should there be a no-phone rule at fashion shows?
We’ve just seen another month of fashion week come to a close with the main capitals staging hundreds of shows to present what we’ll be wearing in six months’ time. Now cities around the world from Tokyo to Copenhagen and Sydney are slowly moving to the forefront of the fashion scene and shining a spotlight on some amazing up-and-coming designers attracting interest of the media from all corners of the globe. But this globalisation of fashion wouldn’t have been possible with the use of smartphones that are documenting every second of what is happening at shows from the celebs sitting front row to the small details on the runway and the models dressing backstage.
Sharing images on social media by the lucky showgoers has been a way for high end fashion to become more accessible to the public, especially since influencers and bloggers have infiltrated the exclusive bubble of fashion journalists in the last 15 years as a post on Instagram has gained more value than a newspaper review. But while smartphones have contributed to the democratisation of fashion which becomes instantly available to people living all around the world, shows have become a sea of screens where attendees prefer snapping every single look, writing a tweet and posting on Instagram rather than experiencing the moment in real life. This raises the question as to whether phones should be completely banned from shows to preserve the exclusivity and make guests look at the clothes through their own eyes instead of a screen.
There’s no doubt that social media has become a great marketing tool for brands who can communicate directly to their consumers and receive instant feedback. During fashion week, the most anticipated event of the industry, every single move and viral moment is directly related by the people experiencing it first hand to a wider audience connected online and following the show live. An item that you see on the catwalk through your phone might be available to shop the day after according to the ‘see now, buy now’ model that brands such as Burberry have adopted. This is all part of a culture of immediacy that we are now used to and that is possible for everyone to have access to even living in different time zones and continents.
Most of the time, however, the collections that we’ve just seen during fashion week will only become available in stores six months later. This creates a frustration from customers who want to be the first wearing the new It-item in the streets as well as a confusion between what is shown on the runway versus the season that we’re entering and that is sold at the same time. Only 20 years ago, collections would only be presented to a bunch of happy fews that would need to keep the secret before publishing images when the clothes hit the stores. Now you have fast fashion brands that scrutinise the runway and churn out a similar version immediately for a lower price. So if fashion has opened up and become less privileged, it has also lost part of its magic and its ability to create dreams.
Attending shows also means immersing yourself in a designer’s universe and absorbing what a whole team have worked half a year on from the soundtrack to the set design. Living this show through a smartphone distances people from the whole experience when they’re too busy sharing images and collecting likes. This detachment and multitasking is a recurrent feature of our society which also entails that we don’t pay enough attention to what is actually happening and forget living the moment. It’s quite common now to barely hear any applause at the end of the show because guests have their hands taken by their phone filming the finale.
If fashion has opened up and become less privileged, it has also lost part of its magic and its ability to create dreams.
These phone habits and desire of immediacy were taken one step further when in 2014, Cara Delevingne came out on the catwalk a phone in her hand filming herself and the front row to her millions of followers. And of course spectators were recording it too. The same season, London-based brand Fyodor Golan presented a skirt made of 80 Nokia smartphones streaming live the front row to create an interactive catwalk where people could see themselves on the little screens. This might have been a fun way to turn the camera the other way round but it definitely translated our obsession with technology and staying continuously connected.
On the other hand, some designers decided to go against the stream and impose a no-phone rule at their show. For SS17 in New York, Sandra Gagalo banned them from her SAGA NYC show to let people experience her immersive presentation-cum-performance without being distracted from a flash or emoji use for 17 minutes. Recently this year, Rihanna also forbid attendees to film her Savage X Fenty show as it was streamed exclusively on Amazon prime a few weeks later creating a buzz.
So if banning phones would bring back more exclusivity and excitement at high end shows and make A-listers reconnect with the experience, it would at the same time exclude millions of people from knowing what’s happening immediately. Social media has given more power to the wider audience and helped in democratising fashion but it has to be used with moderation so it doesn’t become a tool for brands to sell more and make us prisoners of our this virtual world.