NEW YORK, United States — In recent seasons, live-streaming runway shows have become de rigueur, as fashion brands beam their shows in realtime to fans and followers across the globe. Indeed, earlier this week, Michael Kors became the latest fashion brand to launch an “all-access” digital experience built around its show, underscoring how fashion shows, once closed industry events for editors and buyers, have rapidly become the ultimate, direct-to-consumer branding tool.
But while consumer audiences are embracing their newfound access to fashion shows, journalists and retail executives inside the industry complain of overloaded schedules and endless schlepping. This season at New York Fashion Week alone, there were over 320 shows and presentations, a roughly 60 percent increase on five years ago.
Spotting a business-to-business opportunity that the current crop of consumer-oriented digital experiences fails to address, on Wednesday, elite public relations firm KCD launched Digital Fashion Shows — a new service that aims to make life easier for overstressed editors and buyers — with Prabal Gurung’s inaugural collection for Onward Kashiyama’s label ICB, or International Concept Brand.
Swapping seat numbers for passwords, the industry-only platform, built in partnership with digital agency King & Partners, allowed invited guests to watch a pre-taped, 6-minute runway show — on a laptop or smartphone — and access detail shots of fabrics, prints and accessories, as well as behind the scenes video content, designer inspiration and other downloadable and embeddable assets geared at industry professionals. And while the ICB show was first streamed at an appointed time on the fashion week schedule, it can also be watched on-demand, which is especially handy for international editors many time zones away.
At a cocktail to celebrate the launch on Wednesday evening, Onward Kashiyama CEO Akinori Baba told BoF he expected that about 50 percent of viewers would time-shift the show, watching on-demand, sometimes many hours or days after the launch. Indeed, at 11:30am in New York, when the show first went live, most editors and buyers back in Japan, where it was 1:30am, were fast asleep.
“SO convenient!!!!” tweeted American Marie Claire in response to the digital-only show, while WWD called the platform a “beacon of hope” for overtaxed industry professionals facing the logistical “nightmare” of fashion week. With a second digital-only fashion show set to launch during Paris Fashion Week, BoF spoke to KCD co-president Ed Filipowski to find out more about the new platform.
BoF: Let’s start at the beginning. What is Digital Fashion Shows? And how does it work?
Digital Fashion Shows is an innovative new platform that presents online-only runway shows. The collection will have been pre-shot and pre-taped. This platform provides all the materials — show video, images, beauty, run of show — that fashion editors, writers and retailers need to review, cover or potentially buy a collection.
Invited guests are given a username and set a password. Viewing for each show begins at a specific time, so that it is slotted on the show schedule. Once viewing begins, users can log onto digitalfashionshows.com at any time to watch the show and utilise the platform. After logging in, all serviceable assets are available to download, print, embed: videos will be available in broadcast quality and web quality; photos can be downloaded in hi-res or low-res; run of show will be formatted as a PDF to view or print. So whether you are a print editor, a web writer or a television producer, all the show assets are available in the format you need.
BoF: Can the experience of attending a fashion show really be replicated online?
Yes, but we are by no means trying to replace the live runway show experience. This, like a presentation, is another option for how to present a collection. We have clients including Marc Jacobs or Alexander McQueen that we strongly believe should be seen and experienced live. This format is appropriate for collections that may not need a live runway show.
BoF: How does the cost of using Digital Fashion Shows compare to the cost of staging a physical runway show?
The costs are more than a presentation but less than a runway show. Costs can vary greatly based on the level of production.
BoF: For designers, runway shows can be the ultimate branding tool and many fashion brands now live-stream their shows for a consumer audience. Why did you decide to make Digital Fashion Shows an industry-only platform? Why exclude consumers?
As the fashion industry has adapted to and embraced digital, so much focus has been placed on reaching the consumer. As a PR agency our work is focused on servicing the media. With Digital Fashion Shows, we are using the digital tools available to do our jobs more efficiently. It is not about excluding consumers, it is about enhancing the experience for the industry, who in turn reach that audience with their coverage.
BoF: While Digital Fashion Shows promises to make life easier for editors, why should brands embrace the platform?
This platform allows brands to reach a larger audience, in that there are no numbers limitations as there are at a physical venue. It makes presenting to international editors much easier because there are no geographical restrictions. And as the web editorial presence continues to grow, this allows us to accommodate all the relevant sites and everyone is treated equally. All users invited to a Digital Fashion Show will have an identical viewing experience and the same assets available to them; it’s democratic that way within the industry.
Furthermore, from a show production standpoint, it can be very demanding for brands to continuously stage live shows or presentations — and even more so, now, with enhanced Resort and Pre-Fall collections, as well as secondary and diffusion lines.
BoF: How will the platform evolve over time? What can we expect from future iterations?
For the immediate future we definitely have an app on our radar. We are also exploring a digital trunk show for retailers that can use elements of the platform. Other than that, the digital world is continuously changing and technology is advancing, so this will evolve over time. We see this as a platform that will be constantly improving and adapting to the changing demands and expectations of the industry.
Expectations? In a world where digital media is bringing greater and greater openness to the once closed fashion system, at first, the decision to launch an industry-only, password-protected platform for streaming fashion shows struck us as odd. But as we talked with many of the editors and buyers gathered in New York this week, the sentiment was nearly unanimous: with more and more shows added to the fashion calendar with each passing season, industry professionals are suffering from overload. The burden of endless schlepping to show after show has left editors and buyers completely exhausted only one week into “fashion month.”
Whether digital-only shows are the answer remains to be seen. But when a leading PR and event production firm like KCD makes a case for change, you can be sure that the industry is watching. Known for its polished shows and a client roster that includes top names like Marc Jacobs and Alexander McQueen, KCD is amongst the most influential agencies in fashion. Needless to say, our expectations were high.
First impressions? Digital Fashion Shows loads with a slick, monochromatic interstitial that sets the tone for what is a stylishly designed, high-definition experience, presented in wide-screen format. But true to its purpose as a time-saving professional tool, the site dispenses entirely with the idea of fashion show as entertainment spectacle. The debut ICB show was a pared back, no-nonsense affair, featuring models walking on a white runway. With camera angles that alternate from full-length shots to close-ups on accessories, the experience is focused squarely on the clothes, offering enough clarity to communicate the subtleties of details and fabrics, as well as handy features that let editors and buyers take notes, tag their favourite looks and download still imagery. On first inspection, the platforms looked promising indeed.
Most potential? While digital-only shows are unlikely to be a good substitute for main collection runway shows, which have become indispensible branding assets for fashion labels of all sizes, we think there is tremendous potential for brands to leverage Digital Fashion Shows to present their diffusion lines and pre-collections. The proliferation of second lines and pre-collections has contributed significantly to the increased pressures felt by designers, editors and buyers alike. And while some well-financed, global brands, notably Chanel, have turned pre-collection shows into sensational branding platforms, for the majority of fashion labels, these are more commercial collections for which more cost-effective, digital-only shows aimed squarely at the industry make a lot of sense.
What’s missing? In today’s troubled economic climate, spending in the ballpark of $100,000-to-$200,000 to stage an online fashion show, even when you consider the added value of sharable digital assets, sounds like a tough proposition for many fashion companies. But as Filipowski hints, brands who use Digital Fashion Shows may soon be able to extend the value of their investments by leveraging a version of the platform to stage digital trunk shows in partnership with online retailers, timed to launch when product is immediately available to buy. But will the no-nonsense, industry-facing platform and content be engaging enough for a consumer audience?
Furthermore, Digital Fashion Shows is clearly conceived as a business tool, targeting industry professionals. But in the context of new community-driven business models like “social merchandising,” for example, which enables retailers to gather direct insight on consumer preferences, before they place orders, and thereby make better decisions on what to sell, it’s worth asking the question: will consumer participation — and the valuable data it generates — soon come to be thought of as a critical component of any industry-oriented tool? Along with the show video, detail shots, designer inspiration and other assets, a digital toolset that lets editors and buyers gauge consumer reaction to specific pieces, and the show overall, might actually better equip them to do their jobs.
Indeed, it’s quite possible that consumer participation could make Digital Fashion Shows a more powerful industry tool, implying that the business-to-business and business-to-consumer opportunities around streaming runway shows could very well be two sides of the same coin.
In Digital Scorecard, BoF’s editors review the most innovative digital initiatives from across the world of fashion.