Wow! All those live social media reports from Fashion Weeks in London, New York, Paris and Milan… It’s like actually being there. If you’re Velma from Scooby Doo, you’ve lost your glasses and you’ve taken Ketamine.
Take a look at the images on this page. All screengrabs from the Twitter feeds of some of the most heavyweight news outlets and fashion magazines in the world: Vogue, The Times, WWD, et al. This is exactly how they were “published” – without, perhaps, the sender even taking a proper look at them, that is. As someone on the Civilian Twitter feed commented when we flagged up the issue: “Are they using a Gerard Richter filter?” If only they were that good. Condé Montrose Nast must be spinning in his grave fast enough to power most of downtown Manhattan.
It’s all several thousand Tweets too far; the blown out, blurred flipside of the digital revolution in fashion. I was at a show the other morning. (I don’t go to many – I don’t write exclusively about fashion, and it’s more efficient for me to go through show videos, detailed photographs and the garments themselves at open days later on). Around a third of the audience spent their whole their time clamouring to shoot stills or a Vine with their smartphones. Now, iPhones and their less conservative siblings are wonderful devices. They can tell you how long it is until the next bus is due, and summon a taxi or a sex date within minutes. Image-capture technology has improved with each generation and app release, but fundamentally they aren’t designed to shoot fast-moving objects under high contrast lighting. If they were, then the photographers at the end of the catwalk would ditch their hefty tripods and start wielding Android handsets rather than £6k-worth of Nikon SLR.
Fashion has embraced digital technology as much as pornography has. Hurrah for that. A fascinated public can watch shows streamed live at home, where once they were for the attention of the insider rather than customer. You can click and order items while they are being debuted (some of Jeremy Scott’s accessories for Moschino had sold out for the autumn 2014 season minutes after the show finished). This is all well and good. Similarly, serious editors and journalists use their phones as visual notepads. And there is undeniably currency in the Tweet of a styling detail from the front line, as it happens. Or indeed a succession of 140 character text reports. But, at the same time, the urge to post anything and everything on social media that is directly linked to a fashion event has become frenzied, hysterical and masturbatory. The invite! The queue! The lighting rig! A chandelier by the lighting rig! And then… the blur of a boot striding past, shot from row two, slightly obscured by a shoulder or Suzy Menkes’s quiff. Much of the urgency stems from publishers insisting that their employees engage as fully as possibly with the brave new world of #digital and #socialmedia. But much of it is little more than a flimsy electronic postcard. “Look where I am!” Much of it is also stems, I firmly believe, from a deep-rooted disinterest in – even boredom with – fashion.
When I was developing the very first brief for Civilian, I decided it would ignore the world of celebrity, but still take the arts of music and fashion seriously, which we do. Fashion is one of the most expressive and difficult mediums to excel in. How many other industries demand that the core product is reinvented twice a year? But fashion also attracts people to its inner circle who are desperate for validation and glamour by association. They go to fashion shows but don’t need to be there. I sat beside a group of twentysomethings at a Y-3 show in the Armoury in New York a few seasons ago, and they spent most of the time cooing over a Chihuahua peeking out of a Birkin. “Oh that’s such a good fashion dog,” said one of them, with the kind of affected drawl and question intonation that made me want to projectile vomit. Then there was their story about a cat called Antwerp. Hold me back…
It’s all part of the infantilism of the culture. People have zero attention spans, and all the good manners of Veruca Salt on a sugar rush
The point is, for the outsider, fashion shows are boring. Too many people go to see and be seen, but aren’t there to study the garments or evaluate the collection and the story being told by a designer and their team. Like navigating a particularly large art gallery in a foreign city, when you aren’t interested in the art but feel like you have to do it because otherwise you aren’t “doing” the city properly, these people reach for their phones as a way to engage and “own” a part of the experience, while distancing themselves from the fact that they don’t really care about it in any significant way. And actually, not caring is fine. Just don’t beg for tickets to the show. Similarly, I believe that a significant percentage of people really don’t like most art. Which is fine. It really is. But still they go to galleries because they are anxious about their own lack of interest, and so they spend all day dicking about with their cameraphones. Me, I love the idea of an evening at the opera – the dressing up, the champagne and the frisson of drama if the audience boos. But I hate opera. So you know what? I don’t go.
When I brought all of this up with one of my editors on a major international title recently, they agreed that there definitely was an issue with a lack of engagement with the show itself. But they also said they felt there was a kind of satisfaction in the result being “content” that hadn’t been “spoon-fed” to them by the designer. It was, they felt, a trade-off for blanket marketing.
Which begs the question: when brands control a label’s image to the nth degree, why are they allowing this to happen?
But isn’t the low-fi, piss poor quality of a smartphone image seriously disrespectful too? If an atelier has spent weeks on a single garment, should its first global exposure be blown out and blurred? Why does the world need a series of shots that look like the girls were on rollerskates, wearing high visibility vests caught in the glare of headlights, when you can look at Chris Moore’s sharp head-on images at Catwalking.com, slide show reviews at Style.com, or full show videos elsewhere?
Should phones, in fact, be banned at shows? There have been times in fashion’s history when only a sole photographer was allowed to record an event. If media won’t record and report on a collection with the respect that it deserves, perhaps that’s the way forward. Which begs the question: when brands control a label’s image to the nth degree, why are they allowing this to happen? It’s no different to watching a new release movie that you’ve downloaded as a torrent, after it was filmed on a camcorder in a cinema somewhere. The screen is tilted, and every so often a head pops along the bottom en route to get another box of popcorn or take a piss. Gravity cost $100mn to make. Maybe you could wait for the Blu-ray? Or at the very least a better quality download? It’s all part of the infantilism of the culture. People have zero attention spans, and all the good manners of Veruca Salt on a sugar rush. We want it all and we want it now, and we want it free from the internet.
Maybe the fashion show format is redundant. It’s become a circus for bloggers and nonentity pop celebrities more than anything. The whole thing has become one glorified, ridiculous, narcissistic, nauseating selfie. C