Future of Fashion Magazines | Part Two – Lots of little experiments

Last time we surveyed the rapidly changing landscape of digital fashion media. Today, in the second part of our series on the future of fashion magazines, we explore the experimental approach that online pioneers like Jefferson Hack and Nick Knight are using to create unique content and experiences that truly bring fashion magazines into the digital age.

Images from SHOWstudio's "Dress me up, Dress me down"

Images from SHOWstudio’s “Dress Me Up, Dress Me Down”

LONDON, United Kingdom — The internet’s ability to transmit information immediately, impossible in print and too expensive on television, has changed the way in which we create and consume content perhaps more than anything else. “Print magazines will never be the first to break any news,” said fashion blogger Diane Pernet, whose influential website, A Shaded View on Fashion, has been reporting live from fashion weeks, showrooms and studios around the world, capturing and transmitting the moment almost instantaneously with inexpensive camera phones and laptops.

In response, forward thinking magazines have done two things. Web pioneers like Dazed Digital, a fashion and culture platform launched in November 2006 by the publishers of Dazed & Confused magazine, have begun “live blogging” themselves, posting realtime reports from fashion shows in Paris, London, New York and Milan. But they’ve also learned to focus less on what’s new, a commodity that’s instantly available everywhere, and more on a unique point of view and reader experience that aren’t easily replicated. “It’s got to be more about experiencing the fashion; a stylistic point of view. It’s less and less about information,” said Jefferson Hack, founder and co-publisher at Dazed Group.

Indeed, the success of physical magazines like Purple Fashion and Katie Grand’s new venture Love, which sold-out on newsstands within days of its release, proves that an original point of view and well-crafted reader experience are important, no matter what the medium. But online, where information is easily and instantly exchanged, originality and experience are even more essential in attracting and keeping readers. “Where so many sites are aggregating content or acting as filters, it’s important that all the content on Dazed Digital is originated by us,” underscored Mr. Hack.

The immediacy of the internet has also given readers unprecedented access to the behind the scenes of the fashion industry. “Before, fashion shows were a closed affair for only a handful of professionals around the world. Now the news is dispersed instantly. Fashion is no longer the domain of a very few,” said blogger Diane Pernet. Indeed, amplified by the fashion world’s enthusiastic adoption of Twitter last season, consumer interest in the people and process behind the scenes of fashion is exploding and expectations are rising for fashion media to deliver.

Magazines have responded in some interesting ways. Olivier Zahm of Purple has launched a website called Purple Diary. Using the “micro-blogging” platform Tumblr, the site lets Mr. Zahm and his contributors chronicle their lives in realtime and post instant, and often intimate, updates directly to readers from fashion parties, runway shows, art happenings and photo shoots around the world.

Photographer Nick Knight’s SHOWstudio, which calls itself a “fashion website” rather than a magazine, has gone one step further, allowing its audience immediate and unparalleled access to the entire creative process of making fashion editorials for magazines like V and British Vogue. “The philosophy of the site is based on Nick’s belief that showing the entire creative process – from conception to completion – is beneficial for the artist, the audience and the art itself,” said Alex Fury, fashion director of SHOWstudio.

What’s more, on SHOWstudio the audience is encouraged to respond and contribute to projects that feature some of the most influential names in fashion like Alexander McQueen, Gareth Pugh and Kate Moss. For example, a project called “24 HRS” let viewers influence the narrative of a short film for the launch of Stefano Pilati’s “Edition 24″ collection for Yves Saint Laurent. Directed by Nick Knight, the entire shoot was broadcast live online, while model Jessica Miller acted out treatments submitted by SHOWstudio viewers. Another project, “Dress Me Up, Dress Me Down,” let viewers style model Liberty Ross for a photo shoot. “In a virtual chatroom, viewers posted their ideas for styling outfits for Liberty and forty ‘Stylists’ were chosen from the chatroom to style Liberty in their looks, live, via chatroom instructions,” said Alex Fury.

“Digital is breaking down the boundaries between artist, curator and consumer,” observed Ken Miller, a freelance editor and contributor to V, V Man and Interview magazines. “It’s become much more about the creative experience for all of the participants.”

Dazed Digital has also been experimenting with new ways to let readers participate in the creation of content. In April, Dazed became the first fashion magazine to stage a “twinterview,” giving readers the chance to interview Nathan Howdeshell and Hannah Blilie from The Gossip (Beth Ditto also joined at the last minute) live via Twitter. Dazed has also been using photo sharing site Flickr to source new talent, showcasing young photographers from their Flickr group on Dazed Digital and sometimes commissioning them to shoot for the print edition. “Social networking sites have played a big role in allowing users to participate in the magazine’s development,” said Jefferson Hack.

But perhaps more than anything else, fashion magazines are about fresh and provocative imagery. For decades, that largely meant still photography. But in recent seasons, that’s begun to change. “We are in the midst of a revolution in fashion imagery, moving away from illustration and stills photography,” said Nick Knight, director of SHOWstudio.

Read Part One – A Changing Landscape here and Part Three – The move to fashion film here.

Next time, in our third and final installment, we explore the biggest online fashion force of all — the growing dominance of the online fashion film.

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