Dig­i­tal de­vel­op­ments are blow­ing up the fash­ion world, says Phoebe Watt

Fashion Quarterly - - Inside -

The new age of fash­ion mar­ket­ing

You need only cast your eyes over your most re­cent credit card state­ment (or the Asos car­tons in your re­cy­cling bin) for proof that tech­nol­ogy has rev­o­lu­tionised the way we shop. Tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance­ments aren’t just chang­ing our con­sumer habits though – they’re af­fect­ing how fash­ion is pro­duced and mar­keted. Here, we in­ves­ti­gate the fu­ture of fash­ion in the dig­i­tal age.


In fash­ion, tim­ing is every­thing – and cur­rently, the whole sched­ule is off. As it stands, a new-sea­son col­lec­tion takes six months to get from the run­way to the re­tailer, by which time we’ve seen it in so many mag­a­zines and on­line ed­i­to­ri­als that we’re over it. Thank­fully, fash­ion houses are hear­ing the col­lec­tive grum­blings of crit­ics, re­tail­ers and con­sumers, and re­think­ing their roll-out strate­gies. En­ter: the shop­pable run­way. From Prada to Top­shop, to New Zealand’s own Ruby, brands are cap­i­tal­is­ing on the in­stant grat­i­fi­ca­tion gen­er­a­tion, mak­ing cap­sule col­lec­tions avail­able to pur­chase on­line im­me­di­ately af­ter their cat­walk shows. Fol­low­ing Ruby’s livestreamed, shop­pable show at New Zealand Fash­ion Week 2015, de­signer Deanna Di­dovich said this show model made sense for the re­tail-fo­cused brand. We say that in a world where global e-com­merce sales are top­ping 1.7 tril­lion dol­lars an­nu­ally, it makes sense full-stop.


As live-streamed fash­ion shows be­come de rigueur, many de­sign­ers are es­chew­ing tra­di­tional run­way pre­sen­ta­tions in favour of dig­i­tal pre­sen­ta­tions. It’s a trend that’s democratis­ing the in­dus­try – en­abling un­der-re­sourced, up-and-com­ing de­sign­ers to present col­lec­tions to the right peo­ple for a frac­tion of the cost of a full run­way show, and al­low­ing any­one with an In­sta­gram ac­count to sit front row. Al­beit not as a money-sav­ing mea­sure, many es­tab­lished de­sign­ers have gone dig­i­tal too (think dis­solv­ing gar­ments at Hus­sein Cha­layan, high-tech sets at Anya Hind­march, and vir­tual re­al­ity head­sets at Re­becca Minkoff), whilst oth­ers are shoot­ing ex­clu­sive con­tent for In­sta­gram and re­leas­ing it to co­in­cide with their run­way shows. So much more #re­grammable than blurry run­way shots, ex­pect to see more of th­ese ‘In­stashoots’ when fash­ion month kicks off in Septem­ber.


So­cial me­dia isn’t just a great way for brands to con­nect with cus­tomers – as Burberry knows, it’s a great way to re­ward them too. Last sea­son, the Bri­tish fash­ion brand built QR codes into the swing tags of se­lected gar­ments, which, when scanned with the pur­chaser’s smart­phone, granted ac­cess to styling tips, videos and be­hind-thescenes con­tent hosted on Burberry’s Snapchat Dis­cover chan­nel. Overuse of the puppy fil­ter never seemed so #basic in com­par­i­son.


Brands are also un­lock­ing the po­ten­tial of so­cial me­dia as a cus­tomer ser­vice tool. Chat­bots (dig­i­tal sales as­sis­tants de­signed to sim­plify the path to pur­chase) have long been com­mon­place on desk­top e-com­merce sites. Now, ma­jor re­tail­ers, in­clud­ing Sephora, are us­ing Face­book Mes­sen­ger, Snapchat and Kik to talk (or rather, type) cus­tomers through a sale. The lim­i­ta­tions of ‘con­ver­sa­tional com­merce’ are such that hu­man sales as­sis­tants some­times have to step in to seal the deal, but ex­perts say tech­nol­ogy is be­ing ad­vanced to the point where soon, we won’t know the dif­fer­ence be­tween ‘bot’ and Becky from fine fra­grance.


If you’re in the mar­ket for a matte, blue-based red lip­stick priced un­der $45, a chat­bot can show you the op­tions. What it can’t do is show you which op­tion best suits you. In 2014, L’Oréal changed on­line beauty shop­ping with its Makeup Ge­nius app, which al­lows users to up­load pho­tos of them­selves and vir­tu­ally ‘try on’ prod­ucts. This year, Rim­mel Lon­don flipped this con­cept on its head with its Get the Look app. Dubbed “Shazam for beauty,” the app in­vites users to up­load a photo of a makeup look they want to repli­cate. Af­ter colour-match­ing this look with Rim­mel cos­met­ics, the app’s ad­vanced fa­cial recog­ni­tion tech­nol­ogy is used to ‘ap­ply’ the cos­met­ics to the user’s face via their smart­phone’s front-fac­ing cam­era. If the user likes what they see, they can click through to buy the cor­re­spond­ing prod­ucts – with­out a sin­gle, sticky, lip­stick swatch.

So­cial me­dia isn’t just a great way for brands to con­nect with cus­tomers... it’s a great way to re­ward them too


As in­tu­itive as e-com­merce sites are be­com­ing, an on­line store will never of­fer the same re­tail ex­pe­ri­ence as a bricks and mor­tar out­let, purely be­cause of the lack of at­mos­phere. Re­al­is­ing that noth­ing adds at­mos­phere like mu­sic, on­line re­tailer Far Fetch re­cently launched an Ap­ple Mu­sic chan­nel. De­signed to al­low cus­tomers to stream care­fully-cu­rated playlists while they shop, Far Fetch CMO Stephanie Hor­ton con­firmed to Women’s Wear Daily that the setup also en­ables the brand to con­nect with cus­tomers “at mul­ti­ple life­style touch points”, in­clud­ing while they are work­ing out or com­mut­ing to work. Hey, th­ese brands do a good job of cu­rat­ing our wardrobes, who’s to say they can’t sound­track our lives?


De­signed to draw at­ten­tion to the lack of women in the IT in­dus­try, the hash­tag #girl­swhocode has been gain­ing mo­men­tum. This is par­tially thanks to ini­tia­tives like ‘Kode with Klossy’ – a free sum­mer camp es­tab­lished by su­per­model Kar­lie Kloss, where girls are taught the lan­guage of cod­ing and helped to build web apps – and fash­ion de­signer Zac Posen’s re­cent part­ner­ship with Google’s ‘Made With Code’ pro­gram. This pro­gram re­quired stu­dents at sev­eral cod­ing acad­e­mies in New York City to code and cre­ate LED pat­terns for a mys­tery project. After­wards, stu­dents learned that they had cre­ated a piece of wear­able tech­nol­ogy en­vi­sioned by Zac Posen, to be sent down the New York Fash­ion Week run­way as part of his au­tumn/ win­ter 2016 col­lec­tion.


Speak­ing of Zac Posen and wear­able tech, can we get an­other round of ap­plause emo­jis for the fi­bre-op­tic mas­ter­piece the de­signer cre­ated for the 2016 Metropoli­tan Mu­seum of Art Cos­tume In­sti­tute Gala? Worn by ac­tress Claire Danes, the light-up or­ganza and LED gown nailed the Manus x Machina theme, which ex­plored the dis­tinc­tion be­tween hand-made fash­ion (haute couture) and ma­chine-made fash­ion (prêt-àporter). Ac­cord­ing to the Cos­tume In­sti­tute’s cu­ra­tor in charge, An­drew Bolton, this dis­tinc­tion is be­com­ing blurred “as both dis­ci­plines em­brace the prac­tices and tech­niques of the other.” Mu­seum di­rec­tor and CEO, Thomas Camp­bell, agrees. “Fash­ion and tech­nol­ogy are in­ex­tri­ca­bly con­nected,” he says. “More so now than ever be­fore.”


Despite the preva­lence of fash­ion and tech­nol­ogy crossovers, ‘wear­able tech’ still car­ries con­no­ta­tions of go-go-gad­get gar­ments that are more gim­micky than glam. From Ap­ple’s smart­watch to Levi’s Com­muter x Jac­quard by Google jacket – made from a con­ducive yarn that en­ables the wearer to nav­i­gate their mo­bile de­vice with the tap of a sleeve – wear­able tech is giv­ing new mean­ing to func­tional fash­ion. But, much like stick­ing shoe-charms on your Crocs won’t make them cool, the des­ig­na­tion ‘func­tional fash­ion’ does not a fash­ion­able item make. There’s so­lace in the fact that our hard­ware is get­ting hauter by the day – hope­fully wear­ables we ac­tu­ally want to wear aren’t too far away.

“Fash­ion and tech­nol­ogy are

in­ex­tri­ca­bly con­nected, more so

now than ever be­fore”

Right: Dis­solv­ing dresses at Hus­sein Cha­layan’s SS16 show. Be­low: Smart­phone pho­tog­ra­phers at Aus­tralian Fash­ion Week. Op­po­site: Anya Hind­march’s fu­tur­is­tic SS16 show.

Left: Kar­lie Kloss at Kode with Klossy, a cod­ing sum­mer camp founded by the su­per­model. Far and be­low left: Claire Danes at the 2016 Met Gala with Zac Posen, who de­signed her light-up gown.

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