On Monday night, I joined Sara at the Mandarin Oriental for a fashion panel featuring some of the industry’s influential members. The participants, from left to right as pictured above, included:
Robert Verdi is not amused.
Though the official topic at hand was “the business of fashion,” the meat of the discussion centered around a topic of conversation near and dear to my heart:
How has the internet changed fashion, for better or for worse?
Naturally, the panelists discussed e-commerce. Verdi quickly related a popular phrase, that the internet has allowed for “democracy in fashion,” granting consumers the ability to have a relationship with brands that they didn’t before. As Ms. Agins reminded us, the transition away from an in-store shopping experience began with QVC and HSN, and shopping sites still accomplish a personal, even tactile, shopping experience with 3D merchandise images, videos, customer feedback, and unique features such as try-before-you-buy personal shopping and Skype fittings, both implemented by Norma Kamali’s team.
Brick-and-mortar stores like Bloomingdales recognize the challenge posed by online shopping (particularly flash sale sites like Gilt, who denied taking away market share from full price business and insisted that they often function instead to introduce consumers to new brands) and have to work to keep the “social experience” of shopping special. Overall, everyone agreed that e-commerce is a good thing.
I coveted Norma Kamali’s cat eye shades. Thankfully, Sara found me these $14 lookalikes which I will be purchasing as soon as the 30x30 shopping ban is over.
The panel’s opinion divided when, inevitably, the subject of fashion bloggers was introduced. Most of the panelists did not seem in favor of the blogging community, calling bloggers ”self appointed experts” and lamenting the editorial viewpoint that is supposedly lost with the democracy of the internet. Solomon predicted a “backlash” against the blogging trend and Verdi even poked fun at “haul vloggers,” imitating the 16 year old vlogger Juicystar07. I was disappointed to see the talent, hard work, and results that bloggers have achieved within the fashion industry to be so overlooked by these experts - that is, until Ms. Kamali stepped in. Calling bloggers “emotional experts,” a phrase recalling the individual touch and word of mouth type of influence that many bloggers have found, Norma noted that we tend to follow people we respect in a sort of ”return to tribalism.” Sara and I were surprised and delighted that the oldest member of the panel was the one who vocalized the most respect for new media.
So, in conclusion, the experts can’t come to one about the relationship between the internet and fashion. On one hand, internet equality is good if it means brand exposure to new audiences, but on the other, there’s no longer an exclusivity to the business (my reading between the lines of ”lack of editorial viewpoint.”) With this conversation taking place during Social Media Week and right before the influx of bloggers to formerly-industry-only events like NYFW and the Magic tradeshow, I’m very curious to see what will happen now. And of course, you know what side I’m on.