LONDON, United Kingdom — It was billed as the world’s first truly global fashion show, taking place on the penultimate day of London Fashion Week, beamed live in 3D to five global cities, and streamed to the rest of the world via 73 websites, including Vogue, Grazia and CNN, which all picked up the video feed in a global simulcast. It was undoubtedly the most widely distributed fashion show a luxury brand has ever staged, potentially reaching an audience of more than 100 million users, according to Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts.
At first, I was disappointed that BoF had not been invited to attend the real event at London's Chelsea College of Art, but in the end I'm glad to have experienced Burberry’s live internet stream. It all felt very 2010, especially as I ducked into the Regent Street Apple Store to watch the show after a late lunch. It was a fashion moment.
The stream began just after 4 pm with what Cathy Horyn of The New York Times described as an "info com" comprised of a pre-recorded presentation from Burberry's Chief Creative Officer Christopher Bailey, as well as live interviews with Angela Ahrendts, models backstage and celebrity guests arriving at the show venue. “Grave doubts about this prelude of a model chatting backstage, now Twiggy arriving. A bit naff,” tweeted Ms Horyn. “Want the show to start. It’s like watching paint dry.”
Then, the lights finally went down and a series of seriously slick shearling jackets clomped down the runway, eliciting bursts of excitement from editors tweeting from the front row and viewers watching around the world. For the clothes alone, it was worth the wait.
“First look: cropped shearling,” described Joe Zee, Creative Director of Elle, who along with Bryanboy, had been given control of Burberry’s Twitter account for the Autumn/Winter 2010 show. “OMG!! Reverse shearling!!! It’s just as good inside out. Sold!!!” he raved.
Cathy Horyn, watching the 3D stream from New York's Skylight Studios, agreed. “The shearling jackets were so ample, fluffy and round, the trousers and narrow skirts so spindly that at times on Tuesday the Burberry show resembled a lane of dandelions gone to seed,” she wrote later on her New York Times blog, On the Runway. “To be sure, Christopher Bailey’s outerwear for the British label was especially strong, with those romantic flight jackets spreading or curling at the collar and the pomp of officer coats.”
During the show Burberry appeared as one of the top ten trending topics on Twitter, but some of these tweets complained of problems with the live feed. Comments from users scrolling below the Burberry stream itself also came fast and furious. The words “Amazing” and “Love” appeared over and over again, with viewers sometimes shouting out their city of origin — Montreal, Sao Paolo, Los Angeles — underscoring the truly global nature of the event. The comments were 100% positive or neutral.
After a few minutes, my own feed crashed. I refreshed it several times, and then it crashed again. But below the black screen, comments continued to provide second-by-second commentary on the show — still overwhelmingly positive. Was nobody else experiencing the issues I was? Or was Burberry filtering out comments that were unfavorable to their global event? To explore the issue further, I entered a comment indicating that I was experiencing trouble with the feed, but it never appeared with the rest of the comments. This left me thinking.
Expectations? My expectations were high. I've been calling Burberry the world’s first truly digital luxury brand, and as the leading brand in the space I fully expected Burberry to set the standard for the rest of the industry, in terms of strategy, concept and execution.
First impressions? The show was indeed amazing. It was well-orchestrated, well-publicised and generally well-executed. The issues with the live feed were frustrating at times, but these are kinks that can be ironed out in seasons to come and a brand like Burberry clearly has the technical prowess and determination to get this new phase of digital fashion communication right. It requires guts and audaciousness to attempt and achieve something no brand has done before. For this, Burberry deserves many kudos.
Most potential? The ability to buy the covetable shearing jackets straight off the runway for 72 hours after the show was a master stroke. While many brands have talked about doing this, no brand has actually put the concept into practice the way Burberry has — strategically identifying a product as a key item, ensuring it was featured front-and-centre at the fashion show, and selling the jackets at the peak of consumer interest, right after the show had finished. By limiting sales to a 72 hour window, Burberry also ensured sales opportunities for its wholesale partners down the road, while creating a sense of urgency for consumers to purchase right away if they so choose. Best of all, with the insights gleaned from which products sold fastest on the internet directly after the show, Burberry will have real consumer data upon which to base orders for normal delivery to its stores around the world — every merchandiser's dream.
What’s missing? Greater authenticity. While maintaining the spirit and standards of the Burberry brand must have been of paramount importance, so is providing an authentic and real experience for all the participants. Since when was it acceptable for a CEO and creative director to give a PR pitch before a fashion show starts? Unfortunately, the pre-show promotion felt rehearsed and forced, and detracted from this otherwise brilliant initiative. And if Burberry was indeed filtering live comments from their internet viewers to ensure only positive feedback appeared, in my eyes this also takes away from the authenticity of the experience.
Imran Amed is Founder and Editor of The Business of Fashion