Is digital marketing killing the magic of catwalk fashion shows?

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Martin McNulty of Forward3D.

Earlier this month, Paris Fashion Week brought another season of catwalk fashion shows to a close and, as someone frequently involved in the world of fashion marketing, I couldn’t help but observe how the digital age has altered the very essence of these shows – and not necessarily for the better.

Let's get one thing straight. Fashion and hype have always existed side by side. Be it through exclusivity or celebrity positioning, or even (as demonstrated by Burberry at London Fashion Week) by first mover technology adoption. Nothing has changed. Every brand has looked to be ahead or opposed to cultural trends to help assert itself in a cut throat market.

However, in trying to harness the instantaneous commercial potential of digital and social channels, I believe the world of luxury fashion is starting to make compromises with the boldness of the designs it is sending down runaways. In years gone by, high fashion catwalk shows were genuinely exclusive invitation-only events, where only those on the list were trusted to disseminate news of the latest collections to the world. Pictures of the most outlandish designs would occasionally crop up in the papers to help add to the sense of innovation and mystique surrounding these shows.

Today, the currency of now is 'shoppable runways', 'live streamed shows', ‘consumer-led shows’, ‘snap-chatters' and 'chat-bots', allowing just about anyone to access and review each collection instantly, much of which will be available to buy right away. Where once we had style authoritarians like Grace Coddington to pass judgement on collections, we now have celebrities wielding follower-based influence to feed their own popularity (and income). They aren't style makers, they're self-promoters.

And remember, ‘shoppable straight from the runway’ just means you're looking at old clothes, clothes that wholesale buyers saw months ago (otherwise how would the stock be in stores?). In among all the giddy 'consumer focused' marketing guff there's no discussion as to how clothes actually get made and what 'shows' used to be for (to warm up wholesale buyers to pre-order in advance of production).

Fashion has been through tough times. The boom in luxury years ago has petered out and the once safe havens of growth (Asia) are looking shaky. The (pending) death of print (and with it the old guard of style makers, September issues and mega shoots) has been overtaken by Instagram, Generation Now and teen vloggers.

Instant is tough for fashion, as is 'consumer driven' and that's because good design is meant to transcend the ordinary and inspire in ways you couldn't have predicted and sometimes don't always understand at first glance. Runways were never meant to be easy. They weren’t meant to be instant. They were meant to be fanciful and almost ridiculous. No one would argue against the view that the current fashion cycle is arcane but to suggest that consumers should call the shots at every turn is an equally bleak view of a creative industry.

I think runway shows are imploding right now because brands have lost their nerve. They've forgotten what the show is about and instead court instant popularity over provocation, intrigue and the almost unattainable.

I look forward to the counter movement. What was once in vogue soon is not.

Martin McNulty is chief executive officer of Forward3D.

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