Got Tweet?

From tweets to Facebook to livestreamsfrom the runway, designers saw the future, and they liked it.

Appeared In
Special Issue
WWD Collections issue 04/12/2010

The late Alexander McQueen may have been responsible for a lot of fashion trends, but one of his last also could be his most lasting. In October, McQueen broke fashion barriers by live-streaming his spring collection via Nick Knight’s SHOW studio.com site, allowing hundreds of thousands of fashion fanatics to view the collection in real time.

This story first appeared in the April 12, 2010 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Fast-forward some five months, and live-stream becomes the buzzword of the fall collections, with a long list of designers offering hundreds of thousands of devotees the ability to see next season’s clothes the second each model makes her exit. Prada, Proenza Schouler, Rodarte, Gucci, Alexander Wang and Calvin Klein were just a few that offered a feed. Dolce & Gabbana live-streamed its main line and D&G runways on the Apple iPhone, and Burberry broke fashion ground when it took a cue from Avatar and live-streamed its show from London in 3-D, with viewing parties in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Dubai and Los Angeles.

The phenomenon is one of many ways designers are reaching their end customers faster and more directly via Internet technology. They’re immersing themselves in social media to reach a wider audience and export fashion fever with a few clicks of the mouse. Some used Facebook to talk about their show preparations, while others, like Marc Jacobs’ business partner, Robert Duffy, tweeted up a storm in the run-up to their presentation, revealing a behind-thescenes look into the collections. “Any ideas for a stage set for our fashion show?” Duffy tweeted before the show. “It’s at the armory on 27th Street. I’m stuck. No idea. Something minimal please? I have one week!”

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At the other end of the social media spectrum, bloggers such as Bryanboy and Tavi were more visible than ever, perched front row, the darlings of photographers capturing the scene.

All this cyber commotion is bringing the fashion show— once a private, trade affair—to a much wider audience. According to Burberry chief creative officer Christopher Bailey, almost 100,000 people watched the show live—a sharp contrast to the 1,200 to 1,500 guests who saw it at the actual venue.

“Our decision to stream the show in 3-D came from our desire to offer a live experience to people who couldn’t be in the room—to bring the show to the people,” Bailey says. “We wanted them to feel the fabric, the energy, and we did events around the world. We did it in a nightclub and the kids loved it.”

Besides the fun, the initiative also had quite a ripple effect. Not long after the fall ready-to-wear show, Burberry broke through the one million mark of Facebook fans.

As technology rapidly evolves, social media is becoming a sophisticated marketing tool. Proenza Schouler’s Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez live-streamed their show on proenzaschouler.com, and, for 24 hours after the show, allowed online shoppers to preorder handbags straight from the runway through the site’s e-commerce function.

“You can be part of the world of the brand from your home,” says Shirley Cook, chief executive officer of Proenza Schouler. “It’s our camera angle, it’s the way we wanted to show it to everybody. It’s not through another camera feed.”

Where some, notably Donna Karan, have expressed concern about showing clothes months before they’re in stores, Cook says the Internet is here to stay and should be embraced. “Pictures are up on Web sites 10 minutes after the show, so that idea of preserving it doesn’t really exist anymore,” she says. “This way, at least, brands can control the way it’s seen and present it in the best possible manner, rather than through someone’s iPhone photo, or Flip video.”

Calvin Klein Collection provided a live online chat forum, which allowed fans of the brand to communicate with each other in real time during the shows.

“I don’t think customers necessarily need to buy what they see in the show immediately after,” Malcolm Carfrae, executive vice president at Calvin Klein Inc., says. “It’s more about feeding a need for information and immediacy. They enjoy being informed about what designer brands are doing. It gives them a perspective and a relationship with the brand.”

Alexander Wang points out that live-streaming goes with the overall evolution of fashion and technology. “We are a brand that has really developed with the new age of social media,” Wang says. “I would say much of our growth has been supported by online outlets, so when the opportunity came to extend our show live on the Internet, it was obvious to take hold of it, but at the same time, to do something very personal with it, like play it in Times Square. Our audience expects this information now. In this day and age, you are either ahead of the pack or left behind.”

The interest in fashion is certainly growing. According to Caroline Rush, joint ceo of the British Fashion Council, which live-streamed the shows on its official schedule via its Web site, the shows that were streamed were seen by a total of 22,000 people online. Visits to the BFC’s Web site rose 63 percent this season compared with fall 2009, with 120,000 unique visitors recorded on the London Fashion Week site during the season. Visitor numbers also spiked when LFW posted updates on Twitter or Facebook. And online journalists and bloggers made up a third of the press who were accredited for fall, a number that’s been growing steadily over the past three years.

“I think it’s all part of the democratization of fashion,” says Rush. “Now, you choose where you want to get your information [on fashion] from, whether it’s the most informal or the most entertaining, from print media or from a blog.”

Rush adds most viewers who watched the shows online were from the U.S. and the U.K., and thinks the majority are involved in the industry. In the future, the BFC plans to promote similar initiatives to consumers “to help develop designers’ profiles,” and doesn’t see a conflict in promoting next season’s looks before they hit stores. “I think fashion consumers are pretty well educated [about fashion cycles],” says Rush. “But I think there’s probably an opportunity going forward for designers to put some classic, key pieces in the show for consumers to buy directly.”