Fashion Democracy

Naomi Campbell, by Nick Knight

Naomi Campbell, by Nick Knight

This past Saturday the first of two annual transatlantic fashion marathons kicked off with men’s fashion week in Milan.

Every year those intimately familiar with the fashion calendar (the way others are intimately familiar with professional sports seasons), eagerly anticipate the mid-January to mid-March romps down the runways of Milan, New York, London, and Paris, followed a bit less precisely by the same thing all over again from early June to early July and mid-September to early October (the second installation is broken in two by the obligatory European August shut down). Editors, buyers and now bloggers, too, jet back-forth, north-south to cover it all. And then start all over again from the top.

Ten, even five, years ago the people whose calendars were set to the rhythm of these shows were those who worked in the industry, either in editorial, merchandising or manufacturing. The shows were rituals shrouded in secrecy and exclusivity, their contents tightly controlled, shared via press photos and the pages of Vogue, Harpers and W, when the clothes hit the stores six months after the shows took place

Today, thanks to the power of the internet, it is safe to say that millions of people worldwide are keenly tuned to fashion's calendar, as they pour over the content of the shows, available instantaneously, often livestreamed or Tweeted from the front row. Fashion, it seems, is being democratized. That blogs, YouTube, Twitter, Tumblr and mobile phones have been powerful catalysts for this process is no doubt. But before all that there was SHOWstudio, the online gallery and lab of photographer and filmmaker Nick Knight.

Knight, who’s been in the business for 30 years, starting with i-D magazine in the early 1980’s, launched SHOWstudio in 2000, before anyone knew what livestreaming was. There he quietly opened up the behind-the-camera world of fashion shoots and filmmaking to anyone who cared to stop by and look. All with an eye toward addressing what he saw as a trivialization of fashion by the media, granting access to a world that had historically been off limits.

In the last three years Knight has entered the public eye more directly, thanks largely to his groundbreaking collaborations with Alexander McQueen, Lady Gaga, and Gareth Pugh among others. He was McQueen’s partner for the revolutionary livestream of his Plato’s Atlantis show in October 2009.

In December Imran Amed, founder of The Business of Fashion, hosted Knight in a conversation on the occasion of the ten year anniversary of SHOWstudio. Among other things, they discussed the impact on the industry of these new forces, some put into play directly by Knight's own radical transparency. A video of the conversation is below.

As Knight observes, one of the things most likely to change over the next three to five years--although the industry has resisted it mightily--is the showing, production and selling calendar. Instant access to images sparks immediate demand, making the historical six month lag between showing and selling arcane. And Knight himself has been and continues to be an ardent proponent of broadening definitions of beauty within the industry. These are indeed major changes.

But what Knight and Amed don't discuss is that even in the face of these changes, exceptional creative talent will continue to set top brands, stores and designers apart. The tools of technology and the internet may revolutionize process and democratize access. Nonetheless, the gift of that certain je ne sais quoi, something with which Knight himself is abundantly blessed, will continue to define the crème de la crème of the industry. It’s just that now, everyone has a front row seat.

A stunning SHOWstudio video for Massive Attack is here. Alexander McQueen’s extraordinary Plato’s Atlantis show is here. And during fashion weeks SHOWstudio's Twitter feed is one of the best. Manned by Fashion Director, Alex Fury, he posts no photos, only his pithy observations of the shows–and his often madcap experiences attending them. He’s got a dry wit and a keen eye and manages to send off sharp, well-written sound bites that whet the appetite for images--images that are readily available shortly after the shows here on SHOWstudio's own site--and everywhere else on the internet.