Op-Ed | Are Camera Phones Killing Fashion?

In the iPhone Age, fashion week has become one glorified, ridiculous, narcissistic, nauseating selfie, argues Mark C. O’Flaherty.

Source: Twitter

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.

Mark C. O’Flaherty is a London-based design writer, photographer and the editor-in-chief of Civilian.

The views expressed in Op-Ed pieces are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Business of Fashion.

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15 comments

  1. Completely agree! I ll apply yhe same comment to the food/restaurant and people taking picture of everything they eat …
    not everyone has an interesting life….

    zooo loulou from Switzerland
  2. Can’t agree more!

    Ralitsa Teofilova from Europe
  3. Twice a year, Independent Fashion Bloggers publishes a few articles questioning whether covering fashion week is important to readers. The comments start to fill up with bloggers pointing out how little engagement they get for all the rush to publish, and that they are looking forward to sitting the next Fashion Week out.

    So if you don’t like the blurry photos and hacky announcements (and I agree that they are terrible), just don’t engage.

    Unfollow until those sources get their acts together.

    The infantilism is apparent in the assumption that we need to pay attention to someone just because they are an editor at a famous publication. We’re adults. We can decide for ourselves.

    Melissa Davies from San Francisco, CA, United States
  4. so sadly true… however I have recently attended to a show where the designer kindly asked the people who came not to use any cameras.
    It was quite refreshing experience, I have to admit, just to experience the show without the urge to “report” it via any of the social media channels…

    Asia Wysoczyńska from Warsaw, Masovian Voivodeship, Poland
  5. I completely agree that cell phone photography is pointless during a fashion show. If you’re tweeting, fine. But I don’t get the blurry photos that appear on their feeds, some reputable journalists are guilty of doing this as well (despite having a pro on their team taking photos for them!).

    I’ve been to a few fashion shows, technically they’re simply networking events. After the 15 mins of show time, I was bored out of my mind. I was amongst the bloggers let into these events. To this day, I still puzzle over why the industry allowed someone like me, who had basically zero background in fashion, attend their so-called prestigious events. It’s deceptively easy to be a fashion blogger. Applying to get credentials is as easy as filling out a survey form.

    I think people who take these photos are contributing to the fantasy of a fashion show. The lights, the models, the clothes, the designer, the celebrities – I mean, it’s a perfect recipe to make everyone else envious of where you are and who you’re with. But these photos don’t necessarily reflect reality. Thus I think fashion week organizers need to get their act together and start seriously fielding out those who are just in it to be cool, and those who are actually contributing something valuable to the industry.

    Dahlia Pham from Mission Hills, CA, United States
  6. I agree mostly with what Mark said, except for one point which seems valid to me. I am a blogger, i know my readership. It is broadly made up of two types of readers – one likes the in depth opinion pieces, the reviews, the trendspotting , and the other likes my personal view in mini bites through my social media channels. So as a blogger i can personally attest to the fact that they like my “circus” of selfies, tweets and insta moments. Maybe the circus exists because there is an audience for that ? Just a thought.

    Dimpy Kapur from Gurgaon, Haryāna, India
  7. “How many other industries demand that the core product is reinvented twice a year” indeedy – substantiated by birkenstocks and their place in footwear history/price and givenchy’s “new” “must have” $800+ 2-strap, contoured foot bedded sandal. let’s not be guilty of too high a self-elevation even as we set out to protect a beloved industry’s self image.
    change always finds resistance. “new” generally does, and if it doesn’t, our youth (whatever the age may be – those who represent and follow the new) is not doing something right.
    now, i totally agree w dilution as lamented here, which is a function of tech on all levels. and i do mean all. everyone has access and by everyone we get the proverbial masses and vitalization of everything (lordy i have written pieces on that too!). what will in time stick, however, will have some quality that sets it above the rest – the kicker is you and i might still not like it. think about music over the decades and the cows older generations had over new genres. all of a sudden, the new is the classic and the offending performer is hosting xmas specials on tv.
    likewise, i will bet there is some new and irritating gal who speaks with the latest generational twang, called “vocal fry” (yes, there is a name for it!), who will in due time be the one calling the shots at some venerable mag or fashion house. and she too will make fun of the bad smart phone shots but look nostalgically upon it w affection.
    kimann, fashion arts society, IMA

    kimann schultz from Indianapolis, IN, United States
  8. Honestly this feels like another one of those “we created this world and now we’re unhappy about it” stories. We built the world we inhabit, we loved the eye candy outside of Bryant Park and how it built NYFW into an international spectacle and now talk on the other side of our mouth about how bad it is that all of these people who can’t help a designer with their bottom line are sitting first or second row at our shows. If we are frustrated that bloggers and the juvenile mess that passes for the fashion press can’t tell the difference between extraordinary fabric and construction and Zara then stop showering them with praise, letting them pull from you and courting them.

    Better yet EDUCATE the public about high fashion and why what an Aurelio Costarella or a Prabal Gurung do is a gift from God and should be highly regarded. People only look at where you point.

    End of the day as the very sartorial Mr. Franklin said, “Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain – and most fools do.”

    Seth Friedermann from Brooklyn, NY, United States
  9. auto spell correction correction: vitalization should be viralization
    kimann

    kimann schultz from Indianapolis, IN, United States
  10. It’s all too much! Every tweet, instagram posting! I’ll take my info straight from the source. Style.com or another. Everyone else is a bystander blogger.

    Anne Marie Gabalis from New York, NY, United States
  11. Well said. We desperately need a filter for crap on those smartphones!

    Jean-Pierre Merlet from Paris, Île-de-France, France
  12. Excellent piece and very thought provoking. Thank you

    Beth Harrold from United Kingdom
  13. Well said, thank you!

    Sandra Garratt from Palm Springs, CA, United States
  14. I agree with everything you say and would take it further – in that I believe shows should be limited to a maximum of 200-300 people.

    I’ve been in the industry for over 17 years, having worked at Givenchy, Lacroix, Lanvin, Mugler, Brioni and some other houses. The shows were to present new product to the industry and you had professionals in attendance who were respectful of the process and knew what they were talking about because they had educated themselves: global buyers, editors, a handful of assistants, the team from the House, a smattering of top socialite clients.

    The reviews were engaging and interesting to read as the authors had something thoughtful and educated to say and a personal history upon which to base their reviews. And they were issued the following day so everyone actually had a chance to absorb what they had seen.

    All that seemed to have changed when the non-client celebs started showing up (using the productions as face-time for themselves) and the houses bought into the promise of mutual benefit. Celebrities were followed by lesser socialites (not the actual paying clients) and their kids, “top clients” of specialty stores as guests or the buyers or even their own family members, bloggers, crashers, etc. and the decline was complete. It’s become a trip to Disney for adults and semi-adults and all anyone wants is to cut the line, get a selfie on the ride and move onto the next one while being documented by each another.

    I’m in doubt that any mutual benefit was realized by the celeb start of this journey. Only if you, as a brand, have accessibly priced, licensed products (cosmetics, perfumes, sunglasses, belts, scarves, some handbags and shoes) is it beneficial if a celebrity is wearing your clothing.

    Because is all comes down to sales. Does the exposure move the sales figures up or not? And not just at the brand-owned stores, but the department stores and the specialty stores that probably built their business in the first place. Hard to tell, but I’m going to guess “not” for ready-to-wear and most leather goods. So losing seats at a show to celebs, guests, bloggers and hangers on – so actual clients and buyers no longer want to attend as its become a circus – does not seem to be good business.

    Engaging people through tweets, FB posts, Instagram pics, etc. is great…..drive those perfume and sunglass sales! But have a handful of designated people do it and let the images be re-posted. Not every person who likes to play dress up and has a laptop and Pinterest page needs backstage access.

    Let’s let professionals do their jobs once again, in a professional atmosphere.

    Michelle Fix from New York, NY, United States
  15. Fast pace super busy lives, so much happening, so little time, gotta keep up – Android handset generated blurred digital revolution of fashion might be distasteful at times, but it does bring to us something raw, relatable and “New” (quick à la mode teasers on the run, in real time c’mon man we all need those!) Hot off the runway images are the new profound reality of fashion, waiting a split second more means a lifetime too late. A picture speaks a thousand words even if it’s a ‘lil hazy, plus there’s no denying the fact that this digital vulgarity does add to the fantasy the fashion shows. Thanks to this polemical revolution designers as artisans have been raised to the status of our daily life idols and heroes (ask them if this extra bit of cheers and publicity hurts). Accepted, professional shoots bring alive the full-on revered head-trip to runway-reality experience and they can never be replaced, but today we value them even more thanks to the contrast provided by the quickity-click digital flashers and lets not forget the fact that these shaky-hand images from the likes of Veruca Salt on a sugar rush have done a good job galvanizing and validating pro photogs as true virtuoso and champions. In my humble opinion they are making the fashion industry and every one attached to it look good (ahem! androids-in-hand company excluded, of course). Succinctly, these quick snapshots on the long run will never hurt fashion they’ll only stir and whip up our fashion appetite.
    Long breath-in and long breath-out – Assimilate with the new digital-world-order or be prepared to be fossilized. ;)

    Shazia Ali from Saudi Arabia