@Fashion Hearts Technology

...fashion's race to win over the web

by Sharn Rayment
Picture the scene: It’s Fashion Week. Next season’s key looks are about to parade up and down the runway. Obscure techno music is blasting out of the speakers. Press are closely watching and celebrities are sitting pretty in the front row. Photographers are patiently poised at the end of the catwalk, and backstage the models are receiving their last minute touch-ups. But today it’s not only the professionals taking the pictures. Everyone in the room has a Smartphone of choice firmly in their grasp, getting ready to take the first snap and send it spiralling out into the worldwide webosphere.

Once upon a time, before the days of digital cameras, iPads, and any other fancy gadgets, fashion fans would have to wait until the next month’s glossies hit the news stands to catch a glimpse of the latest catwalk collections, after all the images had been printed and show reports had been perfected. Just imagine the first London Fashion Week in 1984 – no online galleries, no Twitpics and certainly no Facebook albums. In 2012, every spectator has turned into a reporter. Catwalk shows are no longer exclusive events, no sooner than a model's stiletto-wearing foot makes its first step out onto the catwalk is a picture sent out via Instagram into the blogosphere for instant sharing. Many brands have now caught on to the technology craze and are cleverly making the most of it.

One of the biggest tools labels are lapping up is Twitter – a social networking site which has proven instrumental for brands attempting to reach the masses. It’s quick, easy and, best of all, free. But can a brand really sell its collection in just 140 characters? Probably not, but using the medium to link to other content and host images are key ways of widening their previously limited reach.

For Spring/Summer 2012, British luxury label Burberry launched their first ever ‘Tweetwalk’, sharing pictures of their collection instantly via Twitpic to 790,000 followers on the social media site, quickly sending #Burberry trending worldwide.
Even the lucky show attendees had their phones ready, snapping up images of the outfits that the world would see minutes later in digital form. Diane Von Furstenberg, Tommy Hilfiger and Rebecca Minkoff all adopted the innovative idea during New York Fashion Week Autumn/Winter 2012, using it as a way to push key pieces for the season.

Following the Twitter hysteria, Burberry then made select pieces from the collection available to buy online straight after the show, dissolving the need for waiting lists or trend reports – fashion aficionados didn’t need journalists to get a piece of the action, they just needed a credit card.

Burberry is now one of the biggest digital fashion powerhouses. It is one of the first brands to favour online campaigns over print, with 60 per cent of their annual marketing budget invested in digital media according to the Financial Times. This is nearly three times the average for a fashion brand. They have grasped the idea of using social media. With Twitter growing at a rate of 11 new accounts per second, according to Twopchart, building that strong online presence is vital.

Burberry hasn’t stopped at Twitter, becoming one of the first high fashion brands to present their collection on Pinterest – a photo sharing website where images rule supreme. For Autumn/Winter 2012 Burberry used the platform to show off their latest catwalk looks for maximum exposure with minimum effort. Like Twitter, followers repost their content to their followers, who then repost it to their followers, and so on. You get the idea, but whether followers can afford to buy into the brand or just aspire to it is another matter.

Tumblr is another technological stone that fashion brands have not left unturned. The trendy microblogging and social networking site combines the best of both worlds, encouraging people to share images and content they like with the click of a button, skyrocketing their cyber-popularity without even realising it. It’s almost too perfect for the image-centric fashion industry, as it mainly works on re-blogging images.

Alexander McQueen is one of the biggest high fashion labels to utilise Tumblr, promoting their McQ brand, a more youthful, lower priced and toned down version of the McQueen line. Using Tumblr they have essentially created a McQ microsite; each element echoing the brand, from the gothic font to the grainy campaign images. Their overhauled Tumblr page sleekly acts as another online portal for the label, posing a textbook example of how these free forms of digital media can be used to commercial advantage. Research conducted by comScore in 2011 showed half of Tumblr users are aged 25 or under – a group you wouldn’t exactly expect to have a spare £500 to spend on a ‘more affordable’ handbag.

Some major labels have combined all the essential elements for online success – imagery, words and digital innovation – by using YouTube. Louis Vuitton, Prada, YSL and Jimmy Choo have all embraced the power of the viral video, using the video-sharing platform to stream campaigns, behind-the-scenes titbits and new season’s look books with ease.

One mid-market label has truly used the video-sharing site to its full commercial advantage. French Connection launched their own YouTube store ‘YouTique’ in September 2010, allowing users to view campaign footage and simultaneously shop the looks from product categories posted next to the main video. It facilitates a well-needed connection between watching and wearing.

Even though many of us may just be Facebook fans of our favourite fashion house, or we may reblog a picture from a couture show purely because we like the look of the dress, we’re unconsciously promoting and sharing fashion on a scale like no other, giving brands the mass exposure they crave. Catwalk shows live on, but wide-spread technology has well and truly knocked the elitism out of them, with designers embracing rather than rejecting media like a pair of last season’s kitten heels. It really brings a whole new meaning to the term geek chic.