What’s with all the pampering suites at Fashion Week?

Fashion Month seems to have reached an interesting sweet spot of industry and consumer focus. The public has proved just how much it loves to be part of the LFW experience – not just watching the live streams, but actively commenting, sharing and shopping. This we know, but I felt it more keenly than ever this season, due to bigger efforts made to share via technology (hello Topshop ‘be the buyer’ app, Burberry Beauty Booth and Matthew Williamson Vine videos). And then there was a whole other side that seems to have mushroomed from nothing. What’s the deal with all the Fashion Week pampering suites?

If you’re not familiar with these, I’ll fill you in. At LFW, for years there has been a Toni & Guy salon on the main premises. As a major sponsor, Toni & Guy also offers complimentary haircuts to press during the shows – simply make an appointment and turn up. This has been something of an insider perk that isn’t shouted about but it seems to have set a trend. Alongside the Toni & Guy salon, there were also a number of other set-ups that offered beautifying treatments, a place to relax, even full-on catering – all free of charge to LFW guests. But what’s interesting is why they exist, who they’re aimed at and what everyone gets out of it, because each one has a different purpose.

“We love to see people wearing the clothes that we stock online, so as part of The Apartment we’re really encouraging people to pull pieces they love and wear them over Fashion Week,” said The Outnet’s Sophie Kennedy of Abi Marvel’s five-day pop-up space in Drury Lane. Marvel set up The Apartment last September as an alternative to the over-subscribed (and blogger-unfriendly) LFW press office. Her Eureka moment produced a slick operation in which she offers space to a number of fashion sponsors, plus other partners, from technology companies who lent tablets and phones to bloggers, to healthy lunch providers. The most popular draw at The Apartment was the ‘fashion cupboard’, stocked with product for bloggers to borrow throughout week. This season Marvel had Rimmel, The Outnet, Next and Debenhams Edition co-creating content with bloggers, thus maximizing the opportunities for all involved. “We know that bloggers are often ‘papped’ and those shots can go global in seconds,” said Kennedy. “We love to be a part of that.”

Over at One Aldwych, for the third season, Krista Madden of Handpicked Media (a blog collective that represents the advertising and commercial interests of site like mine) hired out the tranquil suite 410 overlooking Waterloo Bridge as a retreat for her bloggers and publishers to work, rest or get a make-up touch-up, courtesy of Bourjois and Superdry Beauty. An added bonus: hand massages demonstrating the products of Seascape apothecary. “The suite is to support our bloggers at LFW, not just with pampering but to help them work, catch up, charge their gadgets,” said Madden. “Because everyone is so flat out, it’s a relaxing and calm way to help get them through.” For Madden, it’s also a new way for brands to meet bloggers face to face. “We only invite brands that have something interactive to offer. Such as Intel with their laptops, beauty brands with treatments and Google+ who have been holding workshops.” And why is it important for bloggers to have a presence at Fashion Week? “Blogging has become a massive showcase for London Fashion Week and the BFC,” says Madden. “It really is showcasing to the world because it’s online.”

At the May Fair hotel, there was more pampering still, hosted by industry bible, Fashion Monitor. For five days, over 250 national and international fashion press came to chill out, and enjoy treatments courtesy of Urban Retreat at Harrods. But also, it gave the Fashion Monitor team a space to meet and greet the press, particularly international visitors, something that only otherwise happens online. “We wanted a place to have contact with press and stylists. It’s a place to take five minutes out of Fashion Week,” said Fashion Monitor publisher, Hannah White. As with others, there were brands present (independent ones this time), to show their collections in a more low key environment than the hard-selling Somerset House one. (Although quite how relaxing it is for fashion press to have designers selling to them while enjoying a cocktail could be open to debate…)

Perhaps the biggest eye-opener for me came at New Look’s vast Fashion Week Refuel Room in the Waldorf Hilton Hotel, slap bang opposite Somerset House. Here, invited bloggers could check out the New Look SS13 collection, have their pictures taken photo booth-style, load up on snacks and juices, get their hair/make-up/brows/nails done and basically, feel a part of the LFW action, even if they didn’t attend a single show. New Look partnered with TheMuse.TV to take advantage of their mutual 16-24 demographic, blogger and video focus, and co-create content for New Look TV. They also used the event to showcase their new satirical fashion film, ‘It’s A Blogger’s Life’.

My takeaway from all this? London Fashion Week for mainstream press may be the place we go to research our industry, but for others it has a more abstract meaning. It’s a week to amp up fashion coverage, bottle the buzz of the event, dress up and network like crazy. “I’m thinking of applying to attend The Apartment, next season,” my occasional assistant emailed me a few days ago. “All the perks they get are very alluring. Car service, sample room, free food… ah it sounds amazing. And everyone loves a freebie!”

[Fashion Monitor pic: Jab Promotions]