Mirror, Mirror: Fashion Week on iPad: So close yet so far

Posted: February 21, 2013

I giggled last week when Betsey Johnson led models through a mock workout routine wearing froufrou sportswear - carrying champagne bottles as weights.

The next day, I dreamed of owning my own cap-sleeve sheaths that Badgley Mischka sent down the fall runway.

And the day after that, I was surprised that the collection by the usually light and airy Nanette Lepore was edgy and black.

During New York Fashion Week, I tweeted about clutch bags, blogged on hairstyles, and didn't have to guess whether any of the models were wearing red or pink lipstick.

That's because I snagged one of the best seats I've ever had - right in front of my iPad.

While most newspaper journalists sit near the fifth row at Lincoln Center shows, I ended up watching (and rewatching) the majority of the collections live on the event's website. The shows that weren't live-streamed were eventually posted on designers' Web pages or on Style.com.

As a trend watcher who needs to consume as many shows as possible and deliver the news as quickly as possible, this is an effective way to see collections and translate trends to readers. In fact, if I left it up to Lincoln Center's slow WiFi connection, you probably wouldn't see my Twitter, Facebook, or blog posts until next season's collections came out.

So just as shopping online makes more sense for time-crunched women, watching shows online makes more sense for journalists with deadlines.

Yet the technology that makes reporting more efficient will likely also rob the shows of their intimacy. With all these resources used to telecast the inside activity to people outside the building, less attention is paid to the tactile experience. On a screen, people can't truly study the movement of a train, the crispness of a suit, or the way an iridescent coat sparkles in the light of the runway. So in an effort to broadcast fashion's appeals to the masses, what remains is little more than a series of 15-minute commercials.

In my 10 years as a fashion writer for The Inquirer, I've watched New York Fashion Week morph from a trade event at the Bryant Park tents, where clothes were the focus, to a magnet for celebrities who snarl Sixth Avenue traffic. Still, until recently, its objective seemed clear: Introduce buyers and journalists to collections and have us digest trends.

Then New York Fashion Week moved to Lincoln Center in September 2010. At first, organizers tried to convince us this was the same experience, just at a new, uptown address that was clean, and much harder for fashion devotees to crash the show. Instead, it's more like a rock concert, with corporate-sponsored lounges, overpriced lunch cafes, and $15 cocktails. (No more free wine!)

These days, there are so many people tweeting - from Joe Zee to the kid who took the train from Toledo - that most tweets hang out in a kind of WiFi purgatory until those phones see the light of day again.


Of course I didn't cover all of Fashion Week from 801 Market Street in Philadelphia. Over the weekend, I saw in person (although not up close) nearly a dozen hot shows, including Tracy Reese's rocker-chic collection, Diane von Furstenberg's long-sleeve perfect-for-work dresses, and the splendid gowns of Philadelphia's own Ralph Rucci.

I headed to the Meatpacking District, where Milk Studios hosts collections by emerging designers.

I even attended a reception at the Time Warner Center where J.C. Penney introduced its new designer, Duro Olowu. Although there were lots of fashion insiders there - stylist Robert Verdi, former model Bethann Hardison - organizers looked confused by my request for a press kit. Clearly, they didn't need me to get the word out.

Nonetheless, being at the shows meant being a part of the energy of Fashion Week. I was excited to be there, even as I interviewed designers and compared notes with trend analysts. I was, however, unable to get any writing done.

So Sunday night I headed back to Philadelphia to watch the rest of the week's shows from my office. I didn't have to fight a path to the runways, nor did I have to kick crashers out of my seat. I wasn't forced to talk my way into shows to which I wasn't invited, and most important, I could see models from head to toe - shoe booties, socks, and all.

Score one for my readers. But for the fashion industry at large, I think it's a loss.

Contact fashion writer Elizabeth Wellington at 215-854-2704 or ewellington@phillynews.com. Follow her on Twitter @ewellingtonphl.

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