NEW YORK — A new fashion era is looming on the online horizon.

Bridging the gap from virtual runway to commercial reality, America Online and Teen Peoplelaunching “Back to School Cool” on Aug. 12, available only to AOL subscribers. According to AOL, it’s the first online fashion show that serves up video runway sequences and interactive still shots — enabling viewers to check out styles in motion or up close — and the option to purchase those styles with the click of a mouse.

The virtual fashion show will run through Sept. 12, as will the offer of apparel featured, from brands such as Old Navy, American Eagle Outfitters, Guess, JLo by Jennifer Lopez, Delia’s, Amici Accessories and All the Rage Online. Taped at Iona Prep in New Rochelle, N.Y., five New York-area high schoolers each model three outfits portraying the themes: “First Day Back,” “Hangin’ With the Girls” and “Impress My Crush.” Fashion styles range from rocker and urban — reflecting style icons Avril Lavigne and Eve, respectively — to eclectic, with nods to Kate Hudson and Drew Barrymore, to ultrafeminine, recalling Reese Witherspoon and Mandy Moore. A fifth trendsetting sensibility claims Sarah Jessica Parker as its avatar.

Although the fashion show facilitates purchasing, the joint venture between AOL and Teen People (also owned by AOL Time Warner) is mostly about offering interactive entertainment, in contrast to the everyday tasks like e-mailing that still dominate Internet use, said Patrick Gates, AOL’s senior vice president of e-commerce. “The emphasis is on entertainment, rather than the thought we have to sell x amount of merchandise,” Gates noted. Additional elements of the site will include an online poll on the styles shown and a link to Teen People’s message board.

Of course, with the proliferation of proprietary content online, like the School Cool show and related information, e-merchants like Gates expect synergistic online purchasing to gain momentum. He pointed to a recent Limp Bizkit concert carried only on AOL, in tandem with an offer of relevant CDs and DVDs, as another such vehicle.

To that end, Gates has been meeting weekly with executives at AOL sister Time Inc. to find other ways to tie its media content and brands to AOL’s e-commerce.“We’ve long known instinctively that contextual merchandising is key,” Gates related. However, the slow speed of most users’ Internet connections and their continued hesitance about online transactions have slowed the widely anticipated convergence of content, community and e-commerce. “Back to School Cool” seeks to sidestep such challenges, Gates noted, by presenting a Flash experience for narrowband users and kicking it up a notch for the broadband crowd. The fashion show is the cornerstone of AOL’s “Back to School Ready Guide,” which offers such aids as homework help, learning activities and assessment tools, and a stress-busting recess area.

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