The tech takeover of runway season – PR stunt or paradigm shift?

Oct 10, 2016

The digital takeover of the Spring/Summer 2017 runway season has renegotiated the parameters of Fashion Week. GDR Innovation Researcher Sophia Platts-Palmer discusses the chatbots, see-now buy-now strategies, wearables, millennial FROWS (front row’s) and an abundance of high-tech acronyms such as VR, AI, AR that we’ve seen gracing both the catwalks and the headlines.

Fashion Week is no longer a trade-only event, shrouded in mystery and glamour. The rise of the blogger, smartphones, social media and the capabilities of app-based, e-commerce strategies are altering how we consume high fashion.

Digitally-savvy consumers now expect instant – and increasingly candid – access to brands and products. This has been dubbed “Insta-gratification”. For the first time, luxury designers are using the runway as an opportunity to meet consumer demand in real-time and trial new technologies, which has sparked a crucial discourse on the future of fashion media.

One of the major innovations to take over the runway this season was the see-now buy-now phenomenon. This unique commerce strategy has dominated this runway season and given a new understanding to the retail potential of Fashion Week. Brands including Burberry, Tommy Hilfiger, Topshop and Tom Ford have all adopted see-now buy-now, enabling consumers to purchase items from the collection as soon as they hit the runway, via their smartphones. This technique provides a sharp contrast to the industry’s traditional six-month retail-to-runway wait time and points to a fashion landscape no longer bound by traditional ‘seasons’.


Tommy Hilfiger's chatbot, which links to their Gigi Hadid collection

Tommy Hilfiger’s chatbot, which links to their Gigi Hadid collection

Chatbots have found their way into runway season in order to direct sales. Both Burberry and Tommy Hilfiger have exploited the technique. Hilfiger has collaborated with the tech company to launch their TMY.GRL bot to engage with customers via Facebook Messenger. Puneet Mehta (CEO of in conversation with The Guardian said of the trend: “The consumer and brand relationship is on the cusp of the most significant change since the smartphone. Messaging is becoming the new browser and the gateway to consumer lives, with artificial intelligence bots being the new user interface.”

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Snapchat and Instagram Stories have gone head-to-head with both platforms bringing the collections to life and to a larger audience than ever before.

Intel's wearable technology

Intel’s wearable technology

Virtual and augmented reality has also featured this season. Models and audiences have donned VR headsets in a quest for total experiential immersion. Tech giant Intel has been named a patron of the British Fashion Council and has partnered with Voke’s GearVR app and numerous designers in NYFW to bring a new digital reality to the runway. If fashion wants to remain a leading authority on the global stage it seems more crucial than ever for industry leaders to unite with technology.

Chanel's bots walk the runway

Chanel’s bots walk the runway

As runway season draws to a close this week in Paris, the discussion surrounding the tech takeover of the industry has reached a contentious climax. A heated debate about who really rules the roost in today’s digitally-connected, fast-paced world of fashion has begun. The question posed is whether ultimate authority still sits with media stalwarts such as Vogue or has power shifted to the autonomous bloggers and tech-savvy millennials who are poised with their fingers on the button, ready to snap, share and disrupt in exchange for likes.

A traditional business model is being disrupted; social media and technology is democratising high fashion. Vogue has spoken out against the notion of ‘paid to wear’ tactics popularised by the street style bloggers to whom brands gift garments in exchange for exposure, by claiming this trend “heralds the death of style”. The bloggers have of course hit back by challenging Vogue’s traditional method of authority in exchange for their self-branded, self-made authenticity.

Finally we are seeing the disruption of the usually impenetrable fashion industry by technology. In my opinion it’s been a long time coming and I am looking forward to sitting back and watching the show.

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