The Genteel
November 20, 2017
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Source: smu.edu.au.

My first press day seemed like a monumental turning point; as though the fashion industry finally considered me to be a "serious" journalist. The memories remain vivid, from the textures and draping of the fabrics to the flavours of the canapés and the brand of the champagne served. It was several days before I could even contemplate dislodging the Cheshire cat grin that was wedged between my cheekbones. 

I've attended various press days throughout my career, accepting them as nothing more than an unchanging and integral part of the fashion industry; a key medium for communicating and networking with various public relation agencies. But the digital age has meant that fashion communication has become a continually changing paradigm. Give the substantial range of content now available on the web, even some of the most respected of publishers have struggled to keep up.

UNIQLO S/S 2011 Press Day.
Source: moduspublicity.com.

Digitalisation has also meant the red tape has been cut on the exclusivity of fashion week. Leading fashion public relations agency KCD announced last season that it would be offering "front row" online access to members of the public for its Digital Fashion Shows. This new technology, along with the widespread use of live streaming, has signalled vast change for the industry.

All of the latest looks and a catalogue of close-up digital shots are now available to view online a matter of minutes after a runway show has ended, leaving journalists with less motivation to leave their desks. In October 2012, Cathy Horyn proved it possible to write her runway review of Saint Laurent's first collection for the New York Times based purely on digital images. If a journalist wants to examine the intricacies of certain beadwork or double-check the fabric that has been used, they just zoom in online.

As such, various digital platforms have attempted to capitalise on the traditional "press day" experience. As Ashley Caputo commented for TMCnet, "POPmarket is a new marketing platform where fashion designers can set up a digital showroom to merchandise and promote their brand." Similarly, when writing for Business Week, Karen A. Frenkel explained how sites such as JOOR, NuORDER and Modalyst are "...new online middlemen […] limited to designers and retailers who want to find sales venues and clothes to carry - and manage ordering."

Behind the scenes at ICB's digital fashion show.
Source: Style.com.

These sites are having inevitable success, most likely due to the popularity of digital technology in the fashion industry and the increasing cost of hosting a collection in an exclusive and stylish showroom. JOOR's founder, Mona Bijoor, told Business Week that, "Buyers have ordered [US]$25 million worth of merchandise since JOOR was launched in 2010, and its revenue was just shy of $250,000 last year." Furthermore, "Because the amount of merchandise sold on [the site] has quadrupled, she [Bijoor] expects [US]$1.2 million in revenue this year. She says the site now has 500 designers and brands, including Diane von Furstenberg, Rachel Roy, and VF Corp., and serves buyers from 10,000 stores." Interestingly, of these three designers, Roy has also chosen to debut her fashion collections via digital media

Many industry professionals claim the conventional press day will not be lost in this surge of new technology. Vincent Quan, a former buyer for Saks Fifth Avenue and Perry Ellis, told Business Week, "The traditional way of doing business via trade shows and showrooms isn't going away soon […] In this business we gotta look, see, and touch." Similarly, Bijoor explained that JOOR is, "not a replacement channel but a complementary channel […] A buyer may interact with a designer on her site and then visit their trade show booth or showroom, or vice versa, and that translates into an online order."

 I wouldn't be surprised if the day were to arrive when the time, effort and cost of digital undermines the value of a press day. This would come at a loss for fashion journalism, though; a point often missed in the glitz and glamour of new innovation.

However, given that these digital platforms are faster, more attainable and reliable methods of presenting and buying collections, I wouldn't be surprised if the day were to arrive when the time, effort and cost of digital undermines the value of a press day. This would come at a loss for fashion journalism, though - a point often missed in the glitz and glamour of innovation.

Digital platforms, no matter how interactive they may be, cannot offer the same buzz and excitement that comes with taking part in a press day. The clothes don't surround the carefully chosen room, creating a heady atmosphere of colour, texture and trends. They don't demand to be touched or spoken about in the same passionate and inspiring way by the designer who has spent months working on the complex and creative collection. It's this dialogue that would be inevitably lost by going purely digital. After all, how can you have that intimate technical conversation - the kind that engages with the skeleton of a collection - without touching it yourself?

At a press day in London last week, I found myself speaking with my colleagues from The Genteel about the tailoring and texture of each design. As we twirled a soft peach blouse between our fingers, we commented that the silk fabric was like a spider's web - far too delicate to wear. We also came across a laser-cut, black rubber poncho that wasn't represented well on the runway, but in person, seemed like a surprisingly perfect solution for the freezing London weather. There is no digital platform available for replicating such sensory experiences.

Of course, in order to keep moving with the times, there must be room made for digitalisation. It is a useful aid when placing large orders or viewing certain items from a collection. However, it should not come at the extinction of face-to-face interaction. If the journalist has not watched the presentation, touched the collection or spoken with the designer, despite the best of intentions, their reporting will be wanting - whether in knowledge, integrity or passion. The result is that fashion journalism will ultimately suffer, with long-term repercussions for the industry.

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