22 March 2011

Grazia's Paula Reed comperes Lauren by Ralph Lauren's virtual fashion show!

I am all for fashion at your fingertips. The easier it is to get a great look on, with no more than a mouse and a mastercard, is a good thing in my book. I am haunted by memories of a rural childhood where the nearest Miss Selfridge was at the end of an unfashionably long 80 mile trek. So when the people at Ralph Lauren announced that they were going to make the Lauren by Ralph Lauren collection available to buy online and asked me to come to NY and compere the virtual fashion show, I was there faster than a double click.

At Grazia, we love it when another designer joins the online party. These days, the latest from Gucci and Burberry can be browsed as easily in Ballygobackwards as Bond St. Rumours that Celine is working on online availability have us in a right old lather. And we are sending regular mental missives to Miuccia pleading for a sign of Prada and Miu Miu on the World Wide Wardrobe. So Ralph Lauren’s debut with the Lauren collection was greeted with an office-wide woo-hoo!

I attended a riveting chat by David Lauren (son of Ralph) at a conference run by International Herald Tribune last year where he talked about the company’s technical innovations such as being able to order and customise your polo shirt by tapping on a display window that was really an interactive something-or-other, WHEN THE STORE WAS CLOSED (that’s the important bit). You could just be passing the Ralph Lauren shop after a lovely dinner out or a trip to the theatre and stock up on Polo classics on your way home. Although the thought occurred to me that what was probably a chic after hours shopping-op on Madison Avenue could easily translate into a drunken pawing at the store window on Bond St after the pubs shut. In some situations we just seem to be beyond help.

And then there was that jaw dropping 3D happening at the London flagship last year when a virtual polo pony team galloped out of the Bond St windows followed by the appearance of a smiling Ralph waving from an upper floor (when in actual fact he was in the New York store at the time). Don’t be fooled by the old school clubby atmosphere of the stores. Behind all the oak panelling and oriental rugs, team Ralph Lauren aspire to be titans of tech.

Another reason for jumping at the opportunity is that I am also intrigued by the possibilities, if they exist at all, of what alternatives there are to the fashion show. The idea of the world’s fashion community abandoning their desks for months every year for an increasingly expensive global trek around the fashion capitals to cram into ever smaller venues to watch fashion shows seems like a very unimaginative use of some highly paid peoples’ working time. But as anachronistic as it seems, there are as yet no real alternatives to the fashion show as a way to present to the buyers and press. I wondered if Ralph Lauren had unlocked the secret of future fashion: a blue screen revolution?

The technology was impressive: models walked on a treadmill in a really small studio against a blue screen background. By the time you get to see it (right here on Thursday!), the tech department will have magicked them into a fabulous fashion show venue. And as the models walk, a panel of fashion editors (including yours truly) will talk through the looks. Rather than wait to communicate through the magazine, we get to talk to you direct from the front row. And you get to shop the look right there. And you can pause, rewind, fast forward or hit the mute button if that’s what you feel like doing.

I love it that you have instant access. I am terrified that we have less time to digest what we see, think it through and actually edit before we deliver it. And I’m not best pleased that we have to do it under the merciless eye of the high definition camera. I have never spent so much time researching cosmetic concealers, skin brighteners, eye bag tighteners and wrinkle fillers in my whole life. But Ralph Lauren is among designers leading the charge, where more are bound to follow, into a world where shopping a collection is as much about entertainment as service and where information and instant access go hand in hand.  

- Paula Reed

Don't forget to check back here on Thursday to watch Lauren by Ralph Lauren's virtual fashion show!

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