Designers are getting choosy about who can attend their shows
People who don't work in fashion think those who do spend their days dressing up and going to fashion shows. Actually, that only happens twice a year during the international fashion weeks. But oh, what fashion shows they are.
Shows, in truth, are the glamorous front to a far more dull industry obsessed with sales, figures and business matters you really wouldn't be interested in.
If anything, the global recession coupled with the internet, which enables superbrands to put out their glamorous message to the world, has magnified the importance of the international fashion show, complete with its supermodels and celebrities lining the front row.
With lucrative new economies emerging all the time, high-profile fashion shows have become an important tool used by modern designers to communicate with the global customer.
It's no longer about a hemline or cut of a jacket, but more the image and essence of a brand brought to life by 30 of the most beautiful female models on the planet.
The number of shows is rising. This season, designers showing collections during New York Fashion Week rose to 328. According to Fashion Calendar, the US bi-weekly fashion listing newspaper, this was the largest ever and showed a 61 per cent increase from five years ago.
London Fashion Week has always had to juggle exciting new names for press and buyers in town to "discover", to the detriment of more established designers. There's always a queue for both. This week, the problem is exacerbated by the fact that 19 embassies in London have thrown open their doors to show home-grown fashion talent.
China's entry, Xander Zhou, is listed by Forbes magazine in its Top 25 most influential people in the Chinese fashion industry and Japan's, Kawanishi Ryohei, a recent graduate from Central Saint Martins, is currently making waves in Tokyo.
Designers go to extremes to make sure all-important industry chiefs attend shows. One way is to find an impressive location or simply come up with a unique idea to drive home the uniqueness of your clothes.
Mary Katrantzou's last show featured an installation of flowers dyed in hyperreal colours and set out in blocks that were identical to digital prints on her clothes. When models paraded down the catwalk, they became "camouflaged". The image remained with you long afterwards.
Meadham Kirchhoff shows are legendary in London, too. Once, 60 models marched out fiercely all at once towards the (frightened?) seated crowd, then shouted and ran back. Wham. Bang. Over.
Interestingly, both designer shows were virtually impossible to capture online. Something intentional? Fashion shows online can prove a double-edged sword.
It's fine if you can afford Etienne Russo, the art director behind Villa Eugenie, who pulls off the most fantastical shows in fashion, including Chanel, Lanvin, Hermès and Miu Miu; or Russell Marsh to scout your models; or Michel Gaubert to create your soundtrack - but if you can't, how do you compete?
Too many times, I've come across beautiful clothes in shops, which bring back memories of fashion shows that were badly lit or poorly styled. These can break as much as make a reputation.
This season, one of the world's leading fashion forecasters, WGSN, added a free trend blog (www.wgsn.tumblr.com) to its services, normally at considerable cost to its 38,000 insider subscribers. This gives fast and accurate runway analysis, catwalk shots (and excellent what-fashion-guests-are-wearing). It was prompted by the fact WGSN feels catwalk trends, although six months ahead of the curve, are now fully relevant to ordinary people.
While this will please the 5,000 officially credited industry professionals who will attend London Fashion Week and will be tweeting and blogging because this falls into their job description, many in the industry won't be so happy.
When catwalk-hot information ends up in the wrong hands, it can be potentially disastrous, particularly to designers starting out.
Copycat clothes that arrive in the high street - sometimes even before the designs that inspired them - can eliminate the need for the genuine article.
One of the reasons Burberry has invested in digital technology, becoming the first designer brand to facilitate customers acquiring new-season clothes via watching the catwalk show online then receiving their goods within weeks, not months, was prompted by the British brand itselfbeing a victim of mass-market copycatting.
While it's great that more of us are being allowed to "share" fashion shows, it's equally important not to lose sight of why designers might want to keep them exclusive.
The must-see Celine show in Paris has announced it is banning backstage photography, blogs and tweets, and scaling down tickets allocated to follow the Tom Ford/Azzedine Alaïa friends-only format. Richard Nicoll in London is also doing an installation for industry friends. Could this be the start of a fashion show backlash?
Julia Robson is a London-based fashion journalist, broadcaster and stylist
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Updated: February 19, 2012 04:00 AM