Like floral prints, leather, and the color white, ‘democratization’ is a hot trend in the fashion world — and the internet is a strong force driving that evolution.
For this year’s series of Fashion Week events (in New York, Milan, and Paris), big name designers are holding digital fashion shows accessible to the public, not just the fashion elite. There is real time video footage of models walking down the runway. Google+ hangouts backstage with designers also provided a rare glimpse into the behind-the-scenes action. Even fashion doyenne Diane Von Furstenberg wore Google Glass spectacles to produce a first-person video of her adventures.
Democratization goes further than merely broadcasting fashion shows in new ways. Now, instead of a core group of tastemakers, social media activity reveals which collections are hits and which fall flat. Similarly, content from bloggers and Instagram is just as prevalent as content created by magazine editors and professional photographers, and can be just as influential.
Furthermore, fashion companies are using big data analytics and forecasting technology to predict trends, rather than relying solely on words from industry leaders.
This embrace of technology has been a long time coming. There are several reasons why the fashion industry has been slow to jump on the cutting edge of tech. Many designers want to maintain the prestige of their brand and tight control over how it is presented. Every detail, from the shade of lipstick to the order of the models to the lighting, is meticulously chosen, as are the members of the audience.
But that’s finally starting to change.
“Fashion Week was once only accessible to the elite,” said Eventup CEO Tony Adams. “I think the fashion industry has been slow to adopt new forms of media because initially, most designers felt that fashion is an experience that is hard to replicate online, but the abundance of online fashion portals, live streaming, and social media are making fashion more accessible than it has ever been.”
Eventup is a startup that matches events to venues. This year at New York fashion week, the company helped multiple designers plan their runway shows and published an infographic on the evolution of fashion week.
Media companies like IMG and KCD are producing digital shows that sends the glitter and drama of haute couture into living rooms, while media outlets like the New York Times and Wall Street Journal provided live stream coverage of events. Now those of us who don’t have closets full of Dior dresses and Jimmy Choo shoes can watch an event at the same time as the A-List celebrities doe. But this does not necessarily undermine a collection’s status.
“Ten years ago, the idea of someone in South Dakota watching a live stream of a runway show was outlandish,” said John Jannuzzi, a digital editor at Conde Nast’s Lucky Magazine. “Now, everyone is watching it at the same time, but accessibility does not make it less exclusive. Nothing compares to being at the actual show.”
Big data and internet broadcasting
Broadcasting event footage to the masses opens collections up to tremendous amounts of discussion across social networks. People of all backgrounds and ages can offer their opinions, but the power of social media means these opinions actually have an impact. Viewer reactions to runway outfits can indicate what themes were the most well-received and popular with potential consumers.
Editd is a big data company that provides actionable information for fashion brands. It not only analyzes the amount of traffic surrounding designers or trends, but also looks at the sentiment surrounding data points. According to its reports, New York consumers like feminine and retro aesthetics, while Londoners dislike the presence of dip-dye.
Another fashion big data company, The Whispr Group, provides a “social media intelligence service” to help designers assess the effectiveness of their social media efforts. The team created an infographic about which designers “stole the social show”, with Victoria Beckham, Marc Jacobs, and Diane Von Furstenberg rising to the top.
“Brands can see which hash tags drive the most engagement,” said Whispr exec Linda Harleman. “They see the top themes and looks people were most excited about, and maybe use that to develop new strategies and inform their content calendar.”
Reinventing fashion shopping
For some of the most luxe, avant-garde design houses, paying attention to social media may not be a top priority. However, brands marketing their clothes to customers outside of a wealthy minority have to adapt to a new paradigm for exposure.
“An advantage of social media is it exposes a more widespread audience to brands at fashion week,” said Adams. “Twitter and Facebook are key platforms for customer sales and engagement, as well as driving traffic to brands sites. Also, Instagram has been a great platform for designers to test their new designs by posting a picture and tracking how often it’s “liked” by the brand’s followers. Social media should be a personal and authentic experience.”
Startups have also revolutionized the way shopping happens at fashion week. Before, standard practice was to sit in the audience, frantically take notes as models flit past on the runway, and then scramble to place orders and be put on wait lists for items. This year, there are apps for show attendees dedicated to documenting looks, as well as for live blogging and managing hectic schedules.
Social commerce site Lyst lets users browse through the inventories of thousands of brands and add desired items to their “list.” Users can also subscribe to feeds centered around designers, bloggers, stores, magazines, and their friends. The company offers a runway tracking feature where fashionistas can add make a list of their favorite looks and receive alerts when they become available. This year, Lyst offered “Live Lysting” with style mavens Nina Garcia and Olivia Palermo, as well as the Google Plus hangouts with big names like Rebecca Minkoff.
“Lyst is all about empowering the consumers,” said head of business development Hilary Peterson. “The hangouts gave them unprecedented access and a glimpse of the backstage atmosphere, while also allowing them to ask the designers anything they wanted live before the show. So we really felt like we were giving consumers, who aren’t normally at fashion week, access to something special.”
Fashion’s tech invasion
Technology infiltrated fashion week in other ways. Digital prints were a popular trend, as were retro aesthetics reminiscent of Instagram. The internet also provides a useful tool for fledgling designers to cheaply produce and publicize their own fashion shows and potentially rise to stardom. Microsoft even partnered with Bloomingdales to create a high-fashion, high-concept, high-tech dress, complete with circuit boards, and style startups were able to get off the ground amidst all the noise.
For this grown up little girl who loves both fashion and technology, this is a trend I am thrilled about.