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Virtual Fashion & Cyber Style

Luxury fashion houses are slowly digitizing themselves with Burberry being the most apt example. Is this check-inspired UK based brand showing us the future through its strategy for London Fashion Week?

Dior fashion showThis month, I will attend once more one of the most famous and influencing fashion weeks in the world – the London Fashion Week, or better known as LFW. For the non-connoisseurs, Fashion Week is an industry event, lasting a week and giving the opportunity to fashion designers, brands or ‘houses’ to show their latest collection in catwalks shows, and for buyers to take a look at the latest trends. It gives the fashion industry an understanding of what is ‘in’ and what is ‘out’ for the season.

The most famous fashion weeks are held twice a year in New York, London, Milan and Paris, which are considered as the most influential fashion capitals in the world. From January to April, the designers showcase their Autumn/Winter collections (AW) and from September to November the Spring/Summer seasons (SS). It permits the press and buyers to examine, purchase or incorporate the designers into their retail marketing. However, with Internet, e-commerce and the need for selling, the industry has to comply with Pre-collections and Resort collections, multiplying trends, visibility and accessibility in the process.

However things are dramatically changing within these iconic events raising questions about the future of the catwalk. Last February, Burberry teamed up with Sky Television to create fashion history by globally streaming its fall/winter collection. Women’s wear catwalks was shown live from London Fashion week and ‘Avatar style’, in 3D, in New York, Paris, Dubai, Tokyo and Los Angeles – making a happy elite (the broadcasting was by invitation only) participate in a virtual 3D catwalk show.

Chanel fashion showNow the cyberspace age is real, enabling us to experience the incredible atmosphere of an event from around the word. But does this really give us the possibility to see the colours and fabrics, to hear the music and to be a part of the ‘real’ moment? Already, cyberspace is flooded by the fashion public updating in real-time the latest gossip, photos and comments on Facebook and Twitter, while bloggers are slowly replacing traditional magazines by writing detailed reviews about the shows.

While 3D has taken over Hollywood, and we will soon be able to acquire 3D TVs in the comfort of our living rooms, there is a sudden jolt at the thought of this concept being applied to catwalk shows. Although this marks the future for accessibility and international mobility and impact, can this mode of participation ever replace the floating drapes, the touch of fabrics, and the elaborate catwalk designs? What about congratulating the designer, meeting heads of brands and partaking in a well deserved glass of champagne? What about being immersed in the fury, drama, action and beauty of a real fashion show?

Burberry, once reckoned as the leading fashion provider to the Chav movement which gripped the United Kingdom at the turn of the era (Chavs were known for their boorish behaviour, bad taste and trading in Burberry goods) successfully managed to re-brand itself which made it famous within high-society. On September 21, Burberry will once again make chequered history by enabling its customers globally to purchase in ‘avant-premiere’ the catwalk collection – from runaway to checkout to immediate online sales points. No more waiting, no more drooling over Vogue boys and girls – be ready, steady – and have your credit card at hand.

Digital fashion showWhile fashionistas around the world are jumping for joy in front of their computer screens, the reality of this move is not without connotations for the fashion label. Burberry will have to be extremely careful not to dilute the core identity of its brand for the sake of boosting its quarterly financial results by permitting all public to immediately access the next collections, which will not even be available in their flagship stores. As a result, the brand may once again be risking its national leading place in the industry by revealing its latest catwalk designs on EBay or failing to be revamped by the launch of a new range of makeup which has been their latest adventurous move. Meanwhile, competitors are waiting tantalized to see the effect this may have, scrutinizing the results of this campaign to decide whether to copy or blame – with the famous phrase ready on the tips of their tongues – I told you so…

While all leading brands have taken the step to become digital leaders and influencers, UK based fashion-houses have been leading the pace through e-commerce, seeking to appeal to a newer and younger generation of consumers by creating awareness, novelty and accessibility which can only be achieved through the internet.

For the press and buyers this coming fashion week is akin to a military mission. Who to see, what to follow, who to buy…One unfavourable comment and a reputation is destroyed, and stocks remain unsold. Trend-setting is a business of its own, now fully interlinked with the latest Iphone application, an edgy magazine cover and budding internet fashion critiques who can destroy a collection faster than the time it will take for you to say ‘fashion’. Everyone is going to be suspended on their Blackberrys so that they don’t miss the latest updates, the changes in schedule, the gossip and scandals. And remember, for those of you who are unable to attend, you can still follow the shows on LFW TV on demand.

The latest technologies of our virtual world lead as always to consumer consumption – what to buy next for the sake of fashion. However, London is the place where fashion leads, maybe for its eccentricity, maybe for its awareness in trends and courage to be different from what is expected. In my view, most of the fashion cities will adopt a more modern approach to digital runway shows – HD, 3D viewings – yet it may take some years to be the norm. One of the consequences of these changes will be that it will enable fashion players to be even more selective towards whom they will invite physically to view their creations. Only la crème de la crème will be asked at the front rows, leaving the crowd to watch and buy from their screens, and the elite to decide from the centre of the scene.

HH Alexandra OrloffRussian and Spanish aristocrat, HH Alexandra Orloff, is the CEO and owner of Sacha Orloff Ltd, a consultancy offering services and products in luxury jewellery, watches, and fashion industry. Having worked in numerous prestigious luxury brands, she has enormous expertise in strategy development for luxury brands across emerging markets.