By Mao Jiayu
The live catwalk runway show has become as much a part of a new season's fashions, as the clothes themselves. So it was with some surprise that style fans greeted Gareth Pugh's latest collection at Paris Fashion Week this September. Instead of real models, and real dresses, the 29-year-old Englishman treated the waiting media and guests to an 11-minute video of his 2011 Spring/Summer collection, with American supermodel Kristen McMenamy among the participants.
The film projected onto a huge screen featured geometrical patterns composed of several images wearing Pugh's distinctive clothing; while the final scene featured a close-up of McMenamy's striking, androgynous features.
The film was directed by Ruth Hogben who works at a fashion website called SHOWstudio, started by one of the world's most influential fashion image makers, Nick Knight. Knight and Hogben have also worked with Lady Gaga for video projects con-nected to her Monster Ball Tour.
And while the video was praised in some quarters, it has also come in for criticism.
"It's like moving from the theater to the cinema," said Nick Knight, by way of self-justifiction.
New York Times fashion critic Suzy Menkes, however, wasn't buying it, commenting that "the feeling persists that backing off from a runway show is a cop-out or a sign of weakness."
Industry insiders have expressed concerns that it is almost impossible to get a real sense of an item of clothing from a video. Shanghai-based fashion critic Shen Yang told the Global Times: "Video fashion shows are just a trend, like online shopping. But while it may get close, it can never really surpass a live fashion show, in much the same way as doing exercises at the gym can never replace exercising outdoors."
"If it's just a video show, buyers or customers might be disappointed without being shown the exact details," said Leo Yang, a senior media and event consultant. "This may work overseas, but I'm not so sure about China." PR executive Yang Jun pointed out that fashion advertising in Western countries is a lot more egalitarian, with luxury labels promoting themselves just about anywhere on the High Street, including on bus stop billboards.
"This is something you would never see in China," Yang told the Global Times. "Advertising is very strictly positioned in terms of social scale. The Chinese expect luxury to be elitist, and therefore not easily accessible. And if you get invited to a fashion show, for example, you will feel that sense of exclusivity. If a fashion collection is only available on a video, which anyone can see, then where is the exclusivity in that?"
For Gareth Pugh, however, the reason for producing such a video has little to do with the democratization of fashion. "It's just that with a show, a lot rides on that very small amount of time and the whole thing comes down to image. If a model trips or has a problem with shoes, that is the thing that endures. It is liberating for a designer not to have to worry about a show. You can get the models to be even more expressive and do it all in a more concise way," he said
Vivian Yu, marketing manager of Eve NY, a Shanghai-based fashion brand, sees video as a way to reach out to a bigger audience, while saving time, money and energy. "Normally we have to limit guests attending a show to between 300 and 400 people. But if it's an online video, that could potentially turn into millions of viewers. And the most important thing is that we don't need to take care of those guests!" she said.
Yu points to the emergence, around three years ago, of e-pr, a Chinese company organizing online public relations for clients, by means of directing online forum and Twitter chat towards certain brands.