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Luxury fashion houses embrace internet

4 Nov 2010

Fashion

The big fashion houses are finding their niche online, reports the BBC. Not so long ago, it was only in the world's most prestigious shopping streets where shoppers could buy designer products. These days, much of what is available in the glittering

shops on Bond Street, 5th Avenue and Rue St Honore can be found online.

"Mr Armani was among the very, very first," Federico Marchetti of Yoox says. "He was among a group of innovators." Mr Marchetti's company iis one of a new breed of hi-tech firms that are powering the online strategies of some of the world's biggest luxury retailers.

Yoox manages the websites for 23 brands - including Armani, Ermenegildo Zegna and Marni - and has a waiting list of 33 more. After years of shunning the internet because it was too slow and broadband connections were few and far between, fashion designers are finally embracing it.

"The
big fear was the quality of the internet, and I have to say that they were quite right to wait," Mr Marchetti says. Yoox.com is an online seller of discounted high-end goods. Mr Marchetti launched the company as a tiny start-up in 2000. "The idea was to be the link between the internet world and the fashion world because these two were, and are, very far apart," he says. The company went public last year, the only share sale in Italy in 2009. Yoox is now worth 400m euros ($555m, £347m).

Burberry, too, has been on the cutting-edge of innovation in the luxury fashion world. The British firm has been providing live streams for its key Fashion Week shows to customers around the world. Anyone could click on the dresses - and order them before the show had even finished. Burberry's collections will be delivered to your house within seven weeks - a far cry from the usual six-month turnaround for the bi-annual spring and autumn collections.

That "shop the runway" technology is powered by Createthe Group, founded by James Gardner, who helped pioneer algorithmic trading when he worked on Wall Street. "It's a very powerful way to acquire long-term relationships with their customers," Mr Gardner says. "They're seeing new clothes at the same time as the buyers." It allows fashion companies to bypass department stores and connect directly with customers.

Before fashion giants like Gucci and LVMH decided to go large on the internet, they had to be sure that they would be able to maintain the exclusivity of their brands.

But how does one square being reachable by everybody with only reaching those customers you want to reach? "The biggest store they have in the world is online, and the most beautiful," Mr Marchetti says. "And they give it us to manage, which is a question of trust."

The brands maintain their exclusivity by restricting access to some of their products, giving valued customers a sense of being VIPs.For example, a select audience of 1,500 people was invited to watch the live stream of the Burberry show during London Fashion Week in its stores.

Louis Vuitton is using the location-based service FourSquare - which lets your friends know exactly where you are - to make people who visit its stores show up as "Vuitton insiders". Ralph Lauren's iPhone app Ralph Lauren has iPhone apps for his collections (above) and his Rugby brand

Shoemaker Jimmy Choo used it for its Catch-a-Choo campaign, which required customers to check in at locations around London to get the chance to buy some exclusive trainers.

Ralph Lauren has iPhone apps for its preppy Rugby brand - where users can design their own styles and then share them through sites such as Facebook.

Of course, the glamour of the front row of the catwalk in Paris or Milan remains. Indeed, one of the most talked-about shows in New York's most recent fashion week was Tom Ford's, who held it in his Madison Avenue store, only invited 100 people and had Beyonce and Lauren Hutton as models.

The photos of the show are supposed to be secret until the clothes are launched, which will not be until next year.

Still, a few pictures of the show leaked - online.

Still, it's unimaginable to a world where Prada and Gucci do not have any more shops on Bond Street or Fifth Avenue.

Source: BBC
Image: Prada AW10
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