Fashion in the Digital Age
Early last year, just as New York Fashion Week was set to kick off, snowstorm Nemo struck the northeast of the United States with blizzard conditions. With power outages, flights and catwalk shows were cancelled or delayed by at least 48 hours – a lag so long that any editor or journalist would have struggled to have anything to report by their deadline. Most of the British press trapped across the pond, could only access the shows via the internet.
Over the past few seasons, the world of high fashion has gradually opened its doors to the digital revolution. Today, almost every collection is live-streamed; catwalk shots are instantly available on line and social media applications such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Vine show what goes on behind-the-scenes. Only three years ago this would have been impossible. Gone are the days where we would linger, waiting to see runway photos or read reviews about a show that took place the day before
A year ago, public relations company KCD launched Digital Fashion Shows, enabling guests to watch pre-taped runway shows and access detailed shots, designer inspiration and backstage footage. Members of the public now have “front row” access to many key collections, such as that of Diane Von Furstenberg, Marc Jacobs and See by Chloé, who now streamline their catwalk presentations. Still, access to some shows can prove more challenging – Victoria Beckham is amongst a few designers who do not stream their collections – however thanks to Instagram and a live photo-stream from the New York Times, every look is on line within moments of it hitting the runway.
The tide of digital media brings a new, radical accessibility to fashion as well as giving rise to a wide range of new voices. This shift is becoming apparent in the growing power of fashion bloggers, who have become a celebrity of sorts as their photos are beamed across the world to thirsty fashion followers via social media and blogs. Suzy Menkes addressed this in a controversial piece for The New York Times, entitled The Circus of Fashion, where she laments that show venues are now populated by a “celebrity circus of people who are famous for being famous.”
Menkes criticizes some of these bloggers whom, she charged, accept “trophy gifts and paid-for trips,” ignoring established journalistic ethics whilst styling themselves as fashion critics. While she raises some valid arguments, the issues addressed are not only limited to fashion bloggers but to journalists as well. In some cases, fashion journalism is declining as it has allowed itself to become dependent on advertising revenues, which can of course be taken away if the review doesn’t satisfy. Does this mean that commentary on any design house with an advertising budget has become insipid? Bloggers and forum commentators do give an immediate and honest reaction, if not always an informed one.
Having read Menkes’ article closely, I find that her critique of how fashion week has evolved isn’t a direct stab at bloggers. It’s an honest perspective of how commerce and media have united to create a very different experience from when fashion shows and events were in their inaugural days. After all, what has happened to the shows and when did they become about anything other than the clothes? When did the number of re-tweets and likes become more important than the press seeing and honestly reviewing the collections?
The speed at which we consume information has consequences and today’s society is vastly different than it was in the 80s, 90s or even the early noughties. The integration of fashion and technology has been progressing throughout the decades – beginning in 1978 when Bill Cunningham published a group of his impromptu pictures in the New York Times (which soon became a regular series known as his street-style column), to 2002 when fashion blogs started to emerge on the Internet.
All these aforementioned social media applications, which have made watching runway shows from the comfort of wherever 4G functions possible, are not going to disappear, only grow and advance.
The digital innovation has already given rise to some incredible platforms, such as Nick Knight’s ShowStudio, which allows for debates on culture and personal identity, and raises some of the issues missing in the current fashion dialogue. A key feature of ShowStudio is that it offers unedited live commentary on shows, similar to the analysis that accompanies sporting events. The commentary comes from a changing panel of industry experts and through the video stream you can follow them trying to make sense of a fashion collection, in real time, alongside other fashion observers.
Ultimately just like any other creative outlet, fashion deserves a strong critical forum, not sycophancy. No doubt the digital shift is making changes aplenty in the industry but the core focus remains. For an area of journalism that is rarely treated with the seriousness it deserves we should work to improve it by addressing ‘what makes good fashion journalism?’ Both bloggers and the press have a responsibility to foster an intelligent and global conversation about fashion, enabled by new media.
This article was written and submitted by Kati Chitrakorn for Round 1 of Modeconnect’s International Fashion Writing Competition. Kati was invited to take part in Round 2. Read all the published submissions.