What are fashion shows for?

New York Fashion Week is in full flow and London Fashion Week kicks off on Friday. For the designers, months of caffeine, sweat and tears will culminate in a 15-minute crescendo. But who and what are they for?

Back in the olden days, the shows were elite salon events attended by super-rich customers and the fashion press. As time went on they became larger productions, with more editors and buyers witnessing bigger spectacles. More recently, press-hungry celebrities realised fashion shows made good photo-ops and designers (or their publicists) realised that those same celebs could get publicity (leading to sales) for them. Fashionista.com recently reported that celebrities like Chloe Sevigny and Mary-Kate Ashley can get paid five figure sums by designers to show up in their front rows – and there we were thinking they did it for the love of a Balmain harem pant. As if!

And now we’re in the age of the live-streamed show where anyone can watch the show from their couch or desk, or even Times Square if you’re an Alexander Wang fan. Fashion Week is tough on fashion editors. It’s not all champagne and air-kisses, there’s a lot of running around, a hell of a lot of waiting, plus in between, the trips back to the office to attend planning meetings and sign off page proofs. Eating and sleeping rarely factors. Oh to be able to sit in the office and watch it all online like everyone else! Could this happen?

Alas, not for a fashion editor. Because the days of attending the show purely to report on the clothes are long gone. These days, a fashion show isn’t about what’s on the runway at all but the ‘show’ happening front of house and backstage. The show isn’t just the models on the runway, it’s the celebrities, the editors, the backstage crew. It’s the overheards, the atmosphere, the hullabaloo. Social media has changed Fashion Week in the space of one season. WWD published an article on the influence of social media at fashion shows and reports that some brands now have as many as 40% of bloggers taking up press head-count. Those designers embracing social media (live-streaming, tweeting, blogger-courting) are also doing more to show the backstage and pre-show buzz. Marc Jacobs’ president Robert Duffy has spend the last two weeks Twitpic-ing model castings, set-building and other insights into the Marc Jacobs show build-up.

So are fashion shows morphing from exclusive industry-only events to become more of an entertainment thing? Yes indeed. It’s all about the marketing and commercial opportunities now, brought on by both the recession and the online revolution. The next stage is brands opening up to the public who in turn will, hopefully, open their wallets. On February 18th Diane Von Furstenburg puts on a separate show for Amex cardholders from which the $150 ticket price goes towards Amex’s $250,000 donation to the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund. Guests will watch models present the spring-summer collection and theoretically rush to buy whatever tickles their fancy in store shortly after. Meanwhile Proenza Schouler will make their AW10 handbags available to preorder online immediately after their show.

In this new era, old school fashion editors won’t like being lumped in with the ‘civilians’ but while the majority of brands can see the worth of going public, a few are still resistant. ‘We believe that luxury breaks down when access is in excess,’ Luca Luca president Yildiz Blackstone told WWD. My guess is that in time, there will be a split, perhaps with Fashion Week as we know it being used for entertainment and commercial purposes, and a spin-off being created for the trade press and buyers.

What do you think?

[Pic: Style.com]
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16 Responses to What are fashion shows for?

  1. Ondo Lady says:

    Very, very interesting post. You are right the remit of fashion shows have changed beyond recognition over the years. I guess that is a good thing as it means that designers are reacting to change but not so good if it means that fashion editors have their workload tripled. I did hear that they were thinking about altering the calender so the clothes would be ready to buy weeks after showings rather than six months. However, I do admit that I like seeing the pre-show backstage coverage as well as the post show one. Also I am loving reading all the NFW tweets, it makes me feel that I am there and not missing out.

  2. Is This Real Life? says:

    a really interesting post and def. something to think about, i still cant get over how much some designers pay celebs to sit front row at their show, crazy!

  3. WendyB says:

    Do you think there needs to be a spin-off for industry or do studio visits as they happen now for buyers and press currently fill that need?

  4. Zenobie says:

    I agree with Yildiz Blackstone. The whole thing is a double edged sword. The attendance of celebrities and bloggers may generate a lot of publicity, however, over exposure could tarnish the exclusivity of a brand. We may see sales of certain brands decline if they aren’t careful to guard their exclusivity. A big part of high fashion is about aspiration after all.

  5. Cherie City says:

    Brilliant post! I never realised celebs like Mary-kate and Chloe got THAT much for showing up!

    That's an interesting idea about a trade spin-off event, it could happen. It will be interesting to see if bloggers will be integrated into press or if there will be a backlash.

    One thing I wonder if that if everyone has immediate access to the shows, will designers try to stagger the promotion and add more pre-collections to keep interest going? It's a long time to wait for the pieces to get to the stores and after the show has been seen, what new is there to look forward to other than the ad campaigns?

    So many questions!!!

  6. The Beauty Edit says:

    Great post. I was wondering too if the six month lead time will become redundant, or is it still necessary for the designers to produce the orders from the buyers? I feel a little bit overwhelmed by the tweets, blog feeds etc etc at the same time as relishing them all!

  7. the fashion buzz says:

    I think it is great that there is so much coverage and communication of the shows. I suppose the fashon industry is constantly evolving like everything else and those that want to get ahead and stay ahead need to be constantly adapting. Would be great if clothes were ready weeks after shows – no more waiting. Although realise that all of this probably only adds to the stress/ hardwork of those working in the fashion industry.

  8. Make Do Style says:

    Gosh this is a hard one. Bit of a debate about this on Thursday!
    Celebrity is driving patterns of consumption but although I love lots of the new changes as Ondo Lady identified, I sort of feel for the fashion editor and their hard earned professional background. And will celebrity culture implode soon?!

  9. All Women Stalker says:

    This is an interesting read. Out of all the fashion week posts, this is the first that came from an intelligent perspective.

  10. Random Fashion Coolness says:

    I often find the appearance of of certain types of celebrities at shows amusing. Males with a film about to be released are always the most obvious paid-plants.

    The people who drive the industry need to be at the shows and as that select group of people opens up,the inclusion of bloggers is essential. Many now have a wider and more importantly, loyal readership than many magazines.

    This is sterling work Miss. Roller Girl! Really enjoyed this post, it has offered much food for thought x

  11. Robyn says:

    Really interesting post. Have you read "The State of New York Fashion Week" ? It's an interesting article on a similar topic.

    ~Robyn, Chi-Chi 

  12. Sister Wolf says:

    I don't know how you can stand it.

  13. Wild Goose Chase says:

    Brilliant post, it's so interesting to see people taking an interest in Fashion beyond just what they see on the Catwalk. Lovely Lovely <3


  14. fashionbite says:

    Love the post! Also, one of the key points about high fashion is its exclusivity- would it have the same aspirational appeal if it catered for the mass market..umm..not sure!

  15. Laura. says:

    Interesting post.

    I think its stupid designers have to pay these celebs to sit on their front rows. I think they should be honoured to be invited, and if they love fashion as much as some of them say they do then they should just go along and enjoy it!
    I do like the fact there is a live stream of shows now, however I think nothing can beat the real thing of sitting at a show ready to see a designers work. Not that I'd know but hopefully I will in the future!


  16. A La Mode says:

    Wow, things really have changed. I couldn't believe celebrities get paid at all to attend the shows! The show is making them look good (fashionable and on trend), not the other way around.
    I do really like the new era of live streaming and fashion for everyone. It's so exciting and gives fashion a young energy.

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