UK Designers: Embrace Technology Or Close Your Doors?
Should young designers make digital technology a priority when creating and marketing a collection? Also, is the increased focus on technology within the fashion industry making it overexposed and less marketable, particularly when it comes to bi-annual debuts of new collections at international fashion weeks?
During Autumn/Winter 2011 London Fashion Week, international attention was riveted to the digital marvels of Burberry Prorsum, who streamed their entire show live to over 150 countries online, in the company’s flagship stores, and at 40 live events, including the massive 32-metre digital screen at Piccadilly Circus. Burberry, along with the British Fashion Council, who streamed over 32 shows live online and to a huge LED screen outside of Somerset House during London Fashion Week, represent a new movement towards democratization within fashion to make it more accessible and open to the public.
On the other hand, some designers like Tom Ford are taking the opposite approach. Ford debuted his A/W 2011 collection in a closed event in London attended by a 100 or so invited editors and photographers and will do the same next year for his A/W 2012 collection. Unlike other designers who actively invite bloggers and authorize live streams of their shows, Ford “wanted to pull everything back,” blaming online and live-streaming venues for making fashion “overexposed.”
Yet, is Ford’s retreat from technology simply the luxury of an established designer who will get interest in his collection no matter what he does? Or is it a smart move to focus on the importance of design and controlled marketing from which other designers, even young and emerging talent, can learn?
After all, commentary on Burberry’s A/W 2011 show arguably seemed as much about the actual designs in the collection as the technology of the actual presentation itself, which, in addition to live streaming, included falling fake show.
Yet, as Rachel Arthur comments in a 21 Feb article in The Telegraph (“London Fashion Week: Young designers must embrace technology or risk shutting the door”), the opening of fashion to the masses via digital technology inherently increases visibility and interest in the work of designers and even in the happenings of fashion weeks themselves, many of which, like London, have not historically gotten the same attention as the much larger New York Fashion Week. Technology also spells lower marketing and PR costs and a more widespread international buzz factor, all of which are critical for designers interested in getting their names and designs known to the world.
In this way, digital technology becomes critical for young and emerging designers, even those who live in the world’s great fashion capitals of New York and London. As Rachel Arthur writes, “Only by taking advantage of the true power of technology will these new fashion designers build their future. By shutting the door to the digerati, these rising stars will jeopardise their careers before they have even taken off.”
However, while needing to embrace digital media, young and emerging designers face major issues with design and production fees, marketing strategy, and overall business management. According to David Watts, Fashion Business Advisor for the East London Small Business Centre who advises young designers like Christopher Raeburn and Georgia Hardinge, “Emerging designers have not got the profile or the budget to do elaborate digital campaigns but what they should … not lose sight of is their ‘creativity.’ They have to play a bigger game, think smarter, more creatively and more focused on their Brand DNA and stay on message. They can still deliver impressive and memorable campaigns across the entire digital spectrum without having to spend millions….”
Furthermore, for young designers, like more established ones, the world of digital media is a game in which the rules are constantly being redefined and critical voices are everywhere, particularly with the rise in legitimacy of the voice of fashion bloggers. As Watts advises, the important thing is for designers to embrace digital technology but choose the right strategy for marketing their designs to reach the right audience.
Finally, designers should not forget the power of a cohesive, memorable, and logically-organized collection in communicating their viewpoints to the world. Indeed, the beauty and impact of Burberry Prorsum’s A/W 2011 collection, outside of the cutting-edge digital broadcast and falling snow, ultimately was in the gorgeous and unexpected combinations of textures and fabrics, including mixtures of wool, fur, and cashmere with jersey and silk, that gave a lush and memorable quality to the designs.
In all, it seems that designers, both young and established, should not be wary of the democratization of fashion and the power of technology. Yet, they should pay heed to how they establish, communicate, and market their respective brands and designs to make sure that they do not get lost in the chaos of digital media.