Fashion 2.0 | The Revolution Will Be Webcast

Christian Dior, Couture Fall/Winter 01 from "SHOWstudio: Fashion Revolution" at Somerset House

Tramps, Past, Present & Couture - Dior Couture A/W 2001 | Source: SHOWstudio

LONDON, United Kingdom — For many fashion companies, 2009 was the year the internet arrived. In the face of an unprecedented economic crisis and overwhelming evidence that affluent consumers are highly active online, senior executives across the industry are finally starting to embrace digital media with a new strategic seriousness.

There was no better sign of this than the impressive gala held during London Fashion Week to celebrate fashion website SHOWstudio and its groundbreaking exhibition at Somerset House, “Fashion Revolution.”

When it was launched by photographer Nick Knight in November of 2000, SHOWstudio was ahead of its time. Indeed, “Fashion Revolution” celebrates nine years of restless experimentation and digital innovation. But for the majority of brands, retailers and publishers, who are still struggling to understand the radical impact the internet is having on fashion communication, the retrospective also offers urgent lessons for the present. We think it’s a must-see for executives, creatives and editors alike.

The exhibition is organised around three main themes – Process, Performance, and Participation – that are each integral to understanding how digital media is different and what that means for the future of fashion communication.

PROCESS

The openness of the internet has given consumers access to the behind the scenes of fashion like never before. From the beginning, SHOWstudio understood and embraced the transparency inherent in the new medium, inviting their online audience to consume the creative process of fashion, not just the end product. Many of these early experiments are documented in “Fashion Revolution.”

As far back as 2004, a SHOWstudio project called Power of Witches, developed in collaboration with Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons, laid bare the entire creative process around a shoot for the Autumn/Winter 2004 issue of AnOther Magazine in a live three-day webcast.

In Phonecarte, another project in the exhibition, SHOWstudio asked models Karen Elson, Lily Cole, Irina Lazareanu and Lily Donaldson to record voicemails as they shuttled between fittings, shows, after-parties and hotel rooms during the hectic fashion week season. Streamed on-demand over the internet, the recordings gave consumers unprecedented personal access to the first hand experiences of the world’s top models at work and play in New York, London, Milan and Paris.

As increasingly influential bloggers armed with laptops and web-enabled cameras follow in the footsteps of SHOWstudio’s experiments, expectations amongst consumers are evolving. No longer content to merely purchase finished products, they want more immediate, insider access to the people and creative process of the fashion industry. We think it’s time for forward-thinking brands to open up their organisations and deliver.

PERFORMANCE

According to Nick Knight, SHOWstudio’s live fashion shoots sometimes became more conscious “performances,” with the photographer, the stylist, the designer, and the model all taking part. As part of their exhibition at Somerset House, SHOWstudio has placed an active photo studio inside a room-sized glass case and invited the public to watch the action unfold, as imagemakers including Jason Evans, Alice Hawkins, Craig McDean and Sølve Sundsbø shoot fashion editorial and portraits.

During the course of the exhibition, Mr. Knight himself will appear in the live studio space to photograph “100 of London’s Beau Monde,” including models, actors, musicians and artists. But what’s perhaps most interesting about these “performances” is the crucial role they played in the development of a new kind of fashion experience: the fashion film.

Between 2005 and February 2009, Nick Knight and Ruth Hogben, then his assistant, documented Mr. Knight’s shoots for magazines like British Vogue and uploaded the results to SHOWstudio. Ms. Hogben was charged with capturing and editing the footage. But with Mr. Knight’s support, she soon started experimenting with her edits and adding music to the visuals.

In 2008, at the side of a landmark shoot for British Vogue’s December issue, they filmed models Lily Donaldson and Jourdan Dunn in some of the most sensational clothing of the decade. Called “Fantasia,” the final edit was simple, but provocative. It appears in the exhibition alongside a selection of captivating short films that use movement and music to communicate fashion in a way that static editorial simply can’t.

What began as simple documentation is, today, on the verge of becoming something much bigger. Pioneered in experiments like “Fantasia” and powered by video sharing sites like YouTube and Vimeo, fashion film has emerged as the most influential new format for fashion communication. Powerful brands like Yves St. Laurent, Alexander McQueen and Chanel have used the format to complement runway shows and accompany advertising campaigns. But that’s just the beginning.

Bringing together fashion, film and music, this new format is going to explode. According to ABI Research, by 2012 the number of broadband video consumers will surpass one billion. As viewership skyrockets and marketers continue to move dollars online, we predict the industry will see a seismic shift away from stills towards short fashion films, with brands competing to create compelling video content of their own. This will be especially true as companies set their sights on millennials, an entire generation of young fashion consumers who expect their world to be instant, dynamic and online.

PARTICIPATION

The internet is also an inherently participatory medium. While magazines were essentially one-way monologues to mute readers, the internet allows dialogue and exchange, with and amongst consumers.

Right from the beginning, SHOWstudio gave their viewers a voice, encouraging them to respond, discuss and contribute. In a project called In Camera, SHOWstudio let a global audience pose live questions to interview subjects like Kate Moss, Björk, Alexander McQueen and Vivienne Westwood, giving users rare and privileged access to engage with key creative figures at the top of the industry. Another project called “24 HRS” let consumers influence the narrative of a short film for Stefano Pilati’s Edition 24 collection for Yves Saint Laurent, while “Dress Me Up, Dress Me Down” invited viewers to style model Liberty Ross for a live photo shoot.

Today more than ever, people want to be part of the action. And according to a study by market researchers Forrester, luxury fashion consumers are more active than most. Not content to be passive spectators, they are twice as likely to participate online. We think fashion companies should take a more open and collaborative approach with consumers and create interactive content that lets them participate and engage with the brands they love.

“We are in the midst of a revolution,” says Nick Knight. As fashion brands study and seek to capitalise on what Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts calls the “digital tsunami,” we think understanding the three P’s – Process, Performance and Participation – is an essential precursor to effective action.

An afternoon at Somerset House is probably the best place to start.

SHOWstudio: Fashion Revolution on view until 20 December 2009 at Somerset House, Strand, London WC2R 1LA.

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

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4 comments

  1. In 2008, 33% of luxury brands and e-commerce equipped sites; in 2009, it’s 66%. Digital space has put a kink in fashion’s hegemony. Brands aren’t quite sure how to react. It seems that many are trying to manipulate social, two way conversations and turn them into the one-way monologues they once were; while others are embracing them and adapting their marketing strategies to bring customers back. Brands who don’t adapt or neglect their online presences are going to suffer extreme losses or simply fade away. Insightful article, thank you.

  2. @Macala Wright: Couldn’t agree with you more that brand are piling into social media, often without understanding how best to use the tools to achieve their business objectives. There’s going to have to be a mindset shift on how marketing and communication work in fashion. Thanks for your comment.

    Imran Amed, Editor from London, London, United Kingdom
  3. Thanks Vikram for another illuminating article in the ongoing pursuit of our
    digital frontiers … hopefully the 3 P’s will allow us to ride out the oncoming ‘Digital Tsunami’ … warm regards … JS

  4. Dear Vikram,

    I am Vidya Narine, director of LENEWBLACK the first online fashion fair. I write to you as Showstudio has always been an inspiration in terms of innovation and artistic direction. Launched in march 2009, LENEWBLACK allows validated concept-stores, luxury boutiques and department stores to view and order collections online during the whole season. For the first time, a brand can show and sell its collection worldwide to a selective audience all along the season, and not only during 4 days of fashion fair or showroom here and there. The fashion world today is local and global, fashion became immaterial and immediate. Initiatives such as farfetch.com are for me an excellent exemple of this new face of fashion today. With farfetch, you can access in a second the best stores of the planet and buy online the highest range of product. The whole face of fashion is changing, at a retail level, and now at a wholesale level with LENEWBLACK. The fashion map is no more the historical one (Milan, paris, NYC, London), interesting concept stores are popping up everyday in unexpected cities and emerging market. These retailers work on different paths and they also are the reflects of contemporary fashion. Bombay Electric in Mumbai India, or Kuro in Colombia have the edgiest selections and don’t participate to our traditional fashion weeks. They have other qualitative networks. With LENEWBLACK we want to propose a new tool adapted to this new map, and this need of qualitative, selected products. The best talent from India can be bought by an australian concept-store even if they both don’t go to Paris Fashion Week.
    The idea of immaterial today as a possible definition of the new faces of fashion can be seen in online retail and now online wholesale with LENEWBLACK. I think it really emerged with SHOWstudio in 2000′ and lives on until these days, with the virtual catwalk from Viktor & Rolf last year with Shalom Harlow, the last amazing shows from Vuitton or Mc Queen visible immediately online…
    I think this new map and new challenges are very exciting, and we are lucky to live in these times of changement and hopefully to be actors of this changement.
    Thank you for your attention Vikram, and for your very interesting articles,
    Vidya