Remembering Fashion Week Before Social Media

Photo: Dave Benett/Getty Images.
We’ve all heard the story: fashion week has changed, almost beyond recognition. From a closed-door industry insider event to access-all-areas and live-streamed shows, the once exclusive affair is now available for the world to see, as it happens. For the next few weeks your Instagram feed will be flooded with catwalk images, street style snaps and celebrity-filled front rows.
But for those of us who never got to see behind those industry-only doors, it’s hard to imagine exactly what we missed. What did it feel like to see Gareth Pugh’s debut show, knowing you were experiencing something extraordinary, in the company of fashion’s elite? What did a pre-iPhone-wielding audience look like? And what did everyone make of ‘influencers’ as they began stealing those coveted front row seats, right from under editors’ noses?
We spoke to the industry insiders who’ve watched fashion week evolve over the last decade to find out.
Mandi Lennard, PR guru and founder of Mandi’s Basement
An industry legend, Lennard has a kaleidoscopic view of fashion week's history. She cut her teeth as a buyer for Browns in the early '90s, then went on to set up fashion consultancy company Mandi’s Basement. She remembers a simpler time, when a Harrods bus transported editors between shows, rather than an Uber…
On the innocence of fashion week before social media
“Awww jeeez, we didn’t know what the hell we were doing when we first did shows – thank god there was no social media! But it’s a totally different dynamic and I'm sure I would have loved it and it would have added subliminal layers to the sensory show experience felt by those outside of the show experience, and opened up a new dimension in what goes on backstage. It’s explosive!”
On the landmark moments that would have exploded had social media existed
“I often reflect on key moments that would have taken over the world if we’d had social media back then, such as Gareth Pugh bursting onto the scene at Fashion East and his illuminated finale look, when we sent naked models into the British Fashion Council’s office to demonstrate how J Maskrey’s skin jewellery worked or Vivienne Westwood’s show where Jerry Hall was holding her newborn baby Georgia May Jagger.”
On what everyone thought when bloggers arrived
“It seemed as though it was all over-hyped up, but Susie Lau aka Susie Bubble is so enduring as a fashion commentator that the platform it gave her, carved her career path, which is a good thing. She’s a walking, talking poster girl for fashion fabness!”
Susie Lau, founder of Susie Bubble
The godmother of blogging as we know it, Ms Lau began documenting fashion week from her own personal platform before that was even a thing. When social media arrived, her career went stratospheric.
On blogging before anyone else was blogging
“I guess I was already documenting fashion week in a different way from traditional journalists or editors because I wanted to take my own pictures (even if they were on a crap point and shoot), because I pointedly wanted to capture a personal point of view for my blog.”
On the ‘rambunctious affair’ that was fashion week before social media
“As I was only going to shows in London Fashion Week when designers like Gareth Pugh and Henry Holland were just beginning to break through (I have to thank Mandi actually for giving me the opportunity to go to those early shows!), the excitement was palpable. They were rambunctious affairs. Lots of people dressing up, they were present and very involved in the moment and there was also a gratitude for what they were seeing.”
Stefan Siegel, CEO, Not Just A Label
The ex-model and CEO of Not Just A Label is another industry bod who’s seen fashion week from every angle, warts and all. He first went to fashion week in September 2008 — when it was little more than “a weird tent” outside London’s Natural History Museum.
On the fashion industry’s first few attempts to use social media
“I remember we signed up on Twitter that year but people didn’t really know how to use it. It didn’t allow you to post images; I remember people starting fun hashtags such as #overheardLFW.”
On what he thought of bloggers when they first arrived
“I was excited at first, hoping that fashion blogging came to the industry with the same aspirations as in other industries; I was hoping for honest opinions, transparency and an independent voice. What we received was a new level of narcissism paired with a devotion to corporate branding."
On what he misses about pre-social media fashion weeks
“Fashion must become an experience again, it has to become smarter to be able to cater to a smarter consumer — who at the moment spends the disposable income on experience-led products such as food, fitness and travel. I don’t want to generalise, there are so many interesting players in the sector right now who deserve more attention — in the meanwhile the champagne in the ballroom of the ‘fashion week’ Titanic will keep on flowing.
Katherine Omerod, Editor & Content Consultant
The fashion journalist and former editorial director of Lyst has ridden the wave of change. She remembers a time when the quickest way to get tickets to shows was via fax and fashion credibility was measured in respect, not social media followers.
On the first time Instagram was a thing at fashion week
“It wasn’t magazines that started it, it was people with blogs. I remember one of my assistants telling me that I have to get on Instagram and I was like, well I don’t have an iPhone so I’m not going to do it. It took me another two years to see that it was relevant.
On the importance of looking good
“You’d go to fashion week and everyone was obsessed with the way you dressed. But it was so closed in your circle. It might help you having that handbag, and help your career in an abstract way because it makes you look well dressed, but it’s not going to suddenly take your career to a whole new level.”
On embracing the change
“When I think back to the people I worked with originally, it’s gone two ways. Some people have totally not embraced it and they still do fashion week exactly as they would have done if Instagram had not been invented. Then you have people like me who balance out their professional career with the opportunities that the new world offers.”
On the huge crowds who now gather outside the shows
“I understand that it’s a way in, but equally there is something disingenuous about that. Go and get an internship and get a ticket to the show, be involved. Be authentic, if you’re interested in fashion.”
On how fashion week has changed
“I don’t think anyone could have predicted how it’s gone. There’s always been shows, particularly American shows, that have been about the razzmatazz. But there’s still shows, if you go to Paris, that aren’t like that. They’re very much still about the clothes and not about who’s on the front row, but they are few and far between.”
Yvan Rodic, street style photographer and Facehunter founder
Street style photographer Rodic has attended fashion week for a decade. When he first started the only social media that existed was MySpace and he rarely saw other photographers.
On his first memories of fashion week
“We’d ask people for photos and they’d be surprised. It was so not a thing. And there was hardly anyone doing it, there was no competition. Social media was limited, so there was so much less content shared every day. Also the pace was much slower because everyone would go home and upload their photos.”
On how street style has evolved
“Between 2008 and 2010 it picked up, because street style was mainly a street thing before, it was mainly people going on the street in areas of Brooklyn and doing their thing. Then when people realised they could go outside fashion shows and sell those pictures to magazines, people began to realise the power. The more they got photographed, the more they got visibility. You can think it's lame or not, but numbers matter.”
Joe Tootal, Model Booker, Models One
Before he began working as a booker at Models One, Joe Tootal walked the catwalks as a model. He remembers a time when castings were faxed and an editor’s opinion was the only one that mattered.
On what fashion week was like for models, pre-social media
“We’d arrive back at the model accommodation and taped to the reception wall were about 100 schedules for each guy for the next day. Not great if you had a bad season as everyone would read each other’s before their own.”
On what he misses about fashion week before social media
“Definitely the surprise of the collection and the ‘insiders’ knowledge. It was always so exciting to tell someone the story of a designer's collection, how they were inspired to create it and where it had come from. These days everyone knows it all already, all you get as a response is 'I know'. It's all so accessible and immediate which for me has taken away some of the magic and creativity, but for brands and sales it makes complete sense.”

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