Before showgoers watched fashion shows through the camera of their iPhones—and not as it was being presented directly before them—before “omnichannel retail” ever became a thing, before consumers went to brick-and-mortar stores only to be given an iPad to shop online, the year was 2010 and fashion was, compared with the present (and all of its technological advancements), wonderfully, nostalgically simple.
There were two ways to shop: at brick-and-mortar locations (standalone storefronts, malls, and department stores—remember those?) and online. Amazon had just rolled out Prime membership. Digital-native labels were few and far between (and if a brand had a brick-and-mortar store, only 17 percent of about 1,000 U.S. consumers surveyed were inclined to shop online, according to a 2010 Nielsen report). Interestingly enough, the number-one category that dominated online sales were books—and it wasn’t until the onslaught of flash-sale sites, like Gilt, HauteLook, ideeli, and RueLaLa, which, for a limited time, promised designer clothing for a fraction of the retail price, that gave shoppers a reason to buy fashion online.
It’s this value-conscious, post-recession mindset that made digital-only, direct-to-consumer brands so appealing, so incredibly irresistible. And it’s exactly what Everlane banked on when it launched in 2010, touting radical transparency and fair pricing. It was the year that stood at the brink of a seismic retail shift: an upswing in direct-to-consumer brands that did away with the traditional marked-up business model, and eventually, the decline in physical retail.The Spring app in 2014 helped in cementing this trajectory as a “digital shopping mall,” connecting retailers and shoppers using a direct-to-consumer sales model. And in some ways it supplied the framework for future apps and normalized shopping directly from your phone. Instagram’s Shop is one such example, allowing users to discover independent, under-the-radar direct-to-consumer brands and then purchase items without ever having to leave the app. And most recently, Rent the Runway has taken its rental service to the next level by partnering up with W Hotels, giving travelers the option to rent clothing from its app and delivering their picks to their hotel room upon arrival.
In an increasingly digital world, brands have upped in-store experiences with virtual reality devices (at one point, Everlane allowed shoppers to tour the factories that manufactured its denim), installed iPads to provide behind-the-scenes context or background, and high-tech dressing rooms (a concept that Reformation rolled out in 2017, in which shoppers could digitally add items they want to try on via touch screens).
“It’s important to us to be able to offer what’s available online to our customers in store, and so we have what’s called ‘endless aisle,’ where we have iPads throughout the store, like in our shoe section and outside the fitting rooms, that give customers the ability to shop our full collection online,” said Tara Shanahan, the VP of retail at Everlane, at the opening of the brand’s high-tech Brooklyn store in October.
And as shopping habits have evolved over the years, so, too, has the way fashion presents itself. A too-crowded New York Fashion Week calendar has forced designers to re-evaluate alternative ways to showcase their collections, turning to digital lookbooks on Instagram or viral campaigns in lieu of a traditional runway show to drum up noise. Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte did just that for Spring/Summer 2020—the second time they’ve done so—with a slew of celebrity cameos, featuring Gabrielle Union, Yalitza Aparicio, Kiernan Shipka, January Jones, Lili Reinhart, and more, modeling these fantastical creations for which they’re known.
“In a collections season in which a designer’s ability to think differently about the fashion show experience was perhaps the whole point of the exercise, Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte launched the first decisive strike when they forewent the catwalk entirely and released instead a celebrity-packed lookbook on the eve of New York Fashion Week,” wrote one reviewer.
This increased emphasis on digital has pushed fashion to explore other types of media, moving away from still images and toward film. British photographer Nick Knight pioneered this movement with SHOWstudio, who believed that “showing the entire creative process, from conception to completion is beneficial for the artist, the audience, and the art itself.” Even though SHOWstudio launched in 2000, the 2010s saw incredibly creative, forward-thinking, boundary-pushing ways for which designers were able to express themselves (collaborators included Rick Owens, John Galliano, Kate Moss, Alexander McQueen, Gareth Pugh, and more), with the most notable being Tom Ford’s music video for his Spring/Summer 2016, which starred Lady Gaga, blurring the lines between art, fashion, and pop culture. Luxury conglomerate LVMH, too, tapped into moving images with the launch of its digital video channel in 2010, which publishes three films a week about art, design, music, fashion, beauty, and culture featuring industry leaders and celebrities, like Carine, Bella Hadid, and David Lynch.
But one of the biggest technological developments to affect fashion week in the past decade was the ability for designers to livestream their shows to a global audience, offering fans not only a glimpse at collections in real time (as opposed to waiting for each individual look to appear on Style.com, RIP), but also access to one of the most exclusive trade shows in the world.
Now, the consequence of this—of digitalization overall—is the now-impossible task of satiating shoppers’ appetite for newness. It’s accelerated the fashion cycle and trends (and at the same time, homogenized them). And it’s for these reasons that many designers made an attempt to adopt a see-now, buy-now business model (though to no avail).
In an ironic twist, as brands collectively work together to curtail this demand, they’re using the very same digital tools—Instagram, livestreaming, and more—to send their message, to re-educate shoppers to slow down and practice a more sustainable approach to fashion. Because the beauty of technology, for better or for worse, is that it’s brought the world together.END
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