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A Front-Row Seat via Video

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/22/business/via-video-a-front-row-seat-to-a-fashion-show.html?pagewanted=1&ref=technology

By STEPHANIE CLIFFORD

Published: February 21, 2013

As the Belstaff runway show began in New York City last week, buyers, designers and bloggers crowded into their seats, jotted notes and took smartphone photos as the models strutted by.

But it was another crowd, outside the tents, that Belstaff executives were particularly interested in this season. For the second time, it was live streaming its fashion show. And the Web viewers were not just potential fans, they were data sources to help Belstaff predict which of the runway items might be hits in stores this summer.

“If you can have a bit of information that helps you beat the market and pick more winners,” said Damian Mould, Belstaff’s chief marketing officer, “you’d be stupid not to take it.”

Fashion Week, which wrapped up last week in New York and moved on to London and to Milan this week, used to be an insular industry event. Buyers and editors attended and made calls as to what their customers would want months from now.

But that has changed. Fashion houses in recent years started to sidestep the middleman by giving the public a front-row seat via webcam video. While that was more of a marketing tool at first, live streaming — and other ways to give consumers digital access to runway fashion — is now being seen as a research opportunity.

As more brands offer live videos of the shows, regular viewers see exactly what the buyers and editors are seeing, and influence what will be made by pausing on an outfit or posting Twitter messages about a particular style.

On retail fashion Web sites like Lyst and Moda Operandi, designers are allowed to track consumers’ early orders to gauge demand before they make clothes. And a handful of brands, like Burberry, are allowing regular customers to order runway clothes as the shows are live streamed.

Increasingly, the public is weighing in on fashion — and designers are listening. “It’s creating a commercial opportunity around an event that was previously an industry event,” said Aslaug Magnusdottir, the chief executive of Moda Operandi.

Mass-market apparel has long embraced the Web, but high fashion brands were wary of even having e-commerce sites a few years ago, fearing that would cheapen their brands. Now, the embrace of the Twitter-using public is causing some tension in the high-fashion world, where buyers’ tastes used to reign supreme.

“Of course the buyer knows their customer,” said Mortimer Singer, chief executive of the retail consulting firm Marvin Traub Associates, “but I think it’s hard to ignore when someone turns around to you and says, by the way, we got 50 preorders of this style.”

Live streams are an important way of measuring customer interest. They became popular a few years ago and are now regularly syndicated on fashion blogs and style sites.

“It’s not only what consumers are watching, but the devices they’re on, the geographies that they’re in, the engagement — what part of the video stream was of most interest, where did they abandon the video,” said Jay Fulcher, chief executive of Ooyala, which makes a video player that streamed Fashion Week shows, including those for DKNY, Marc Jacobs, Oscar de la Renta, Belstaff and Tory Burch.

According to B Productions, which produced the video for those shows, viewership has grown by about 20 to 40% every year for brands that have been streaming for a few years, and the data is becoming more precise.

“It’s not just that they stopped watching five minutes in,” said Russell Quy, president of BLive by B Productions, “but we’re able to attach that to an actual outfit.”

Belstaff,

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