Nº 277
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The Digital Season

Text: Kathrin Leist

Translation: Iain Reynolds

 

Their production may sometimes use 3D printing technology, but clothes remain firmly analogue – after all, we still need actual fabrics around us if we don’t want to go out naked onto the streets.

Nonetheless, the digital is increasingly shaping the world around those garments, determining when fashion hits the stores, which styles establish themselves as trends, and who gets invited to the shows – whether in person, online or as avatars, while more and more smartphone users are publishing more and more images from fashion weeks and shows, be they of cruise, preseason, resort or capsule collections.



 

Immediately after a show, the industry assesses which items were posted most frequently. With response cycles like that, who wants to wait six months for the actual collections to be released? If people can express their approval of a piece so instantaneously, many designers thought, surely they should be able to purchase it directly, too – the “see now, buy now” catwalk revolution was born. Medium-sized businesses in particular underestimated what selling without middlemen, multi-brand retailers, and department stores entails, however, and, after three seasons, “see now, buy now” has only proved worthwhile for bigger brands such as Burberry and Ralph Lauren. Labels such as Tom Ford, on the other hand, have gone back to the tried-and-tested cycle, albeit with the addition of two new product lines: watches and underwear.



 

Digital Works of Art

“We have done away with seasons,” says Moncler CEO Remo Ruffini. Instead, the coming months will see Moncler launching new collections, designed in collaboration with the likes of Simone Rocha and Pierpaolo Piccioli, every 30 days. The eight collections were already presented to a selected audience at February’s Milan Fashion Week in 2018. Clad in the latest Moncler Grenoble styles, the models rolled around horizontally in fake snow while a huge screen showed the scene vertically at the same time. A magical reflection? A Spencer Tunick performance? Or a nod to display cases of pinned butterflies? However you look at it, the message is clear: the show that generates the best visual, the image that burns itself into the most minds, wins the day. It’s why Gucci CEO Marco Bizzarri knew he wanted Alessandro Michele as his next creative director as soon as he saw his curiosity cabinet of an apartment. Three years on, with the label’s sales rocketing, Michele presented his guests with a nightmarish vision, sending models down an operating theatre-style runway carrying their own heads tucked under their arms, or in another case with a small dragon with realistic skin. His reward was the highest number of page impressions on the Vogue website (over six million) while, days after the show, Instagram feeds were still full of posts showing guests pairing up to recreate surreal head-in-arm scenes. Today, Gucci is the most commercially successful fashion label in the world, though Prada is striving to get back to the top via investing in the digital. For its Milan show, Miuccia Prada thus delighted her social media users with #pradagifs, animated logos and product icons that they could plaster across pictures in their Instagram stories.

 

 

Avatar Versus Influencer

Since 2017, influencers like pop star Selena Gomez, who gets half a million US dollars for posting a promotional photo of herself on Instagram, have to label such posts as “paid partnership” or “ad”. Does this mark the beginning of the end for the reign of the influencers? Or will Kim Kardashian and Olivia Palermo choose to pay penalties to the Federal Trade Commission instead, because non-labelled subliminal advertising just looks better? Many real-life influencers now seem so fake that they are being usurped by fictitious ones – a dream scenario for labels whose ultimate goal is unlimited creative control. It seems a tastemaker doesn’t have to be real in order to attract a host of fans: 895,000 Instagram users follow Lil Miquela, the world’s most successful avatar influencer. She campaigns against the Dakota pipeline, travels to fashion shows, and finds time to reply to her followers. This season, she was invited to the Prada show, while make-up star Pat McGrath calls Lil her new muse. Avatars are in. Riccardo Tisci designed an exclusive haute couture dress for Miku Hatsune, a blue-haired pop singer who performs as a projection in front of thousands of real Japanese fans. In 2016, Louis Vuitton – Asia’s favourite luxury label – made video game character Lightning the public face of its spring/summer campaign, and she duly charmed audiences with her pink hair and unique bag-carrying style. Lil Miquela herself, incidentally, describes the talk about her true identity as superficial.



 

Data Rules

Many people don’t realise they leave a digital footprint in bricks-and-mortar shops, too, thanks to technology that traces an item’s journey as it is carried around the store. In 2017, fashion group Inditex was able to increase profits by ten per cent, primarily via the use of radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology. Thanks to RFID transmitters, managers can monitor how popular each item of clothing is. If a piece is tried on and returned to the rack too often, it is soon removed from display, or alternatively tried in a different position of the store to see if it then sells better. At the Zara and Massimo Dutti stores, such information has been used to determine whether designs stay or go since 2016, helping the Spanish firm to overtake both Sweden’s Hennes and Mauritz and Japan’s Uniqlo in the process. It’s no surprise then that 2017 saw luxury labels also upping their investment in digitalisation. Prada, for instance, is this year introducing cloud computing and a Microsoft data management platform to enable it to evaluate information from physical stores alongside data from its online shop and social media.

 

 

Virtual Reach

“We don’t go to the presentations any more,” said many of the buyers at the Paris Fashion Week last autumn. Instead, they check out the latest looks on the Vogue Runway website before ordering these or similar styles from the showrooms. Designers, meanwhile, are responding to the increasing importance of generations Y and Z, with 85 per cent of 2017’s growth in the luxury market being driven by these tech-savvy consumers: for her latest collection, Vivienne Westwood made a punky video that calls on consumers to buy less, choose well, make things last, and not get killed, while Martine Jarlgaard had her guests wear Hololens headsets in which her spring/summer 2017 collection could be viewed in hologram form and the pieces examined from all sides. Where a decade or so ago, the virtual was just a way of adding emotionality to a fashion show (Alexander McQueen’s ethereal Kate Moss projection of 2006 remains many correspondents’ favourite fashion moment), today it is a technological tool enabling shows to reach more people in more places and giving them an enhanced view. Via the Zeekit app, Rebecca Minkoff even invited her audience to virtually try on the outfits themselves.

 

Kate Moss Hologram Video from Alexander McQueen Fall/Winter 2006 Fashion Show from FASHIONIDE.COM on Vimeo.

Already during her industrial design studies at the Zurich University of the Arts, Kathrin Leist was more interested in ideas than in forms. This prompted her to get to the bottom of things at the Swiss architecture and design magazine Hochparterre after her studies. After that, Leist lived in New York and worked as a correspondent for different fashion and design magazines as well as for blogs. She currently lives and works in Paris. She last wrote for form in issue 275, where she looked at the crossover between sportswear and everyday fashion.

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Embodiment in Design

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