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Should fashion shows be open to the public?

By Don-Alvin Adegeest

14 Sept 2015

Fashion |OPINION

London - New York Fashion Week marks the month-long ready-to-wear calendar of a global showcase of fashion design.

The NYC shows are generally more commercially and economically focussed than its European counterparts, but accessibility to its week long extravaganza is the same as in other cities - which in plain language - is not for everyone. The schedule for most shows are clearly: “Entry by Invitation Only. Not Open to the Public.”

With the exception of Givenchy, who this week allocated hundreds of free tickets to its catwalk presentation, and fuelled a longtime debate whether fashion week should be more inclusive, most shows will not have public attendance.

Catwalk seating has its limitations

Of course the obvious answer to why members of the public cannot attend shows is the issue of capacity. Seating is extremely limited per show, and are allocated according to priority to the world's media, buyers, clients, investors and celebrities. Between these five categories there is an over-subscribed demand to fill the chairs, without having to allow every Tom, Dick and Harriet with an interest in fashion to be given a free seat. But times, like fashion, are changing.

Accessible luxury has been a key influencer in today's commercial world of fashion. Where once upon a time consumers had to wait six months to see images from the shows or indeed the clothes themselves, today, thanks to the digital revolution, show images are online within minutes of a catwalk presentation.

Today's culture is intricately connected to fashion

With the rise of bloggers, fast-fashion and e-commerce, today's culture is intricately connected to and fascinated by the fashion industry, much more so than in the past. While the aspiration and dream to be a part of the fashion world hasn't lost its lustre, it is no longer just the designers that dictate the hemlines. There are no hard and fast rules about what is or isn’t in vogue in an era where anything is possible and indeed accessible.

Just like designers, consumers also create trends, it is they who provide inspiration of what is 'hot on the street,' captured by bloggers and photojournalists, who then feed back their images as inspiration to the designers. The conversation, thus, is flowing both ways.

Similarly, everyone from Timbuktu to Tokyo can comment on a designer's collection minutes after the photos become available, so there is no issue of proximity any longer. And these opinions, when uploaded on the world's social media, have influence, however elitist the fashion industry may be.

Accessible luxury is good for business

Back to accessible luxury, it is brands like Michael Kors, Victoria Beckham and now Marc Jacobs, who understand the commercial value of having a luxury image but a retail empire with entry prices. If everyone wants to be part of the fashion conversation, good business may mean offering something for everyone.

When Chanel has increased its prices nearly 50 percent over the past few years, it has in fact driven its luxury consumer to lower-tier brands. Whilst that is not likely to have affected Chanel's bottom line, it has certainly enriched other companies. A 2,500 pound handbag is expensive by any means, but 500 pounds, while still pricey, has wider affordability. American designers have embraced this business model much more than the Europeans, and this inclusive-yet-exclusive feeling has turned mid-tier fashion brands like Tory Burch and Michael Kors into billion dollar empires.

So a little inclusivity can have a great impact on brands, and making fashion week accessible may only encourage the end result, which is profitability and sales.

Still, it seems unlikely that the LVMH and Kering's portfolio of brands will be opening its doors to Tom, Dick and Harriet this season. And perhaps we should all be grateful that not every front row is open to a Kardashian-like public. Some brands are in the business of selling dreams.