Saturday, 13 February 2010

Alexander Wang, the internet and Alexander McQueen - a few thoughts

Yes, fashion month is back and as hectic as ever. It's had one of the saddest starts in its history, casting a grey pall of tragedy over the entire industry and leaving fashion lovers around the world reeling, but the show must go on.

For bedroom fashion writers like me this season promised to be especially exciting thanks to the increasing number of live streams that allow us to be, this evening, at Alexander Wang's show at New York Fashion Week while simultaneously watching something about the Orwellian future of the web in a warm and toasty living room in North West London with the laptop balanced on top of a sleepy and happy cat.

I'm not sure that video, even a live stream, can ever really convey the true atmosphere of a show - I've been to a few and there really is nothing quite like it. But it is, never the less, exciting. Especially when it's done by Nick Knight's fashion-web pioneering ShowStudio and therefore or impressively decent quality.
I especially like that they're showing people coming into the venue, so you get some of the hum of fashion chatter in the background and can check out the coats being worn by the fashion editors, buyers, bloggers and hangers on as they spill in out of the cold snow-driven New York street (or cushy town car).
While I can't see the point in reviewing a show via pics, stiff and still and removed from their context, the increasing availability of live streaming is really opening up fashion shows to fans of every ilk, from the obsessed to the critical to the casual lover.
However for all this talk of inclusivity and opening up the fashion world to a wider public, what live streaming essentially offers is a two tier display where the favoured get invited to the show and the plebians only get to watch it online and are grateful for it.

The late, great Alexander McQueen in his last interview, published in today's Times, said he imagined broadcasting his future shows live to guests, sending them interactive viewing pyramids instead of inviting them to big catwalk shows. Sadly, the pressure to deliver something bigger, better and faster every season took its toll. I am wary of entirely laying the blame for the death of a man I can not claim to know at the door of the industry, but I don't think it's entirely unfair to say that the fashion monster has claimed one of the brightest of its progeny.

As both my friend over at Layer and Swathes and fashion intellectual Colin McDowell have pointed out, the pressure created by making the next season instantly accessible online before we've even begun to understand (or wear) the previous season's collections is possibly not the best way of creating an environment that can support serious talent. In almost every other industry talent is given time and space to grow, but fashion is relentless in its quest for the new. When everyone in the world has already seen an image of your best piece a million times before it even hits the shops and the ubiquity of information has allowed the high street to copy the next big trend months before hand, the pressure on designers has never been greater. And there are increasingly vast amounts of money and kudos at stake.

I don't think the industry has yet worked out how to handle the internet. It's experimenting and trying, to varying degrees of success, and it has certainly succeeded in creating an amazing online community where fans like you and I can pontificate over collections just minutes after they hit the runway. But by overloading us with information they risk tainting their product through overexposure and devaluing their talent, making their jobs even more demanding and vulnerable.

Sitting here awaiting the start of the Alexander Wang show, part of me can't help feeling that the mystery and magic of fashion is being stripped away.

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