Who needs tickets with the onset of fashion-ology? British heritage brand Burberry democratises the fashion show by being the first label to stream from the screens in central London.

London Fashion Week has finally arrived on our doorsteps, sadly though I had resigned myself to the fact that I would not be watching any of the live events this time around, other than a few show highlights on my somewhat disappointing laptop screen.  That was until I read that Burberry’s autumn/winter 2011-12 catwalk show at the Royal Park of Kensington Gardens would in fact be streamed live across Piccadilly Circus’ 32 metre digital screen, where every-day shoppers would be able to ‘tune in’ for a front-row view.  The interactive show took place yesterday at 4pm, the exact time at which I was poised next to the Statue of Eros eagerly  anticipating the first ever runway action to be played on London’s iconic screen.  Indeed, we all know that when it comes to technology Burberry likes to embrace every opportunity whole heartedly.  Whether it’s social media or live streaming, they are the label that likes to get there first, and this season they really set the mark, with their brand coming 13th on a list of the world’s most innovative businesses compiled by Fast Company this week.  Christopher Bailey, Burberry’s chief creative officer, was driving the democratisation, stating “we are thrilled to be bringing the Burberry show to our widest audience yet in an immersive, interactive and entertaining experience,” also adding “we have always used digital communication to deepen our connection with the customer and allow people all over the world to experience Burberry no matter where they are.  Whether you are at home online, watching in Piccadilly Circus, using a mobile device or in our store in Beijing everyone will be able to feel the energy and attitude of the brand and the excitement of the show.”

Unfortunately, there were a few technical issues during the feed, with the screen freezing intermittently only to be replaced by an underground update on the Central and Bakerloo lines.  Nevertheless the 300-strong crowd, which mostly consisted of half-termers and fashion students, remained patient as model of the moment Arizona Muse wearing a khaki trouser suit filled the screen again, but soon enough the mundane sound of passing engines detracted from the impact of the tailored elegance.   From what we captured of the clothing itself, Bailey kicked off with a parade of fabulous clean-cut coats and sixties silhouettes, in tangerine, scarlet, lime and Wedgwood blue, before  moving into skinny-rib knits and figure-hugging black flares or beatnik pants and cropped jackets in  oversized plaids.  Mostly the show was an ode to coats, with drop-shouldered cocoons in beige wool and rich red capes, yellow and black plaid sack-back button-downs and, of course, the signature trench – this time spun in lightly padded, spongy knits, tinsel yarn and bonded argyle wool with fur sleeves and skirts.  A personal highlight was the finale when the models took their final walkthrough wearing clear vinyl ponchos in a spectacular blizzard of synthetic snow, but in the biting cold and without the music, the atmosphere was somewhat flat.  Without the ambience of Kensington Garden’s vast marquee, a stone’s throw away from the stamping grounds of the original Chelsea girls who inspired Bailey’s collection, as well as the denial of Dusty Springfield’s You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me playing on the soundtrack, the giant TV failed to captivate.

Nonetheless, the Piccadilly Circus stream formed part of 40 live events being staged by forward-thinking label Burberry, and their interactive show helped generate worldwide interest in London Fashion Week, even reaching the special attention of American Vogue editor Anna Wintour, who started attending for the first time when the label moved to London in 2009.  Moreover, available to 150 countries live at Burberry.com on both the iPhone and iPad, the label also showed support for the British Fashion Council’s wider attempt to extend its fashion coverage to shoppers, commuters and tourists, by providing highlights from the catwalk in the underground, and on an outdoor LED screen in the courtyard of Somerset House for those without tickets.  Thus, although to some Burberry’s live stream merely marked a rather special afternoon in Piccadilly Circus, to fashion theorists the event most probably indicated exciting developments between the relationships of fashion and technology, the catwalk and democracy, as well as intriguing steps forward in global fashion communications.

By Julia Harker (22/02/2011).

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