The rise of the online fashion film

NEW YORK, United States – Quoting Steven Kolb, executive director of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, saying the format of showing the Fall 2009 collections this February is the “number one item on everyone’s agenda right now,” The Wall Street Journal‘s Heard on the Runway blog recently asked the question: “Will fashion shows survive the economy?”

To answer this question, it’s important to consider how fashion shows function in today’s media landscape. Increasingly, images and video from runway shows, captured by the established media, as well as a new generation of fashion bloggers wielding video-enabled camera phones, reach a global audience of fashion consumers, in close to realtime, on Style.com, YouTube and fashion blogs around the world.

As a result, today’s shows are not simply aimed at editors, buyers and other industry insiders. They have become remarkable vehicles for conjuring and transmitting the energy of a brand to end consumers.

Recessionary times require a rethink of the cost versus benefit calculation. Certainly this applies to fashion shows also. But tough economies also prompt new ideas. So far, the most popular answer has been to stage simpler “presentations” instead of elaborate runway shows. But the timing has never been better for designers to think outside the box and leverage the power of the internet to communicate their vision in a dynamic and cost-effective manner.

For Spring/Summer 2009, Victor & Rolf became the first major fashion brand to stage a web-only show, while online fashion retailer Net-a-Porter recently staged a mini-runway show featuring eight outfits from Alexander McQueen’s 2009 Pre-Spring collection. While they get top marks for innovation, simply taking the format of the runway show and recreating it online isn’t the only (or necessarily the most effective) way to harness the potential of the new medium.

Indeed, recent seasons have seen the rise of a groundbreaking new format: the online fashion film. Complementing less elaborate presentations, online fashion films have the potential to deliver the poetry and energy of a full-blown runway show, with motion and music, in a way that’s cost-effective and easily distributed.

For Autumn/Winter 2008, creative director Stefano Pilati, struggling to achieve profitability at Yves Saint Laurent, decided to skip the traditional runway show and present his menswear collection for Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche through a film broadcast on YSL’s website, YouTube and Nick Knight’s SHOWstudio.

A pioneer of the new format, SHOWstudio themselves recently released “Insensate,” an online short that brings to life the bewitching aesthetic magic of Gareth Pugh’s Autumn/Winter 2008 collection. But Prada was perhaps the first big brand to experiment with the new medium of online fashion film as a marketing tool that played an integral role in their seasonal advertising campaign. Their animated short “Trembled Blossoms,” based on the James Jean wallpaper that appeared in the campaign, depicts a cyber-woman’s journey through a CGI forest as she acquires looks from the Spring/Summer 2008 collection, as if by magic. Premiered at New York Fashion Week, the film created quite a buzz with both fashion insiders and a global audience on YouTube.

Even Chanel, arguably France’s premier fashion house, has been experimenting with online fashion film, launching a beautiful online short that highlights Coco Chanel’s fascination with Russia and the splendour of the tsars to accompany the recent launch of Chanel’s Paris-Moscou collection. And while brands like Chanel are unlikely to stop staging the kind of elaborate presentations that sometimes feel more like operas than mere runway shows, one thing’s for sure.

The ascendance of the online fashion film is a significant and growing trend that stands to get a boost from the current economic climate. Stay tuned.

Vikram Alexei Kansara is a digital strategist and writer based in New York.