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Ever since IMG, which owns NYFW, began streaming shows in 2011, viewers have been tuning in in droves. "Streaming has become an important part of how consumers understand brands," says Matt Edelman, IMG's head of digital operations and marketing solutions. "It gives designers remarkable reach to audiences and helps build trust. It also generates a unique way to excite them beyond in-person experiences."
Years ago, Fashion Week was a private, exclusive event open only to those who worked with or wore the collections — store buyers, fashion editors, top clients, the occasional celebrity. Paper invites were sent out, and access was granted just to the names on guest lists. Images were similarly controlled: Photos of the shows came from professional agencies or the brands themselves, but no one else. It was, by and large, a walled-off industry gathering.
"Fashion has always been a closed, elitist industry, and shows used to be for a very small percentage of people," notes Kelly Cutrone, founder of PR firm People's Revolution. "The tents at Bryant Park had tiny crowds. IMG even held a press conference at one point to talk about ‘these people called bloggers.'"
But that all changed with the arrival of social media, an explosion in the number of shows, and, yes, the advent of streaming. NYFW is now more accessible than ever.
2009 was the year that really moved the needle, thanks Alexander McQueen streaming its landmark spring/summer 2010 show from Paris in March, after Louis Vuitton streamed its fall show to Facebook the season prior. The next year, Alexander Wang, Marc Jacobs, and Burberry followed suit. By 2011, there was a full slate of designers who streamed their shows.
"Fashion has always been a closed, elitist industry, and shows used to be for a very small percentage of people."
"Early on," explains Edelman, "the concept of opening the door to that experience, through a digital screen that might be too small and have bandwidth issues and buffer problems was a little risky." Eventually, though, Cutrone says, "people realized it didn't make sense to not include the public more. Brands realized they had to open their French doors and say hello to the world."
In the case of Marc Jacobs, for example, Daniel Plenge, the company's director of social media, saw other brands streaming their shows and presented the idea back in 2010 because "our brand is about building and nurturing community and my job was to extend that into social." Plenge admits he initially got some pushback from older execs, but once he convinced Jacobs and company president Robert Duffy that it was "necessary to cultivate and nurture digital relationships," the brand was on board.
"The stream is totally worth it to us," says Plenge. "We're trying to bottle up all of Marc's magic into one night, so having an asset that lives on past the show is really helpful. A lot of the views come weeks after the show because we throw a loop of it up on our site. Streaming has been valuable to us in so many different ways."
Natalie Okupniak is the executive producer and chief operations officer of B Productions, the agency that handles all of the tech and logistics for streaming IMG's shows. She believes more brands eventually came around to streaming because they began to see Fashion Week as a marketing, rather than a trade, event.
"The whole point of Fashion Week is to experience a brand and see what it represents," says Okupniak. "The show says what's going to happen for the brand in the coming seasons."
However, the costs are considerable. Live-streaming with B Productions costs a minimum of $6,500 and can go up to $100,000. Five years ago, those numbers were even higher, which caused plenty of companies to hold off on streaming.
Uri Minkoff, CEO of Rebecca Minkoff, adds that many companies were also initially nervous about their designs, which hadn't even made it to production, being exposed to fast-fashion retailers and counterfeiters eager to create knockoffs.
But live streaming has actually become a form of market research. "It's about the entertainment, but it's also a way to collect different business intelligence," says Russell Quy, president of B Live, B Productions' streaming division.
Email addresses are collected through the live streams' access portals, and social media widgets are utilized so viewers can share individual look images on their social feeds. Explains Quy, "We collect data, like which colors and looks were most popular by region, which looks were most popular in which countries, which performed the best, and bring that all back to the brands,."
Plenge says Marc Jacobs studies the information and shares it with buyers; Rebecca Minkoff employs the same tactic.
"The data from streaming shows affects decisions," says Minkoff. "We had a pair of trousers that buyers initially didn't want. I showed them the social reaction — how many bloggers wrote about them, how well they performed on Twitter, how much fanfare they had. They took the feedback and decided to stock them for major department stores."
"They were a great pair of trousers," Minkoff adds, "but we might not have gone into production with them if the buyers hadn't agreed on them. The consumer voted yes, and that had an effect on what the stores carry. It just shows that the roles have been completely reversed. It used to be a one-way path, where it went from designers to buyers. Now the engagement of consumers matters. When we allow them to be part of the conversation and take their feedback, we get smarter."
Streaming has also helped brands directly with sales. Quy says brands like Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger have started to include shopping buttons on their live streams, allowing viewers to purchase items that are similar to runway pieces straight off their sites: "It's really about adding different elements to create transactions."
Last year, nearly 50 designers live-streamed via IMG. Okupniak says some brands might never come around to streaming because "the higher-end lines have clientele that aren't online, and they are only interested in specifically focusing on their customer base." Edelman, however, believes all brands will eventually stream their shows: "At this point, they'd be missing out. It's turned into a remarkably well-produced luxury experience, and they are losing out on the opportunity to reach audiences across the world."
"It's turned into a remarkably well-produced luxury experience, and they are losing out on the opportunity to reach audiences across the world."
In the mean time, technology is moving past standard streaming. Ralph Lauren just announced it's broadcasting its Collection show live on Periscope next week, while Rebecca Minkoff recently packaged its fall 2015 show into a virtual reality video with Jaunt, a cinematic VR company based in California. The show's finale walk is viewable through a cardboard headset that's used in conjunction with a smartphone and offers a full 360-degree perspective. Scott Broock, Jaunt's vice president of content, says that live-streamed VR isn't yet a possibility, but he believes it's the future.
"I think 16 to 18 months is a fair prediction of when the technology will be capable," he says. "Right now, it's in its very early stages, so it would still be lower-resolution and be subject to dropped frames, but no question, when it's ready to happen, everyone will be doing it."
While live streams are a way to engage fans without hurting in-person attendance (as Cutrone puts it, "There are nuances that the camera just won't be able to capture — there's nothing like seeing it live"), Broock wagers that VR will be how most people engage with NYFW in the years to come.
"If you live in Ohio, for example, and love fashion but it's not readily available to you, you could have the chance to feel what a fashion show feels like," he says. "And you don't just see it: the audio is correct too, the scene moves with your movement so you have an unlimited ability to look up and around you. It gives you true, stereoscopic imagery so you can go places you've never gone before."
For now, live streaming will have to do. With IMG streaming 51 shows (including the ones it acquired from Made Fashion Week) this season — all of which can be accessed via a new, free NYFW app — will you be one of the millions watching?