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NEW YORK — What began as a tepid courtship between fashion and social media has become an all-consuming love affair as designers unveil new digital initiatives for fashion week.
Calvin Klein, Marc Jacobs, Michael Kors, Tommy Hilfiger, Rodarte and Perry Ellis are among the brands that will live stream their shows over the coming week, while scores of others — including Oscar de la Renta, Tory Burch and Nanette Lepore — are using Facebook, Twitter and their Web sites to update fashion followers on their shows, effectively expanding access beyond the exclusive enclaves of Bryant Park.
“Ignoring the Internet is total madness,” said Diane von Furstenberg, who didn’t live stream her show Sunday but did update her Facebook page with backstage photos and tweeted from the event. “Being active on the Internet is indispensable to growth and for being relevant. It helps your business to be truly global and truly multigenerational.”
More brands than ever are embracing live streaming this season for two reasons, said James Gardner, founder and chief executive officer of CreateThe Group, a social-media focused agency. “First of all, the cost of streaming and bandwidth has come down significantly. And consumers’ appetite seems unquenchable for fashion.”
Michael Kors has proof of just that. The brand began live streaming its show two years ago and saw a 111 percent increase in page views from the spring 2009 live stream to the fall 2009 one. There was another 81 percent jump from the fall 2009 show to the spring 2010 event.
Brands are adding a few new wrinkles this time round, however. Calvin Klein, in its first foray into live streaming, broadcast its men’s show Sunday and will do the same with its women’s show Thursday. The live streams are being shown on the company’s Web site as well as on the brand’s Facebook page. The company is using Facebook to allow feedback from viewers.
Alexander Wang collaborated with SHOWstudio’s Nick Knight for live feeds of his show. According to Wang, it became apparent last season that live feeds were what all the “megabrands” were doing. He continued, “We like to push the boundaries…and we wanted it to be much more democratic, and we wanted to do something special that no one’s ever done before.” The designer took the idea of a Web site live stream and upped the ante, by broadcasting his show Saturday on a Times Square billboard. With the live feed in Times Square, Wang achieved his goal, that “everyone [be able to] at least access [the collection] and view it and experience it.”
Proenza Schouler designers Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez aren’t simply live streaming their show Wednesday night — they’re using it as a selling tool. For 24 hours after the show at Milk Studios, online shoppers can preorder the fall handbags straight from the runway through the recently introduced e-commerce on the site.
“Having a voice and personality on the Internet has become increasingly important,” Shirley Cook, chief executive officer of Proenza Schouler, said. “It’s a place for people to connect to what Jack and Lazaro have to say. Live broadcasting on our Web site is the closest thing to being a guest at our show. You’re seeing everything as it is intended to be seen.”
Isaac Mizrahi is displaying a countdown to his show Thursday on his video blog. “Fashion in a way is even more about communication than it is about clothes,” said Mizrahi. “I feel communication has always been more important than [strictly] fashion.…It’s just one more way for me to communicate to my audience.” Mizrahi said he decided on a live feed because, “It’s more exposure. I don’t know if every woman wants to come to the fashion show, but they certainly want a peek at it.”
After years of avoiding social media, the Marc Jacobs brand will dive in headfirst this season via Twitter and a live feed at 8 p.m. tonight on its Web site. President Robert Duffy began tweeting in late January and has filled his Twitter feed with a flurry of daily updates on everything from “the most inspiring person,” in his life to ticket giveaways and behind-the-scenes pictures of the show set coming together.
Tommy Hilfiger’s show Thursday night will be live streamed on Facebook and the brand is urging users to submit questions for the designer to answer that day. “We’ll also provide exclusive backstage access through our Facebook page to followers, allowing them to have direct interaction with Tommy,” said Avery Baker, executive vice president of global marketing and communications at Tommy Hilfiger. Followers can then check in prior to the show to see if their questions were answered. “During the live stream, we’ll be asking our fans to vote on their favorite looks. As a viewer sees each look on screen, we’ll be posting information on that look so that fans can interact with and give input on the collection. Those who vote for the top three men’s and top three women’s looks will receive an exclusive offer on those looks as well as a chance to win seats to the next fashion show,” Baker said.
Though embracing live feeds is a technological leap forward for fashion, it isn’t active engagement in social media unless it’s embedded on a page where anyone can comment, which is what most brands are doing. What a live feed does offer is the quality of being a wide-reaching but strictly controlled medium. Yuli Ziv, ceo and founder of Style Coalition — a community of independent fashion bloggers — said, “The reason we’ve seen more and more live streaming is it’s an attempt to control their message.” Ziv continued, “Exclusive streaming is a good excuse to not invite online media.”
Recent statistics back up the contention that a brand fully immersed in social media will boost its bottom line. Macala Wright Lee, a fashion blogger and founder of digital marketing and merchandising agency FashionablyMarketing Me cited a recent statistic from the International Herald Tribune Technology conference, which stated when engaged in active social media integration, brands have reported as much as a 25 percent return on investment.
To be sure, Ziv appreciates the challenges these companies face. “A lot of [brands] are still trying to figure it out.…The truth is we’re living in such a fast-paced age…[and] there’s always a new platform…they might not have resources.”
Style Coalition has spotlighted the designers who are “doing it right” with the first annual Fashion 2.0 Social Media Awards, sponsored by Ideeli and Lucky Magazine. Garnering the most nominations, with four categories each, were Chanel and Diane von Furstenberg; followed by Dolce & Gabbana with three, and Louis Vuitton, Christian Louboutin and Tory Burch with two each. The winners were revealed on Feb. 10 and included DKNY for Best Twitter.
There are also a few fashion pioneers who are going beyond social media and embracing other innovative technologies. Vivienne Tam collaborated with Hewlett-Packard for the fourth time, setting up a live blogging station of TouchSmart computers for the third consecutive season. The TouchSmart notebook replaced standard clipboard check-in, and a selection of bloggers received notebooks to view the run-of-show, e-mail their comments, and upload images and videos directly to their blog during the presentation. The invite list for Tam’s presentation on Saturday included 200 bloggers or 20 percent of the total press invited. An LED tower at Tam’s SoHo boutique also displayed a live feed of the presentation.
Norma Kamali is using ScanLife technology throughout the exhibit at her flagship during fashion week. ScanLife is a system that allows users to scan a two-dimensional barcode on clothing with their camera phones to receive information on the look on their mobile device. Kamali will also makes sure brand updates are sent through all viral venues, including Facebook and Twitter, and views bloggers as very important.
Then there is Marc Bouwer, a self-declared pioneer of digital fashion shows. The Halston alum was the first American designer to host a virtual show of the collection in 2007. According to Bouwer, his fall runway show was taped Feb. 5 in a studio with model Candice Swanepoel against a green screen. The video will launch on the Web on Feb 18. When asked what caused him to switch to a digital show format, Bouwer said, “At first it grew out of frustration with getting a really great time slot during fashion week at Bryant Park…You sometimes get lost in the shuffle, and the cost of shows is rising and rising.”
As a cost-effective solution, Bouwer said, “The future was totally obvious: going on the Internet.” He continued, “You have to understand your new audience and how they are getting their information and go with that. There was a much more useful and intelligent approach to marketing ourselves.” According to the brand, Bouwer’s spring show this year got 42,000 hits on YouTube.
Temperley London is another designer that has embraced a digital installation format over the last two seasons instead of showing on a traditional runway, and will do the same for its fall collection on Tuesday. The tech-savvy brand is blogger friendly as well, and its guest list for the installation consists of nearly 40 percent from the online set.
Reem Acra will also embrace a digital-only format for her show on Wednesday, in place of a in-person live show. “I have so many clients overseas. I have so many people who want to be part of [the show],” Acra told WWD on Thursday.
Rachel Roy had live backstage video of her Sunday presentation on Twitter and Facebook. The designer said this was to “give people a more 360-degree view of my presentation. It lets people feel like they are on this journey with me and creates excitement and anticipation,” said Roy. “Access is important. I want my presentation to feel inclusive rather than exclusive and bloggers help add a level of intimacy and access to my collection. The Rachel Roy woman is everywhere — not just in New York.”
Nanette Lepore started a diary blog on Feb. 8 that chronicles everything going on in the 10 days leading up to her fall runway show. There will also be live-tweeting from the show. “I think a lot of people don’t know what goes into the production of a show,” she said.
Beginning the week before its presentation on Sunday, Rebecca Taylor shot backstage footage, uploaded exclusive photos and created preview reels for Facebook and YouTube. Taylor will also live tweet before and during the presentation, according to ceo and owner Beth Bugdaycay.
Then there is the increasing outreach by fashion houses to the blogging world, a group of critics designers at one time barred from their shows but one they now not only embrace, but in some cases put in the front row.
“Bloggers are increasingly important to us and we invite a select group of 35 to 40 to the show,” said Eric Delph, vice president of public relations and marketing at Nicole Miller, which showed Friday. “Moving more bloggers into seats and putting some as far up as the first and second row was a priority.” About 10 percent of the press attendees at Miller’s show were bloggers.
Contemporary sportswear label Walter, which is live streaming its show Tuesday on elle.com, will have both a blogger station in the front row, as well as a Tweet deck in the VIP lounge for celebrities to tweet before and after the show, according to social media coordinator Jared Craft. He said this year’s guest list is comprised of nearly 40 percent bloggers, versus only 25 percent last season.
Tory Burch’s guest list for her Wednesday morning presentation will consist of nearly 15 percent bloggers. “Bloggers are key influencers. They fuel the immediacy of information during fashion week,” said Burch, adding the positive reaction from bloggers to the original content featured on toryburch.com’s Style Guide has not gone unnoticed.
“A-list bloggers with large audiences were seated in rows one and two, alongside newspaper editors, and the smaller bloggers with less audience were seated in rows four and above, depending on their viewership,” said Tony Alcindor, vice president of marketing and public relations for Ports 1961, which boasted a guest list that is set to include nearly 35 percent bloggers. The brand also hosted blogger-centric events post-show to showcase the entire collection for this specific group.
Prabal Gurung, who partnered with Swarovski and live streamed his show on Swarovski TV on Saturday, said, “Blogging opens the door to greater brand recognition and familiarity to a younger generation. The average age is younger than our targeted customer so it is incredibly helpful in gaining exposure with that audience. It is an approach to marketing in a more unconventional way that is becoming almost the norm.” Among the blogs invited were Fashionista, Bryanboy, Sam Spector, Rafe and Red Carpet Fashion Awards. “Social media has in a way made the world smaller,” Gurung said. “Information is instant and is put out there immediately, allowing not only the American public to be a part of the Prabal Gurung world, but everyone who is interested in fashion and all of our international supporters.”
Yet even as the fashion world dashes into social media as fast as it can, a significant minority of brands continues to prize the intimacy of a traditional runway show in favor of the bells and whistles offered by the Internet. Luca Luca is one that believes that less is more when it comes to luxury brands.
“We believe that luxury breaks down when access is in excess,” said Yildiz Blackstone, the company’s president.