‘Technology is the enabler’—high fashion meets high access in the digital world of live video streaming

High fashion runway shows have always been exclusive, with their deliberately few tickets distributed carefully to fashion editors, celebrities, and affluent buyers. 

But, like so many other things in life, technological advancements—and the internet, of course—have changed the playing field substantially for high fashion.

This season, things are looking up for the average joe who wants a taste of the opulent world of crocodile skin handbags and cashmere-lined trench coats: numerous high fashion labels are letting technology and the internet cast transparency on the iron-gate fences that once barred the non-elite from passing through.

Gucci, as a starting example, will be allowing anyone to sign up to view their Fall runway shows online. Betsey Johnson will be showing its shows live online, and even giving web watchers a view of the backstage frenzy that goes hand-in-hand with any runway. And Alexander Wang is getting creative—after it live streams its runway shows, it will project videos based on them across Manhattan billboards. Marc Jacobs is yet another label streaming live online. In fact, in just a couple of seasons, web streaming could be a standard feature for shows, not an exceptional bonus.

But it is perhaps the distinctly British brand, Burberry, that’s pushing the boundaries of runway innovation.

Burberry is using a similar technology to Armani Exchange’s, which uses Ottawa’s Overlay TV to allow people to click hotspots on a photograph of a fully outfitted model to see more info on specific items and buy them right off the digital mannequin. The Burberry twist involves inviting thousands of people to a variety of Burberry stores, where they will watch the runway show on huge, high-def televisions—and be able to order merchandise as it comes on-screen via an iPad app.

“Technology is the enabler,” Christopher Bailey, chief creative officer at Burberry, told the New York Times. “This gives them an opportunity to feel that energy and feel the attitude of what you’re working on. I find it incredibly liberating.”

And liberating it is, for both the company and the consumers. Burberry is active on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, engaging consumers and fans—but it still never offers sales or discounts, keeping its crown of luxury in tact. That’s the key balance for these luxury brands: opening up their world to the everyday public, without losing that essence of exclusivity that defines the strength of their brand.