Wall of China, everything from an airplane to a supermarket at Chanel and a giant steam train when Marc Jacobs was at Louis Vuitton.
Today, however, technology is becoming the new differentiator and the main means of grabbing attention — not to mention press headlines — during the shows. Thus far this season, Ralph Lauren has streamed his runway show on billboards in London’s Piccadilly Circus via Periscope, Zac Posen partnered with Google to reveal a dress coded with moving LED lights and Intel introduced drones to fly overhead at numerous shows.
“Technology can be a point of differentiation and a source of competitive advantage in a crowded fashion marketplace,” says Karinna Nobbs, program director and senior lecturer of digital fashion strategy at the British School of Fashion. “If you do something well you can really get good PR coverage and be seen as a first mover/innovator, which should translate to sales and loyalty.”
Even if it doesn’t add to the user experience, nor directly impact a brand’s bottom line, technology integrated into a fashion show is often about a designer exercising his or her creative freedom, in a similar way to theatrical extravagances of the past. That said, some of the most elaborate tech ideas showcased during fashion weeks past actually took place well before you could Instagram them. Here’s our history of technology and the designers who have embraced it since 1999.
There might be hot debate in current times about where artificial intelligence is likely to lead us, but robots in some form or another have long appeared at fashion week. For spring/summer 1999, Alexander McQueen presented one of the most famous moments of his career when two robots spray-painted a dress worn by model Shalom Harlow in shades of black and yellow as she spun on a revolving platform.
In 2007, Hussein Chalayan showcased a vision of our future wardrobes based on garments that changed shape. A Victorian dress unfurled to reveal a flapper style and a tiered design shortened into a mini, all thanks to microchips and animatronics. This was wearable tech before wearable tech.
Jump to autumn/winter 2014, and drones hit the runway at Fendi, circling above the heads of show-goers to live stream content back to viewers at home. The resulting experience was terrible, but it grabbed headlines for Fendi all over the world.
Speaking of wearable technology, it goes without saying that designers today are increasingly experimenting with how to embed things like electronics and connected devices into their collections. To highlight that fact, Diane von Furstenberg provided a particularly noteworthy story when she sent Google Glass down her runway in September 2012. Models wore the augmented reality eyewear as they paraded the designer’s spring/summer 2013 looks, capturing the scene around them for a video released at a later date. The finale saw DVF herself dragging Google co-founder Sergey Brin, along with her then-Creative Director Yvan Mispelaere, down the runway to take a bow with her.
Last year we also saw the likes of Rebecca Minkoff and Diesel Black Gold featuring wearable tech accessories in their shows — and let’s not forget the work Dutch designer Iris van Herpen has been doing for a long time in 3D printing. Richard Nicoll, meanwhile, unveiled a slip dress made from a fiber-optic fabric activated by high intensity LED lights for spring/summer 2015 in partnership with Disney and Studio XO. The question remains, however, as to when the wearables trend will become more widespread.
If you’re into gaming, you’re probably all over virtual reality (VR). Maybe you’ve already got your own headset. Fashion brands have been experimenting with those, too. Topshop first offered up such an opportunity when it provided customers with a VR experience in its London flagship store for autumn 2014. Specially commissioned Oculus Rift-based headsets enabled shoppers to see its catwalk show in real-time through a 3D virtual world. The aim was to make them feel as though the models were walking in front of their eyes and the celebrities were sitting right beside them.
Dior captured in 3D a backstage view of its show earlier this year, and proceeded to offer up that experience in select stores through its own VR headset, called DiorEyes. Users were able to explore the full 360 degrees of the backstage space, seeing the models during their final prep for the show surrounded by makeup artists, photographers and designer Raf Simons.
Rebecca Minkoff filmed her February 2015 show for VR viewing, too. The process reportedly required two cameras with three dozen separate lenses to create footage that has just this week been released on a specially designed Google cardboard headset, into which you stick your smartphone. Democratising fashion week indeed.
If you weren’t already convinced Alexander McQueen was an innovator, then consider his autumn/winter 2006 collection, which featured a hologram of Kate Moss in the finale. The projection appeared within a glass pyramid surrounded by billows of white smoke. It was deemed fashion magic.
Holograms were also central to Polo Ralph Lauren’s spring/summer 2015 show. In what the brand referred to as a 4D holographic water projection, it showed models wearing the new collection against a 60-foot high fountain in Manhattan’s Central Park. The images were pretty blurry, making it hard to decipher much about the new collection, but like many other tech experiences, it grabbed headlines around the world.
With all these innovative ideas in mind, hearing that a brand is merely live streaming its show doesn’t really do it for us anymore. But once upon a time, this alone was big news. When Alexander McQueen streamed his spring/summer 2010 show — yes, it really is only that old — the event drew in so many fans, it crashed SHOWstudio’s website. While the fact that Lady Gaga was performing was arguably the biggest contributing factor there, it was also an early sign of just how much interest there was in fashion week happenings from fans around the world, especially when mixed with a little extra entertainment.
As the late designer said at the time: “I wanted to create a sense of inclusion for all those in the world who are interested in my work and the world of fashion. This is just the first step towards revolutionising the ‘show system’ as we know it.” While he personally never did do another live stream — that collection was to be the last before his death — the concept rapidly spread.
Designers providing ever-greater access through digital means has grown season after season. Burberry has been the pioneer in this sense. Its now iconic campaigns have included everything from a “Tweetwalk” that showcased images of the new line on Twitter before those sitting in the front row saw them, to its “Runway to Reality” (later “Runway Made to Order”) concept that offered consumers the ability to instantly purchase specific items from the new collection for delivery within seven weeks, instead of several months. There have also been personalised GIFs, digital kisses and the ability to buy nail polish via Twitter, but this season it’s been all about Snapchat.