By Courtney Spalten
Ten years ago, Elizabeth Hummer started her career as a fashion journalist filming documentary-like pieces at New York Fashion Week with then-Vogue editor André Leon Talley. She would spend the day “shooting like a fly on the wall,” filming Talley’ s encounters with top designers, including Miuccia Prada, Calvin Klein and Diane Von Furstenberg. She would then stay up all night editing and publish the footage the following day for Metro TV’s “Full Frontal Fashion.”
That was how things were done. There was no tweeting, no live video streaming, no uploading pictures to Instagram. Reporters observed the days events, edited the best content, and that was the Fashion Week coverage that the general public received.
Back then, New York Fashion Week was a pretty exclusive event. It was glamorous and special. “It was all a part of this life that people had,” Hummer remembers.
Now you can’t take time to edit footage. Waiting to publish coverage 24 hours after the show means it’s old news. Technology has caught up with the fashion industry to the extent that the two forces have collided. The Internet has turned fashion coverage into this media frenzy, where everyone with an opinion has an audience and a means to reach the masses.
Lublu designer and SMU junior Kira Plastinina narrows down the difference that technology has had on the fashion world to one word: “speed.” Readers no longer have to wait an entire day to see reviews of the collections; instead designers can showcase their collections via social media outlets such as Instagram. “Everything is instant now,” Plastinina says.
Fashion & the Internet
Hummer reflects that she has witnessed a complete transition in the business during her career. When she started out covering fashion events for broadcast media, she would go to shows to film and later edit the footage.
That wasn’t the case during this year’s New York Fashion Week. “I tweeted the whole thing,” Hummer says. “The only tool I looked at all Fashion Week was my phone.”
With just her iPhone, Hummer was able to stay connected to her audience by filming video interviews and live tweeting for W Magazine during the runway shows. With the use of a smart phone, journalists can take photos, record live video and tweet on the spot. “Twitter can be used as a useful tool,” Hummer notes, commenting on her use of the micro-blogging site during Fashion Week.
Like Hummer, many fashion journalists are asked to tweet their reactions as they watch the designer shows. Tweeting during the show allows thousands of followers to keep up with the Fashion Week happenings without physically being there. Seasoned reporters like Hummer are adapting their reporting methods to meet the demands of the immediate coverage that today’s fashion publications want.
The Need for Speed
Six years ago, Hummer was covering New York Fashion Week with fashion journalist Tim Blanks when Style.com launched. The fashion website that features streaming video and photo galleries was “groundbreaking at the time,” Hummer recalls. Video emerged as an important tool in covering fashion. As a producer for all of Blank’s Fashion Week coverage, Hummer experienced first-hand how technology was beginning to shape fashion journalism. “It was amazing to edit the show and upload within 24 hours,” she says.
Now, video is more prevalent than ever before. Online video streaming was a common trend at New York Fashion Week in February. Many designers made a step in the digital direction this year by live streaming their shows. For the first time, Fashion Week organizers streamed over 30 Lincoln Center shows live online. Participating designers included Diane Von Furstenberg, Carolina Herrera and Calvin Klein. Additionally, fashion editors and stylists live-tweeted from the sidelines of the catwalk, allowing viewers at home to feel even more connected to the shows.
“Without social media I honestly would have had no idea what was going on,” says SMU junior and advertising major Hillary Schmidt. Like Schmidt, thousands of people follow designers and fashion bloggers on Twitter and Instagram as a way to stay connected. Schmidt made use of the online streaming by watching runway shows on www.digitalfashionshows.com. “These outlets made me feel like I was actually there.”
The Future of Fashion Week Coverage
Instant access to videos of the runway give a front row seat experience to consumers who might never be at the event in person. This step may seem normal in today’s technological world, but some fear the change could threaten the future of Fashion Week coverage.
In a review of this year’s New York Fashion Week, New York Times fashion critic Cathy Horyn expressed concern that the live streaming could be a sign that Fashion Week is headed toward a future of becoming a mostly online experience, or as Horyn puts it, “Oscar de la Renta via Netflix, an instantaneous, seasonless, highly controlled experience.”
While we gain immediacy, we may lose quality. Watching models strut down the runway online is not the same as seeing the way the clothes move in person. At the same time, Fashion Week attendees have become so focused on Tweeting and snapping pictures to post on social media accounts that they may be losing the ability to take in the show as a whole.
SMU junior Kathrine Krylova agrees that watching runway shows from her laptop is not the same experience as seeing the clothes up close. “It’s the same difference as seeing art online and in person,” Krylova says. Seeing either a work of fine art or a couture gown online does not equate to seeing it live. Hummer likewise acknowledges that a major transition has taken place, but adds that while the Internet has taken some facets of the Fashion Week experience away, “new ones have been born.”
Bloggers Take Manhattan
One other change new technology has brought to Fashion Week is a shift in attention from inside to outside the “tent.” The pop culture obsession with bloggers and the fashion industry in recent years has created a celebrity-fueled frenzy surrounding Fashion Week itself. Designers invite the most popular fashion bloggers — who reach a wide audience through their online presence — to sit front row at their shows. For designers, having a popular blogger wear a pair of your shoes and provide a link to help readers buy them, too, creates great publicity for the designer’s line.
Like the paparazzi at Hollywood awards shows, “street-style” photographers now wait outside, ready to snap pictures of who is there and what they’re wearing. In the article, “The Circus of Fashion” that appeared in The New York Time sonline, Suzy Menkes comments that fame in the fashion world consists of “the celebrity circus of people who are famous for being famous.” Bloggers have become recognizable celebrities in the fashion world, and fashionistas everywhere want to keep up with them. Their fame has also created the “fashion week circus,” Menkes says, as bloggers looking for their 15 minutes of fame resemble a “cattle market” as they wait to be chosen (or rejected) by photographers.
One of the consequences of these changes, Menkes writes, is “fast fashion.” Trends do not spread slowly, starting with a few fashion-conscious people being spotted by street-style photographers. Instead trends become viral and can be spotted all over the streets.
Hummer calls fast fashion one of the “sociological responses” that has resulted from the technological transformation of Fashion Week coverage. Now that coverage is available immediately online, “you see things six months ahead of time.” This allows for trends to become mainstream at a much quicker rate.
No industry insider will dispute that Fashion Week has changed dramatically in the past 10 years. Insight into the fashion world has become more accessible to a wider audience than ever before. Technology has allowed anyone with an opinion to have a voice and a means to see the runway shows at the same time as editors of the top fashion publications. So what does the future hold? Hummer can’t say, but she’s certain of one thing: “I’m excited to find out.”