“It's a very different world right now,” Fern Mallis told the audience of fashion designers, bloggers, press, and public relations professionals Monday. “When we started the shows, 'technology' was not a word associated with Fashion Week. Digital cameras didn't exist, email was not our religion, cell phones were the size of bricks, and none of them came with eight-megapixel cameras, Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. And fashion shows were not called content. Now invitations have bar codes and scanning codes on them, and there's content for everybody, and their tools are in their hands or in their handbags.”
Mallis, who until 2010 was senior vice president of Fashion Week organizer IMG Fashion, was introducing the first in the Fashion GPS conversation series on the future of the industry, which focused on technology and the evolution of Fashion Week. Simon Collins, the dean of fashion for Parsons the New School for Design, moderated the discussion featuring prominent players in the industry: IMG Fashion's senior vice president and managing director, Peter Levy; Made Fashion Week co-founder Jenné Lombardo; KCD's senior vice president, Rachna Shah; and style.com editor in chief Dirk Standen.
In New York, where February and September Fashion Weeks are crowded with as many as 25 shows a day, the competition for attention is stiff. So much so, that there is no need for every designer to have the traditional, formal presentation. “That's the big debate that we've faced with our clients, and that's why we design digital fashion shows,” Shah explained. “It's a platform where you can give everyone the tools that they need to get accomplished what they want to get across for the brand. To be honest, not every brand needs to do a live event. There's a purpose for that—[live events] shouldn't go away—but there are brands that can really engage with their buyers and editors in a better way.”
The same argument could be made for the event and meeting industry, where social media efforts, virtual trade shows, and video content placed online can be better ways to communicate a brand's identity and message. “We try to creatively come up with ways for brands to do different types of activity,” added Shah. “Because in the end, putting a show together is expensive, and they're getting their photos up, but they didn't really move the needle. So at a certain point, you have to think about what the value of that is and if you need it for your business.”
That's not to say that live fashion shows—or physical events, for that matter—should disappear. “There's something special about the live experience,” said Standen, describing accessories designer Olympia Le-Tan's Paris show that took place in the kitchen of a mansion. “It was an incredible way to introduce the brand. More people should look into those ways—you want that spirit of an adventure, but not everyone has to do it in a structured, formal way.”
According to Lombardo, that argument is especially true if a live event isn't enough to make people pay attention. “I'm a really big fan of social commerce, and I think it's really important for designers now to utilize that tool because what you're giving the consumer is direct consumer-to-designer experience. Look at what Pinterest is doing, even Groupon. Customers want to be engaged in a way where they can discover on their own. They can build relationships and can have a dialogue within this community.”