LONDON, United Kingdom — Over the last decade, the internet and the mp3 have revolutionised the way people access and consume music, fundamentally threatening the system of controlled distribution that traditional record companies had built. Now a similar digital tidal wave is giving consumers unprecedented access to the once closed, "insider" world of fashion.
The rapid pace of chance is causing disruption across the industry and calling into question the logic of the current fashion calendar, where consumers have access to collections online months before they arrive at retail and fast fashion copycats create and market look-a-like merchandise faster and cheaper.
In the context of these underlying shifts, Sojin Lee, former chief buyer for Net-a-Porter, has teamed up with multi-millionaire and founder of 19 Entertainment, Simon Fuller, whose impressive track record in the music industry includes managing the Spice Girls through the peak of their success. Together, they have launched Fashionair, a new platform for "fashion entertainment" that's both digital and democratic.
Fashionair packages fashion for a more mainstream audience, blending accessible interactive shopping with consumer-friendly content. Given Mr. Fuller's success with TV franchise Pop Idol, it's not surprising that Fashionair's content takes many of its cues from television. The site features a series of online video programs like Fashion Insider, which offers portraits of some of today's top designers, make-up artists, photographers and stylists; 7 Days of Chic, which chronicles the lives of fashionable young women; Chic Fix, which presents a weekly update on fashion news, shops, restaurants and exhibitions; and Style Profile, which takes viewers inside the homes of influential fashion personalities.
With popular interest in fashion higher than ever and a month of launch events planned at London department store Selfridges, BoF caught up with Sojin Lee via email to talk about Fashionair and learn what it means to produce "fashion entertainment" for all.
BoF: You used to work at Net-a-Porter. How did you get involved with Simon Fuller?
I wanted to explore the next conception of the fashion experience online and Roland Mouret, who is a great friend, introduced me to Simon. Simon is our biggest supporter, as well as being our business partner and co-founder of Fashionair. His brilliance and focus as a pioneer in entertainment and music has given us the freedom to develop Fashionair and we consider ourselves incredibly lucky to have him as our partner.
BoF: Historically, the fashion world has been cautious in its approach to the internet. What makes now the right time to launch something like Fashionair? Do you think there's been or will be a seismic change in the way the industry thinks of digital?
The time is right because the internet is stable, the technology is right and consumer behaviour demands it. I felt there was a gap in the online marketplace in terms of format and depth of experience. There was a huge opportunity to create a site that creates deeper emotional connections and enhances the experience of fashion with new storytelling formats and original video content.
Fashion was still being siloed and we understood that was simply not how consumers behave, online or off. Our positioning makes us unique; the site has always been about the democracy of fashion and being inclusive. Our sources of information are so very diverse. The industry is definitely shifting. And Fashionair exists because there is that shift.
BoF: By shifting you mean becoming more open and democratic? Fashionair is often described as a website for "fashion entertainment." What does that description mean to you?
Entertainment is escapist; it’s colourful, emotional and creative. All the things that I think fashion embodies. "Fashion entertainment" means bringing that to life for the end consumer
BoF: Fashionair features a lot of high definition video content that was shot at a TV studio. It also features a daily schedule of programs. Is video the future of fashion online? And what has Fashionair borrowed or learnt from television?
For me the films and videos we're doing are really important. Video is the medium that best brings the emotional creativity and colour of fashion to life. We're trying to make fashion feel more personal, whether that means following an unknown girl for seven days to see how she chooses her wardrobe or offering a peek into the world of Sophia Neophitou, the editor of 10 magazine. The medium itself is not new, but how we use it is different.
Fundamentally, we are creating something that is consumer facing. If consumers respond and relate to celebrities because it is emotional, I see no reason why we can’t make celebrities of people in our industry. There are some amazing people, so if we can help create that emotional connection with the public and vice versa that’s great. I’m a huge consumer of TV and film myself, so I think the more we can bring that type of high production programming to fashion and online the better. Fashion content can’t all be user-generated! Why create TV programming just for TV? I say, create it for online as well and give fashion the quality it deserves.
BoF: Fashionair aims to include a "wide range of fashion voices" and "offer a unique editorial perspective without an editorial bias." What is Fashionair's editorial point of view and who defines or guides it?
Our voice is inclusive, celebratory and fun and that will always manifest itself in every piece of content we produce. It's driven by how we can best spotlight the personality of our subjects. It's always collaborative.
BoF: Sites like Fashionair are finally fusing editorial content with online commerce. Why do you think it’s taken the industry so long?
I think it's taken so long because the leaders in content and commerce have existed in silos. I think bringing them together as a part of the consumer experience is mandatory now, because that’s how people use the internet: Googling everything, multiple tabbing.
BoF: One might say that part of fashion's appeal is its exclusivity or inaccessibility. But Fashionair breaks down the latest look trends and inspirations and provides quick shopping links for all. When everything is easily digestible and accessible, what happens to the mystique of fashion?
I think it’s a mistake to assume that accessible and inclusive immediately mean dissection. This is still fashion so we still have to be aspirational, but it has to be more relevant, useful and helpful. What is the mystique of fashion anyway? I think the fantasy, the moment, the thrill can still be achieved without being inaccessible.
BoF: You're launching Fashionair with a month of events and activities at Selfridges. What have you got planned?
Selfridges' democratic approach to fashion is perfectly in tune with the Fashionair ethos. And this gives us the opportunity to extend the Fashionair experience offline. There are a number of ways people can participate, including the opportunity to enter in a series of open castings to be a Fashionair presenter, which we’re really excited about.
The castings will take place in our exclusive video booth at Selfridges and at start at 5pm on Thursday with Brix Start-Smith on hand to offer style tips, and continue through September with Brix also appearing on Saturday 19th & 26th between 2-3pm. The final videos will be judged by Roland Mouret, Suzy Menkes and Sarah Doukas. We also have our team roaming the store, seeking out stylish guys and girls, and asking them what inspires them. The most inspiring sound bites will secure a star spot in the windows at Selfridges!
CEO Talk is BoF’s forum for in-depth discussions with the fashion industry’s global decision makers, conducted by founder and editor-in-chief Imran Amed.
This interview has been edited and condensed.