Fashion’s New Order at Audi Fashion Festival 2009

Been meaning to write this for quite some time, it’s just i haven’t had the time. So this comes pretty belated since it’s been more than a week since Audi Fashion Festival 2009 kicked up a storm. It’s also incredibly long… but here goes anyway:


Way back when the Internet hadn’t taken over our lives, the role of fashion shows was straightforward: to present a collection to fashion buyers and fashion editors, hopefully, with enough success for clothes to fit magazine pages and fly off store racks.

Cut to the present. Do the same rules apply? Let’s be practical about things: fashion shows are exorbitant. For a show that usually doesn’t last more than twenty minutes, thousands are spent on staging, lighting, decor, models, venue rental, logistics – and oh, hey, let’s not forget the time, effort and material to put the collection together. All this is effectively six months of work into twenty minutes of show time. Bravo. But was that necessary?

These days, Youtube, blogs, Facebook – the Internet, basically – they’re all at our fingertips. They present ready and accessible  channels to broadcast fashion shows in a way that is far more cost-effective. Not to mention, space isn’t a constraint. There are no headaches thinking who to place in front row (or not), or if you’ve maxed out your capacity. 

Besides a few notable exceptions (Viktor & Rolf, Gareth Pugh, Alexander McQueen) why are fashion brands so slow on the uptake of cost-cutting technology? 

The answer, as Cathy Horyn of the NYT points out is that fashion shows don’t just serve  to showcase collections anymore. While that certainly remains an aim, it has come secondary to power, politics, and who you have in your front row. There is little question of this when we see celebrities replace editors or journalists in the front row. 

86043_lindsay-lohan-gets-a-front-row-seat-to-charlotte-ronsons-fall-2009-fashion-show-at-ny-fashion-weekvictoria-beckham-olympus-fashion-week-spring-2007-mathew-williamson-front-row-16G3ko(I chose these two just for laughs)

Fashion shows, it seems, now serve to see and be seen – a phenomenon that tells us fashion isn’t all about clothes. 

So imagine my surprise when I discovered you could buy tickets to attend the Audi Fashion Festival shows. What a way to ditch the exclusivity that typically characterizes Fashion Festivals/Fashion Weeks.

Granted, it isn’t a new practice. Previous Singapore Fashion Festival (SFF) shows have charged for admission, running along the lines of $10 to see mass-market labels on the runway. Take Topshop’s shows at the Singapore Fashion Festivals of 2006 & 2007. $10 entry fees were a great way to reach out to their teenybopper demographic. Yet is this where we draw the line?

Apparently not. Whereas previous SFF shows were for the most part ‘Invite-Only’, Audi Fashion Festival 2009 offered admission to the Marc by Marc Jacobs show at $10, Ashley Isham, Vivienne Westwood and Gareth Pugh were going at 20 (although if you opted for cocktails, 60) & Monsieur Lacroix at 400/500. Everything was on the market! (save Dr. Georgia Lee’s private show where it rained men …and feathers. but that’s another story)

Was this an experiment in letting the Invisible Hand allocate fashion show seating arrangements?

Or was this a statement of Audi Fashion Festival’s purpose?

Tjin Lee, AFF ’09 Director, offers:

We recognise that this is a challenging year, not only for fashion, but also for the economy in general, so our aim this year is to grab people’s attention and make them look at fashion again in a fresh and different way. We want to not only make them want to shop, but also get them excited again about the fantasy of dressing up.

(via The Sun)

Rejecting fashion’s hobnob culture for inclusiveness and accessibility deserves applause, especially coming from one like Tjin Lee. More than anything else, she understands the need to ignite the fashion fantasies of Singaporeans. After all, there is nothing quite like seeing the clothes in 3D, against the bodies of work that are models (as Pekface has pointed out), and seeing the clothes articulate a story, or better yet, a dream. What better way to share this magic, than to allow the public access to the shows — at such reasonable rates too!

All this may sound a little too altruistic for fashion’s sake… and to be fair, Audi Fashion Festival certainly had its share of celebrities and socialites clamoring for the cameras. We must also acknowledge that fashion is ultimately about hierarchy, the one-uppance of ideas, the trendsetter and his/her followers, etc.

What Audi Fashion Festival’s organizers understand is that in practical terms, Singapore’s (or Audi’s) Fashion Festival can’t and shouldn’t mimic the exclusivity of high-profile international Fashion Weeks (which Cathy Horyn laments about). 

Those international Fashion Weeks function as tradeshows: where fashion buyers make stocking decisions based on the fashion shows presented. SFF/AFF on the other hand, doesn’t exact the same pressure on the festival’s shows. A good example is this year’s Blueprint show (which on a sidenote, we thoroughly enjoyed! see: part i, ii, iii, iv & more) . All the labels already had a retailer (Blackmarket) well before their collections debuted. There was no challenge of winning over buyers.

Those international Fashion Weeks are also where designers vie to win the approval of fashion editors, journalists, and celebrities in their audience. In Singapore, there is but a glimmer of this. Towards our local/Asian designers, appreciation is mild. Criticism is mild too, which only goes to show how much we care for these labels. Something tells me if we cared a lot more, our criticism would be a lot harsher, and our appreciation would run a lot deeper. As it stands, there is no challenge in winning over unaffected journalists and an unaffected public. 

So Singapore has no business being exclusive about its fashion shows until we start challenging local designers to keep getting better. And by ‘we’, I mean buyers, the press, bloggers (yes, this is a call to rally together to shape local fashion, if we dare consider blogging the future of media), influentials (celebrities, socialites, trendsetters, etc) and the public. 

For now, keeping the shows accessible to the public is great way to engage them, and to prod them into thinking more critically about fashion. Over time, what should transpire is greater synergy in the local fashion scene: one that has the public (including buyers, the media & influentials) challenging designers, and designers challenging the public with their ideas… in a sort of conversation or cycle that feeds off its own energy.

In a self-defeating twist to the plot, making fashion accessible in Singapore can only breed a dynamism and energy that will make fashion show seats increasingly sought-after, and with that, increasingly scarce… thus planting the seeds for exclusivity, politics, hierarchy, and fashion shows to see and be seen.

This entry was published on May 20, 2009 at 10:06 am. It’s filed under Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

2 thoughts on “Fashion’s New Order at Audi Fashion Festival 2009

  1. woman! this was incredibly well-thought out! really enjoyed reading it!

  2. wow I actually stayed interested enough to finish reading this piece; good job!

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