STRUTTING THE CYBER CATWALK
Byline: Peter Braunstein
NEW YORK — Given the wall-to-wall coverage of New York’s Fashion Week by MetroChannel’s Full Frontal Fashion, E! and the Style Network, one would think that viewing runway footage on the Web would have suddenly become passe.
As it turns out, Web coverage of 7th on Sixth suffered no shortage of providers or spectators, as online footage of the shows turned up in more places than bootleg Hannibal videos — from fashionista hubs like virtualrunway.com and style.com to subscriber networks for industry insiders and video-on-demand services.
When it comes to shooting runway footage of Fashion Week collections, all roads somehow lead to B Productions, which has been filming, producing, and packaging videos of the shows since its inception in 1983. The company is headed by Bill Marpet, who began his videography career in the Seventies by shooting documentaries in two of the world’s scariest hot zones — the Middle East and New York’s East Village.
“I traded a hand grenade for a hemline,” said Marpet, whose earliest fashion industry clients were none other than Bill Blass and Calvin Klein. Still, Marpet found the transition from cinema verite to the catwalk chronicles less glaring than one would expect. “It’s great to shoot live because you get this rush that either you catch the moment or it’s gone forever,” he said. “Each fashion look flows by very quickly and you have to capture the designer’s aesthetic, the silhouette and as much detail as possible in less than half a minute.”
In the intervening years, B Productions has become the point of origin for much of the runway video footage seen on TV, on the Web, and by designers themselves. “We work with a wide range of clients,” Vicky Bugbee, B Productions’ director of marketing, told WWD. “One designer commissioned us to make 15,000 videotapes of a show to be sent out to clients and buyers. In previous seasons, we supplied footage to vogue.com. We also work with Intertainer, an online video-on-demand service, where you can literally order up whatever show you’re looking for.”
Every season brings special requests. This year, Kenneth Cole commissioned B Productions to do a HDTV shoot of his Grand Central Station show. “Usually shows are shot horizontally, but Kenneth Cole had his show shot vertically, head to toe,” said Bugbee. “He’s planning to show the footage in his stores on giant, vertical HDTV plasma screens this spring.”
Bugbee feels that, given fashion’s rate of mainstreaming among consumers, runway footage can find a home both on television and online. “I like the way the Web has opened things up, especially for people living outside of New York City,” said Bugbee. B Productions currently has two fashion-related television shows in development with Lifetime television, programming that could spice up that network’s otherwise downbeat regimen of domestic abuse movies starring Nancy McKeon and anorexia movies featuring Tracey Gold.
Another major purveyor of runway and fashion footage is New York-based Global Fashion Village, which shoots shows (often in collaboration with B Productions) and then syndicates various video packages to such online entities as newyorktimes.com, bostonherald.com, elle.com, fashionista hub hintmag.com, and the soon-to-be-launched, subscription-based WWD.com.
Global Fashion Village president and chief executive officer Ross Glick has no doubts about the long-term viability of online fashion video content. “The Web provides an interactive component to viewing fashion footage that you can’t get on TV,” he said. “But the biggest draw is video-on-demand: viewing the collection you want, when you want, in the way that you want.”
Global Fashion Village’s runway packages tend to fall into two groups. While the company produces unedited, run-of-show footage for such designers as Chaiken, Nautica, and BCBG, it specializes in more compressed, abbreviated formats that intersperse runway footage with editorial. “One format is the runway highlights program, which runs one to three minutes and includes commentary by the designer,” said Glick. “We also have another format, in which runway is intercut with commentary by editors, giving their reaction to the collection. It’s more trend-oriented.”
Cognizant of the variations in access speeds and plug-in formats by users, GFV video can be accessed at 56K, 100K and 300K speed, in either Real Player, Windows Media Player or Quicktime. Global Fashion Village has some other projects in the works. “In Milan this season we’ll be shooting 50 shows, and doing an Italian version of our editorial packages, suitable for Italian Web sites,” said Glick.
Global Fashion has also stumbled upon an archival treasure of sorts: “fashion flashback” footage from the Fifties and Sixties, generally one-minute features with Movietone News-style voiceovers that originally were shown in movie theaters. “We got the footage from a place called Fashiondig.com, and we’re hoping to offer it to online Web publishers,” said Glick.
When deciding how to package and broadcast runway footage, both Web sites and television producers have to choose between the “purist” format — unadulterated, unedited run-of-show coverage without editorial — and the more commercial, editorial format that gives select runway coverage intercut with commentary. WWD.com, the subscription-based Web site launching in May, has opted for the latter model. The site will feature two to three minute runway segments, covering 20 to 25 shows in New York, Paris and Milan, intercut with commentary from WWD editors.
Another repository for runway footage online is style.com, which previously used B Productions as its video provider but has since contracted its own crew to shoot the shows. “We’re an editorial site, so in our video coverage of the shows we try to be inclusive without being encyclopedic,” said Mark Ganem, editor in chief of style.com.
For the current season, style.com reviewed 35 shows from the New York collections and featured video from 18 of them. In Milan, plans are to review 18 shows and video 10; in Paris, 25 shows will be reviewed and 10 videos featured. Ganem believes that the viewing of runway footage on the Web will continue to take root, and operate in tandem with growing television coverage of the shows. “Video-on-demand is just more convenient than television coverage when you need to see a particular collection at a particular time,” said Ganem, who noted that style.com users tend to view runway footage throughout the season and not just during show week. “I find that television and the Web are very complementary. I mean, aside from running this site, I also appeared as a commentator on Metro’s Full Frontal Fashion.”
Web coverage of the shows has acquired a crucial foothold in parts of the U.S. as well as overseas, where television coverage is scant or nonexistent. Given that MetroChannel’s Full Frontal Fashion was only available in the tristate area, and the Style Network reaches a mere 95,000 homes via Time Warner’s DTV digital service, it’s not as if fashionistas nationwide currently have access to wall-to-wall television runway coverage. One Web site that helps fill the gap is Houston-based virtualrunway.com, which provides insider fashion industry news and trend coverage for “techno-hip and ready-to-wear obsessed, sophisticated women over 25,” according to founder and president Janet Hobby.
The site, which originally launched in 1999, features runway footage from approximately 50 shows, acquired from the designers themselves, available in Windows Media Player format. According to Hobby, burgeoning fashion coverage on television and the Web can only help the industry. “I think mainstreaming and increased availability of runway footage is a huge boon to fashion,” said Hobby. “When we launched two years ago, I was frustrated as a couture-conscious woman that I couldn’t see the collections live and get inspired by them, since back then, there was practically no video footage available anywhere online. Now I receive letters from people around the world commenting on our video coverage, and it’s obvious that people are using the Web to learn more about their favorite designers. I think this kind of exposure can only add to fashion’s bottom line.”
Of course, proliferation of runway video only begs the question: if Fashion Week footage will be available round-the-clock, in ever-improving visual formats, on the Web and television, will more people start sitting out the actual shows? Or will Fashion Week become a total consumer, tourist-oriented event in which out-of-towners from Akron pay $75 for a fourth-row seat to Imitation of Christ rather than going to see Blue Man Group, “Rent” or the new Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum?
“That could happen,” muses Ganem at style.com. “Or it could work in the other direction and the shows will once again be attended just by professionals. That would be even better.”