A few short years ago, I had the distinctive honor to work with someone in the high fashion industry, and as brief as it was it was one of the most interesting experiences I ever had.

I was fortunate to gain insights into the fashion industry, confirming some preconceptions (yes, very insular community and hard to break into, eccentric personalities) while gladly deconstructing others (incredibly creative people, braving all kinds of obstacles to get their true voice out there).

Rudy Wolff´s "Mixed Candy" at Miss Norway 2010

Creative Commons License photo credit: Dmitry Valberg

One thing I didn’t even come to think about at the time (this was like 2004 I think) was that the fashionistas couldn’t be less interested in hawking their wares online. It was a foregone conclusion that high fashion belongs on the runways and in private backroom selling sessions.

However, as trend watchers everywhere have noted ever since, luxury items everywhere have morphed into street level goods, and even the biggest fashion and luxury houses now have products suitable for all customer segments. NU LUXE, they call it.

Business-wise, one only needs to take a look at the earnings development of the LVMH giant; their latest quarterly results showed a 11% rise across ALL categories! No wait, that was the quarter before last, the latest showed profit gains around 53%.

So… something’s up, right?!

Even in these times when the major media claim consumer spending is down and especially luxury spending. And yet, the most expensive gadgets (Apple, anyone?) keep selling like crazy and luxury goods of all kinds keep gaining steam. So the conclusion is, people WANT luxury more than ever, even if the times are supposedly tough (a subject for another post).

Enough background, here’s the trend that’s really catching fire.

Runways With Add To Cart Buttons

One thing I came to understand in my brief stint with the fashion world, was that the high price of high fashion is partly due to the large number of intermediaries involved. There are designers, the cutters, the production, various outlets chains, the PR machine… all filled with high-priced pros, all affecting the final price tag.

Sure, the latest fashion is SUPPOSED to be expensive for a lot of other reasons as well, but the push towards the middle segments and even lower means that some of these middle men need to be cut out.

So… finally… enter e-commerce!

I’ve long been a subscriber to the ZEGNA newsletter (Italian men’s business & casual clothing), originally because I was a fan of their wares, but lately more and more because of the way they portray their particular brand of craftmanship and style through various behind the scenes features and videos. For proof, check out this fine specimen.

Zegna promo video
Zegna Uomo promotional / content video

It’s information marketing 101: go as geeky as possible. Meaning, go deep deep deep into your specialities, show what’s special about it, and in the process convince you’re the best of the best.

Their online funnel could still take some fine-tuning, but at least they’ve got their newsletter, a long-standing e-commerce store and a growing presence. They make a great case study.

GUCCI now has their Gucci Connect, which anyone online can use to connect to a live event of theirs and watch everything as if on the front row seats.

BURBERRY has gone perhaps the farthest by not only providing streaming video access to their runway events, but by making it possible to buy the products WHILE they’re on stage! They even provide an iPad application for doing it (which should make more sense web-wise when the iPad will actually allow multitasking, allowing you to watch AND buy).

So loyal customers watching the runway events in showrooms with iPads in their hands seems to be the pinnacle of fashion vs. the internet today.

Even lesser-known designers are finding a larger audience through affordable web streaming, and the practice is fast becoming more and more acceptable. And sites like FirstComeFashion.com will go out of their way to stream everything new and exciting out there, especially in New York.

So indeed, the fashion industry is changing fast from the once insulated, exclusive and snobbish industry to a community where designers, retailers and customers mingle freely. All good for business, I’m certain.

The Challenges Remaining

Obviously, not everything changes so rapidly. There are still rivalries within the industry and that’s part of the appeal, actually. Much like Mercedes Benz owners berate the BMW or Audi fans, designers have their own street level troops to rely on.

Business wise, this translates to difficulty in generating even more profits through joint ventures. Without co-operation though, even strong brands will have difficulty thriving in the long run.

Therefore, the irony is that while the middle-men are being cut through web technology, an entire new class of intermediaries is being born to facilitate this whole change.

At least it all makes for entertaining viewing, I must say!

So go ahead, fire up the iPad and add  some fine rags to the cart!

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