With fashion weeks set to be digitised, tech companies offering video streaming are working to become the platform of choice. Fashion’s trade bodies from the British Fashion Council to the Council of Fashion Designers of America have begun establishing websites for fashion week content, but there is not a single, dominant platform to host videos.
That sets up Facebook’s Instagram and Google’s YouTube as the incumbent video platforms for fashion, but Amazon’s Twitch could also seize the opportunity to become the digital version of the Carrousel du Louvre in Paris. All three are working with the British Fashion Council on its digital platform, which debuts today but adoption may take time: Chanel launched a digital cruise collection yesterday, a seven-minute film on its website and Instagram. (It had been viewed over 200,000 times yesterday.)
“There isn’t one standout player today,” says Melissa Jackson-Parsey, chief strategy officer of creative agency B-Reel, which works with Fenty, Nike and H&M on video-streaming. “While platforms like Instagram, YouTube or Twitch make the rules, they also enable people to participate in new ways.”
Using an established platform gives access to a wider audience and built-in tech, which far outweigh videos posted on brands’ own websites. Early iterations of digital fashion shows, for example, like Shanghai Fashion Week and activewear Betabrand’s at-home fashion show, demonstrated that audience interactivity and the ability to link out to purchase are both potentially important elements in live digital shows. Shanghai Fashion Week, for example, drew more than 11 million viewers and sold $2.8 million in merchandise during the live streams; Gabby Hirata, DVF’s head of business development for Asia-Pacific, said interactivity was the most useful component.
Choosing a platform will depend on how a brand wants to connect with the audience, says Stink Studios director of brand Alex Sturtevant; the global creative studio has worked on augmented reality experiences for Browns Fashion and Selfridges. “Want a built-in audience? Instagram Live. Looking for interactivity? Twitch. A more polished multi-camera approach? YouTube. It’s similar to choosing a venue for a traditional show — the Grand Palais or Hôtel National des Invalides? It just depends on what the creative vision is.”
Instagram added video in June seven years ago. Two months later, during fashion month, the platform announced it had reached 150 million monthly active users; it now has one billion. The pandemic has served to make its live videos a habit; during one week in March, Instagram reported a 70 per cent increase in Instagram Live views.
VP of fashion partnerships Eva Chen hopes to keep Instagram at the forefront of fashion’s ongoing digitisation, a large advertiser on the platform. Last month, Chen issued a 2020 fashion week playbook to help fashion brands including a “countdown” sticker used in place of an invitation, comment moderation tips, ways to mimic “street style”, reimagined backstage content through interviews, and a donation sticker in place of a gift bag.
Instagram’s fashion week playbook includes tips for IGTV, augmented reality and tagging shoppable products in a brand’s Feed and Stories.
Instagram’s advantage is a loyal following. But viewing content on phone screens can be limiting, Stink Studios’s Sturtevant says. “Brands that will be less successful are those that try to wedge an old-school approach into a 5.8-inch screen.” Jackson-Parsey says that even with a built-in audience, luxury brands might still seek out a service that is less “rigid” and allows more bespoke in-person events.
To that end, Instagram made it possible for users to watch live videos on desktop in April. Going forward, shopping features, such as tagging images and videos with shoppable items, and augmented reality effects are planned. Brand strategist Nimi Raja says that the platform that can offer the best 3D effects will win. “It’s not just see-now, buy-now. It will be see-now, try-now. The virtual world should give rise to being able to try on a piece with an avatar right after the event”.
In May, Prada introduced a virtual reality project that allowed users to visit stores globally or see how its men’s shoes and popular Cahier bags are made. Gucci introduced a 360-degree tour of its art exhibit “No Space, Just A Place. Eterotopia”. Designed to be viewed using VR headsets, they can also be seen on the YouTube mobile app or site.
YouTube has 2 billion users, and until Derek Blasberg joined in 2018 as head of fashion and beauty, it had been viewed by fashion brands primarily as a library of archival content. Since then, he has worked with Louis Vuitton, Marc Jacobs and Naomi Campbell to create short-form films, often personality-rich. In September, YouTube launched its first fashion section called “Slash Fashion”.
Blasberg wants it to be the home of digital fashion week and says that the majority of fashion show viewership happens in the months after the show takes place (February saw 40 fashion show live streams). This is a clear advantage for YouTube as a base for on-demand fashion videos, as brands can categorise content, users can search for specific videos and videos are best viewed horizontally, making them more appropriate for a large screen.
YouTube allows viewer comments during live streams and lets brands insert “cards” on top of videos at specific times to link to other content, like an external product page. A few brands have started to “dip their toes into AR and VR”, he says. But Barber, of Forrester, says that despite interactive features, it can still be hard for brands to customise the experience. “The look and feel on YouTube is relatively the same regardless of who is broadcasting”.
Amazon hasn’t historically been a fashion video destination, and it doesn’t have a high-profile ambassador in the vein of Chen or Blasberg. That might be changing: in September, Amazon Prime aired a pre-recorded Savage x Fenty show in collaboration with Amazon Fashion, which sells the collection. In March, it premiered Making the Cut; a fashion designer reality show that lets viewers buy the pieces. “I can see a future where the social platforms are battling with the broadcast channels to air shows; Amazon could be in pole position alongside its new foray into fashion,” says Raja, referring to its recent partnerships with the Council of the Fashion Designers of America and the British Fashion Council.
The Savage X Fenty show was pre-recorded and is viewable only on Amazon Prime, and includes a link to let viewers shop items from the show.
© Craig Barritt Getty Images
And for interactivity, it has Twitch, a video-streaming platform that started with gamers and now has 17.5 million daily users. Twitch is known for live chats that let viewers influence the live content; often, a host narrates the action in a dual screen. Fashion is testing it increasingly; Prada recently created the video game Prada Journey, Burberry created its own game, B Bounce, and Louis Vuitton partnered with League of Legends.
Twitch has expanded to other categories, like live music and interactive TV shows. “Given the recent growth of art and beauty on Twitch, and the strong cross-section of our user base with fashion culture, it’s not hard to imagine tuning in to Twitch one day to see a live-streamed fashion show,” says Erin Wayne, director of community and creator marketing at Twitch. These events could ultimately become “a fully interactive experience with real-time feedback”, she says, in which the audience could decide the music playing or vote for the next look.
Twitch has a weekly scripted TV show in which the viewer chat influences the script in real time.
Still, Amazon’s appeal to fashion is an uphill battle. Alison Bringé, CMO of marketing platform Launchmetrics, has been in discussions with the organisations planning virtual fashion weeks across various markets. She is doubtful European brands would take to Twitch.
“Europe is less of a gaming culture, and Eva and Derek have brought that personal approach to federations in Europe,” she says. (The video games market grew by 8 per cent in the Europe, Middle East and Africa region last year, reaching €30 billion, and in Western Europe, nearly 55 per cent of the internet population aged 13 to 54 identify as gamers.)
“It’s a big debate in the industry — who are fashion shows for?”, says Rachna Shah, managing director of PR and digital at production agency KCD, adding that it’s too early to predict any winners. “Ultimately, I don’t feel it’s about a one platform play. It hasn’t been that for so long, so why would it now? [Brands] had a very quick timetable to turn something around, and everyone will be learning from each other. It’s not about a right or a wrong. People have to try things and take chances to find success”.
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