– Miles, Adrian. “Network Literacy: The New Path to Knowledge.” Screen Education Autumn.45 (2007): 24–30.
Advances in technology have dramatically altered the way in which the fashion industry, in particular fashion media, operate. With fashion shows now live streamed via Snapchat and broadcast via Instagram, fashion has never moved faster. What technology has altered, however, extends beyond the accessibility of what we would consider timely content. Technology, particularly the blogosphere and social media, has altered what I’ll refer to as fashion lineage. Traditionally, a trend would be set by a designer’s RTW collection. A celebrity would be papped sporting said trend, perhaps direct from the runway. A media outlet, traditionally a magazine, would then advertise said trend, again staying fairly true to the original runway head-to-toe styling. Consumers would then go out and purchase the look, share it, and continue the cycle.
Perhaps Meryl Streep best articulates this concept of fashion lineage in The Devil Wears Prada (2006, David Frankel). Streep’s character, Miranda Priestly, explains the way in which seemingly unconscious fashion choices are in fact consciously dictated and forecast by the fashion media. A designer chooses a colour, that colour becomes a trend, that trend finds its way into the magazines and then trickles down the food chain from boutiques to department stores and down to a bargain bin.
Due to the immediacy of fashion today (thanks, technology), the lineage of fashion has changed. Take Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Australia. Designer Michael Lo Sordo completes his SS14/15 Ready To Wear collection in time for fashion week in April (designers always work a season ahead). Before the show, social media personality Shannon Thomas is loaned an outfit from the yet to be seen Michael Lo Sordo collection from the agency who look after his PR. Thomas is then snapped by street style photographers and social media junkies on her way to the show. Images of her wearing Lo Sordo SS15 circulate the internet before the collection has even hit the runway- the buzz surrounding the collection has already been created. The show takes place, and bloggers sit front row sharing their favourite looks on instagram. Boutique buyers then assess which outfits have generated the most press. Roughly a week later, buyers decide on which pieces they’d like to stock. They then build more hype around these pieces via social media by creating a pre-order list (that is, consumers can pre pay for an item before it drops in store to guarantee first in delivery). As the drop date approaches, boutiques enlist bloggers, like Thomas, to style pieces from their stores across a number of brands. We then see Thomas sporting the same powder blue coat she was snapped in at fashion week, this time styled completely differently and thus giving the consumer a new way to wear it. The collection drops in store, and if pre order was a success, chances are it will sell out before the season has even begun.
Perhaps lineage isn’t even the right word anymore. I’m reminded of Ted Nelson’s theories relating to non-linear text systems– today, the fashion world is a bit of a Choose Your Own Adventure story. Is it the designers or the media who set the trends? Fashion blogger and star of the Style Network’s ‘Fashion Bloggers’ TV show Sara Donaldson, of Harper and Harley fame, says that “Our [fashion bloggers] job is to know the trends that are coming, know them before everyone else does, but just simplify it. Make it [trends] wearable for every day”.
While it can be argued that bloggers broaden the appeal of fashion due to the plethora of fashion blogs catering to a variety of individual styles and sub cultures, Vogue Italia editor Franca Sozzani maintains that personal style blogging is purely egotistical, as opposed to an opportunity to bring fashion to the masses. “They don’t offer an opinion but only talk about themselves… they are so worried about what to wear to get noticed,” states Sozzani. High-fashion magazines, despite being considered and viewed as catering specifically to upper-class, promote individual fashion choices by presenting their readers with looks that are not ready-to-wear therefore encouraging us to create our own interpretation of a trend. As their name suggests, street style blogs present outfits that are street appropriate, allowing the reader to create a carbon copy look for themselves. Bloggers provide content that illustrates the by-products of trends that emerge on the catwalk. Journalists and editors, however, report the observed (as opposed to the absorbed, which are the bloggers), and propose a means of influencing society in terms of consumerism and self-expression. With that said, one can see the chain of how information is provided (designers), assessed (journalists and editors), disseminated (journalists and editors), and absorbed (bloggers and consumers). By viewing bloggers as fashion informatives, this flow of information is disrupted, especially since bloggers are now disseminating information to followers, when in fact both groups function as consumers.
Let’s take a step back and examine just how technology has specifically impacted the fashion journalism landscape. The development of online fashion writing (note the use of the term ‘writing’ as opposed to ‘journalism’, ‘critique’ or ‘analysis’) is certainly more immediate than print fashion media. As Australia is situated in the Southern Hemisphere, we are two seasons behind the European and United States fashion market. As major fashion magazine production begins roughly four months before the issue goes to print and is physically distributed, using Vogue as an example, if we were to rely purely on print media we would be subjected to a seasonal wait before global trends could trickle into the Australian market. Based purely on the benefits of immediacy, digital technology has drastically affected the way in which the Southern Hemisphere’s fashion industry operates. As individuals now have the ability to view global trends the second they hit the runway via live streaming and micro social media sites such as Twitter and Instagram, fashion commentators in Australia are able to publish a trend piece online within the same timeframe as international publications. This has created a higher national demand for ‘fast-fashion’; trend driven garments that are produced quickly and cheaply, usually outsourced, as well as an increase in overseas sales to Australia over the web.
The accessibility of quality digital content has also had a profound impact on the way in which the advertising landscape works. Large corporations including L’Oréal Paris and ANZ Bank are hiring journalists to tell their own stories to customers without necessarily promoting a product or a corporate message. It’s common in markets such as the US and locally. Traditionally, a company like L’Oréal would use PR to contact a media outlet, say Vogue magazine for example, who would then create their own content for distribution. Technology has altered that traditional communications channel, taking out the middle man and allowing them to distribute the content they design. For the first time, companies can self-distribute content cost-effectively via digital and social networks and without having to go through the filter of another media outlet. The result is “a new type of media“. Other companies call it journalism.
L’Oreal Paris employs a team of about 20 journalists globally, myself included, as part of a global strategy launched six months ago to engage with consumers through “relevant editorial”. The journalists were hired through content agencies such as Webedia in France, but are employed by L’Oreal and work from their offices. “We were one of the first companies to roll it out,” L’Oréal corporate communications manager Natalie Perkov says. “It’s about better engaging consumers with the topics in hair and beauty that they want to learn more about … but without pushing product. We’ve identified customers want more relevant content (about) what’s on trend. The content is hair and beauty, styles from the runway, red carpet looks. These trends are talked about from the authority of L’Oréal.”
A closer look at L’Oréal Paris Australia’s digital advertorial content brings us back, once again, to Ted Nelson’s idea of “non linear text systems“. Take this article on the best dressed celebrities at the Caulfield Cup. If we look at the aforementioned “lineage of fashion“. We can examine beauty writing in the same stream as fashion writing, given that they are both image based industries relying heavily on global trend forecasting. This article appears on a website which functions, primarily, to promote L’Oréal Paris products. This takes on the front of a fashion article, however, yet it touches on elements of these stars hair and makeup styles with direct links to beauty tutorials that explicitly push L’Oréal Paris products. This leads me to questions the lineage in the way I, as a writer, work. Am I looking for pre-existing fashion and beauty trends when I look at these celebrities? Am I looking to trend forecast for the upcoming season? Or am I consciously making links between the products I am employed to push and the beauty looks these celebrities are sporting?
Trend forecasting is a bit like the chicken or the egg- who spotted the trend first?