Can live-streaming replace a front row seat?

A model in the Romance was Born show/magical world.

A model in the Romance was Born show/magical world. Photo: Getty

There are few things more glamorous than getting the front-row view of the runway. Especially while clad in polar fleece with a bowl of Blue Ribbon heaped with Milo for company. That was my Monday night anyway, when I tuned in to watch Romance Was Born’s show at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia via livestreaming in the comfort of my bed. This is the first year has worked with MBFWA organisers to offer insider access to anyone with an internet connection. The livestreaming (or hate-streaming, however you like to put it) of shows is already popular overseas, yet can it ever really replace a front-row seat?

Switching onto full-screen mode, I watched models waltz around a magic crystal garden in extreme feathered flares and elaborate puffy sleeves, and it was quite the spectacle. You got a sense of the psychedelic clothes in motion and could make out many a familiar bob of hair in the crowd, yet there was something fundamentally lacking in the whole low-res experience. And no, I’m not talking about that smug sense of superiority one gets from sitting among the scene kids in Row A.

When you watch a fashion show online, your eyes follow the camera – panning in and out, never fixated too long on one look. This differs to the real-life experience where, if you like something, you’ll follow it, observing how it twist and turns and noting its every detail, waiting for it to emerge in the final line-up. As any professional shutterbug would say, your eye is the best lens you’ll ever work with. The digital experience, like reading Shakespeare off a computer screen or watching YouTube “highlights” of a Springsteen concert, just doesn’t leave that same lasting impression.

As fashion critic Suzy Menkes observed after attending New York Fashion Week on her iPad (and anyone who has bought anything on ASOS can vouch for what she has to say),


“I still felt uneasy about the difficulty of analysing fabrics, recognising true colours and allowing my own eyes to follow the pieces that interested me.”

Though we’re not particularly sympathetic to clothes-critic angst, her concerns have flow-on effects to the consumer. Ultimately, the practical purpose of fashion week is to debut collections to editors and buyers so they can place their orders for the upcoming season. When they are unable to fully appreciate the tone and textures of a garment and how it functions on the human body, our wardrobes (whether we shop at Prabal, Proenza or Portmans) are ultimately worse off.

As Lexi Nisita writes, “This is one area where this first rung of exclusivity holds real, if eventual, value for the everyday consumer.”

Livestreaming is also changing the very nature of fashion shows. The New York Times’ Cathy Horyn fears that they will morph into an organism of new technology, saying “[F]ashion was (once) theatre and in the future will be confined almost entirely to the Web – Oscar de la Renta via Netflix, an instantaneous, seasonless, highly controlled experience.”

The criteria for staging and casting models will change too, with some international designers already beginning to audition models for video.

The production and sales side of things has also been affected, with designers using livestreaming to link to e-commerce sites and social media. Websites like Moda Operandi are streaming shows and allowing viewers to buy items straight off the runways, making the role of the fashion critic increasingly obsolete. When once upon a time critics were there to decipher trends and lend a discerning eye to what we purchase, we’re now cutting out the middleman.

The rise of the video could also make high fashion more consumer-driven, encouraging designers to play it safe to guarantee fast sales and churn out more and more collections, thereby speeding up the buying cycle. Fashion has become more democratic in the past decade and we appreciate the industry’s effort to open up what was once a tightly closed event, but perhaps we (and our wardrobes) would be better served if they didn’t.


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