Saturday, 29 September 2012

Social Media Week London: Data-Driven Fashion and the Death of Trends, Part I

On Thursday I attended a brilliant event as part of #SMWLDN (Social Media Week London, to those of you not familiar with the Twitter hashtag), which took fashion industry insiders from the areas of e-commerce, fashion theory and trend forecasting and got them all talking. The subject was, obviously, a contentious one - Data-Driven Fashion and the Death of Trends - and it took us through themes as diverse as Miuccia Prada's views on Twitter, the precise Pantone colour of a product online, and luxe vs. high street.

Social Media Week London: Data Driven Fashion
[To illustrate the subject, here's a photo I took at the Clothes Show - 
taken from the catwalk, which was showing designer clothes to a high street audience].

I found the talk really informative and it was amazing to hear from authority figures who spoke frankly about their businesses, their views on the future and the habits of consumers. Here are some of the highlights of what they discussed.

Tamara Sender, Senior Clothing & Fashion Analyst, Mintel (@MintelNews)
  • "Young people talk with their fingers," said Tamara. "22% of people say they buy more clothes online than instore - a figure that has nearly doubled from 12% in 2010."
  • The main reason that people interact with a brand is to take advantage of special offers
  • Under 25s are the biggest fashion spenders, whilst under 35s are the heaviest Facebook users
  • Although Twitter and Facebook are the main social networks, Google +, Pinterest, Instagram and YouTube are rapidly growing (definitely something I've noticed by working in SEO; Google, being the one to crawl websites, pays a lot of attention to what G+ is saying)
  • In July 2012 it was found that over half of adults had bought new clothes in the past three months - despite the recession, clothing is clearly still in demand
Geoff Watts, founder of Editd (@EDITD; @geoffwatts)
  • The Editd website connects people in fashion, luxury and apparel with the data that they need. Over 900,000 products and 1-2 million tweets are analysed per day
  • Rather than trend forecasting, it's about measuring what's already out there, with data collated and quantified
  • You can look up a product on the website and find out the precise Pantone colour reference for it, then discover what other items have been produced in the same colour for that season (the art geek in me LOVES this)
  • The aim is to "supercharge content marketing" with the data
Social Media Week London: The Death of Trends
My glimpse of Norris' Populist Pouting theory at work at LFW - 
this girl was waiting to be photographed for ages in her meticulously assembled outfit.

Lucy Norris, Founder of Prêt-à-rêver (@PretARever), Fashion Theorist and Trend Forecaster (how much do I want her job?)
  • Prêt-à-rêver, which translates as Ready to Dream, is about the inspiration behind clothes; unlike its contemporaries, the site is not celebrity-based. It launched two years ago and has garnered praise from Grazia and Vogue for its content and approach
  • Norris was full of insightful comments into the industry and wasn't afraid to really dig deep for her analysis. In developing the site, she posed questions such as: "Can an e-commerce site be as discerning as a book? What is the ongoing appeal of the white shirt? Do the cool people in Berlin become no longer cool if they all look the same?"
  • One of Norris' observations from popular culture was Populist Pouting, where even people on Facebook act as though they're celebrities. She rightly suggested that we're living in "the age of narcissism... Everyone wants to be an instant creative. And can you really love every one of those pictures on your Tumblr account?" 
  • Another amazing phrase she coined was Sartorial Confusion Disorder, due to the fast pace of fashion and the six month wait for what's on the catwalk to reach the September issue of magazines. In fact, she branded the September issue as redundant
  •  In the melee of Twitter users at Fashion Week, several designers were hailed as examples of going against the grain, most notably Miuccia Prada but also Donna Karan, Tom Ford and Hedi Slimane. Norris spoke about Prada's anger at people being able to write off six months of working to create a collection with just one tweet, which is a very fair point, but many in the industry balk at her reluctance to move with the times. In my bit of post-event research, I found a WSJ article which pointed out that Prada didn't even have an e-commerce site until 2007, which must have seemed bizarre to clamouring consumers
  • Donna Karan believes that "we are killing our own industry" with the overload of information that is available and she is reluctant to allow press and bloggers at her shows. Tom Ford asked for no photography at his catwalk, whilst Hedi Slimane would only let buyers attend
  • With all of this populism "killing intelligent style", as Norris pointed out, "the shelf-life of the underground is shortening and things become too popular." Because fashion is "fundamentally elitist", this obviously creates a paradox when everyone declares themselves part of the elite
  • One of the quotes that stuck with me from Norris' talk was that of Professor Louise Wilson - "Fashion needs to go out of fashion for a while."
Already I've written tons and this is only the half-way point in my notes, but I promise you it's the condensed version! As you can see, the event was incredibly useful for anyone interested in looking beyond the glossy facade of style and into the business and psychology behind it.

In Part II I will focus on the other panellists and also the round-table discussion taking audience questions.

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