The Old-School Fashion Hierarchy Is Falling Down

What would the fashion industry look like if it shrugged off the exclusivity that has characterized it for, well, centuries, and cut out the middleman? It seems like the process is already well underway. This year’s Fashion Weeks had everyone wondering the same thing, and the buzz is best summed up thusly:

“The shows during September and October were a first glimpse of what the elitist fashion world could soon become: a business where designers take their collections directly to customers, no longer filtered through fashion editors at glossy magazines and buyers at top stores.”

But does that really mean the end of old-school power players like, say, Anna Wintour and Joe Zee? [New York Times]The Times chalks the “phenomenon” up to social networking and the fact that even the most exclusive brands — Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Dolce & Gabbana and Alexander McQueen, among others — have embraced websites, bloggers, iPhone apps and Facebook. It was certainly novel that editors were Twittering their thoughts on the collection in real time, but then again, so were the actual designers. In some cases, designers worked with potential customers to gauge interest in specific articles of clothing, much as Ms. Winter consults with, say, Oscar de la Renta before a show to offer a thumbs up or down. The traditional process of reportage, which involves a select group of fashion journalists and magazine editors invited to shows that they will interpret months later (i.e., spring shows occur in the fall before) for the public, has been ruptured by the presentation of shows on YouTube on real-time streaming, and it has happened fast. Some designers even skipped the process of rolling clothes out to stores over the next few months and put items on sale directly on their websites minutes after the shows.

For many fashion industry veterans, this is crazy. In fact, it’s revolutionary in scale. For designers struggling to stay relevant and, above all, sell clothes during a crap economy, simply to be able to stay in business, it’s an amazing opportunity. And to those consumers who’ve always felt excluded from a cliquish, insider industry, it’s pretty exciting to watch the fourth wall come tumbling down.

At the same time, we’ll always expect and benefit from expert analysis on any given subject, ranging from politics and economics to pop culture and fashion. And insightful journalists, like Cathy Horyn, and talented stylists, like Katie Grand, are irreplaceable for what they bring to the table. But when it comes to something as subjective and sales driven as fashion, the power of the people can really have an impact. And it looks like it already has.