We all know a seat in the front row at NYFW is a boatload of fun — the atmosphere, the celebrities, the sense of overwhelming superiority just can't be beat. But when it comes to the clothes, is there really a difference between seeing it up close and in person and watching a 360 view from the comforts of your laptop? Well, as Suzy Menkes writes in The New York Times today, the digital experience is not only frustrating, but fundamentally lacking.
Fashion shows do, after all, serve a purpose: It's a chance for buyers and editors to predict (or perhaps select is the right word) what's going to work for shoppers and readers. As much as designing clothing is an art, there will always be a craft aspect to it, because these things are designed to be worn. In this field, there can be no beauty without functionality. So, when Menkes, or any other editor or buyer, must resort to a digital livestream, a crucial part of that curatorial process is lost. She writes, "I still felt uneasy about the difficulty of analyzing fabrics, recognizing true colors and allowing my own eyes to follow the pieces that interested me." It's that last bit that really gets us. When you're watching on a screen, you'll see whatever comes in front of you, and keep looking for the next chapter, hoping not to miss something. When you're really there, it's a completely different story. If something is really good, you won't care about the next look, because your eye will follow it as it twists and turns through the audience, down the runway, and you'll wait for it to make a second appearance in the final lineup.
This problem actually has a very real application in everyday life, too. Even in NYC, we rely on online shopping more and more for convenience, not to mention in the name of a great deal. But we've all been through the frustration of purchasing something that looked positively dreamy online, only to find it's a not-so-hot mess upon unwrapping a week and a half later.
The complaint that life online is taking away our taste for the real thing is a common one — and maybe a valid one. When it comes to Fashion Week, an editor's lament of settling for an online livestream instead of her traditional front-row privilege due to weather conditions is in danger of sounding snooty. Suzy Menkes is a presence at any and every major show, she's got access to fashion most of us can only dream about, a front-row seat to designs that cost more than the average rent — but she has a point. While we appreciate the effort to bring access to the masses, this is one area where this first rung of exclusivity holds real, if eventual, value for the everyday consumer. Just as a G-Chat conversation can't compare to a face-to-face, heart-to-heart, front-view "blog fodder" and low-res livestreams can't compare with the swish and sway (or intentional lack thereof) that make good design great, not just on a magazine page but on your inherently non-digital body.