LONDON, United Kingdom — Wow! All those live social media reports from Fashion Weeks in London, New York, Paris and Milan. It’s like actually being there — if you’re Velma from Scooby Doo, you’ve lost your glasses and you’ve taken ketamine.
Take a look at the images above — screengrabs from the Twitter feeds of some of the most heavyweight news outlets and fashion magazines in the world. This is exactly how they were “published” — without, perhaps, the sender even taking a proper look at them, that is. “Are they using a Gerhard Richter filter?” read one comment on Twitter. If only they were that good.
The urge to post anything and everything linked to a fashion event has become frenzied, hysterical and masturbatory.
It’s all several thousand Tweets too far; the blown out, blurred flipside of fashion’s digital revolution. I was at a show the other morning and around a third of the audience spent the whole time clamouring to shoot stills or a Vine with their smartphones. Now, don’t get me wrong. Smartphones are wonderful devices. They can summon a taxi (or a sex date) within minutes. Image-capture technology has improved with each generation, but fundamentally they just aren’t designed to shoot fast-moving objects under high-contrast lighting. If they were, then the photographers at the end of the catwalk would ditch their hefty tripods and start wielding Android handsets rather than $10,000-worth of Nikon SLR.
Fashion has embraced digital technology as much as pornography has. Hurrah for that. A fascinated public can watch shows streamed live at home, whereas once they were staged solely for the insider rather than the end consumer. You can click and order items while they are being debuted. This is all well and good. Similarly, serious editors and journalists use their phones as visual notepads. And there is undeniably currency in the Tweet of a styling detail from the front lines, as a show is happening, or indeed a succession of 140-character text reports.
But, at the same time, the urge to post anything and everything on social media that is directly linked to a fashion event has become frenzied, hysterical and masturbatory. The invite! The queue! The lighting rig! A chandelier by the lighting rig! And then… the blur of a boot striding past, shot from row two, slightly obscured by a shoulder or Suzy Menkes’ quiff. Much of the urgency stems from publishers insisting that their employees engage as fully as possibly with the brave new world of #digital and #socialmedia. But much of it is little more than a flimsy electronic postcard. “Look where I am!” Much of it is also stems, I firmly believe, from a deep-rooted disinterest in — even boredom with — fashion itself.
Fashion is one of the most expressive and difficult mediums in which to excel. How many other industries demand that the core product is reinvented twice a year? But fashion also attracts people to its inner circle who are desperate for validation and glamour by association. They go to fashion shows, but don’t need to be there. I sat beside a group of twentysomethings at a show in the Armoury in New York a few seasons ago and they spent most of the time cooing over a Chihuahua peeking out of a Birkin. “Oh that’s such a good fashion dog,” said one of them, with the kind of affected drawl that made me want to vomit. Then there was their story about a cat called Antwerp. Hold me back.
The point is, for the outsider, fashion shows are boring. Too many people go to see and be seen, but aren’t there to study the garments or evaluate the collection and the story being told by a designer and their team. Like navigating a particularly large art gallery in a foreign city, when you aren’t interested in the art but feel like you have to do it because otherwise you aren’t “doing” the city properly, these people reach for their phones as a way to engage and own a part of the experience, while distancing themselves from the fact that they don’t really care about the fashion in any significant way. One of my editors at a major international title agreed that this was definitely an issue, but added that there was a kind of satisfaction in the result being “content” that hadn’t been “spoon-fed” to them by a brand. It was a trade-off for blanket marketing.
But isn’t the low-fi, poor quality of a smartphone image disrespectful too? If an atelier has spent weeks on a single garment, should its first global exposure be blown out and blurred? Why does the world need a series of shots that look like the girls were on rollerskates, wearing reflective vests caught in the glare of headlights when you can look at Chris Moore’s sharp head-on images at Catwalking.com, slideshows at Style.com, or full show videos?
Should phones, in fact, be banned at shows? There have been times in fashion’s history when only a sole photographer was allowed to record an event. If media won’t record and report on a collection with the respect that it deserves, perhaps that’s the way forward. Which begs the question: when brands control a label’s image to the nth degree, why are they allowing this to happen? It’s no different to watching a new release movie that you’ve downloaded as a torrent, after it was filmed on a camcorder in a cinema somewhere. The screen is tilted and every so often a head pops along the bottom en route to get another box of popcorn.
It’s all part of the infantilism of the culture. People have zero attention spans and all the good manners of Veruca Salt on a sugar rush. We want it all, and we want it now, and we want it free on the Internet. Maybe the fashion show format is redundant. It’s become a circus for so-called bloggers and B-list celebrities more than anything.
The whole thing has become one glorified, ridiculous, narcissistic, nauseating selfie.
The views expressed in Op-Ed pieces are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Business of Fashion.
How to submit an Op-Ed: The Business of Fashion accepts opinion articles on a wide range of topics. The suggested length is 800 words, but submissions of any length will be considered. Submissions may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include ‘Op-Ed’ in the subject line. Given the volume of submissions we receive, we regret that we are unable to respond in the event that an article is not selected for publication.