I saw most of Chanel's spring/summer 2016 show and its dazzling airport set not with my eyes, but through my phone screen. Ditto the last four or five Burberry collections, Yeezy Seasons 1 and 2, and every other high-profile, celebrity-filled show that demands real-time image uploads to Fashionista's Instagram and Twitter.
As an online editor, my experience is not unique. At any given show — and the bigger, the more likely — I find my seat mates spend more time getting the right Instagram shot, or Snap, than seeing what's before them. And why not? Few of them need to review the collections, and most will see the clothes in re-sees or on Vogue Runway in the days to come. The show is mainly about getting the right images for social media — and getting them up fast. And it's not just online editors: There are plenty of editors-in-chief of major print titles and front-row buyers taking photos and videos for their brands' social channels as well.
Frequently, this makes me a little depressed. Editors and critics often wax on about the importance of seeing a collection live, and yet so many, myself included, seem to be missing it — or, at the very least, distracted by the need to record and share what we're seeing on our phones.
For that reason, and because I like subjecting myself and my colleagues to bizarre regimens during fashion week, I decided to give up Twitter and Instagram during the New York shows. I'm a moderate user of those platforms most of the year, but during fashion week, I go into overdrive, uploading between one and five photos or videos across my personal accounts and Fashionista's between (and sometimes during) each show. How, I wondered, would putting away my phone affect my experience of fashion week? I expected — hoped, rather — that it would allow me to focus more on the clothes before me, and to have better recall of said clothes when I wrote about them in the evenings.
Which, absolutely, it did. In earlier seasons, I often forgot — or failed to see — whole looks in the collection, but not this season. I also found, perhaps because I wasn't busy framing my next shot, that I remembered design details, especially on the backs of garments, better. While I was constantly tempted to pull out my phone to capture something that moved me, or a detail I wanted to write about later, I found that my experience of the show was better for it.
What I didn't expect was how isolated my social media ban would make me feel. The show-goer I saw in head-to-toe Yeezy Season 2 in the snow; the way the light hit a pair of siren-esque models at Tanya Taylor; the breakout model dance session at the end of Gypsy Sport's runway show; the generous samaritan who gave me his umbrella when mine broke on the West Side Highway; Jean Touitou's comment that socks are the new garter belts — all of those moments were left uncaptured and unshared with the people who might have oohed, or cringed, or laughed right along with me. It certainly reminded me why Instagram and Twitter are classified as social media, when I'd begun to think of them as just media.
Never again will I ban myself from my favorite platforms during fashion week: There's simply too much joy to be had from sharing — not just for me, I hope, but for the people I'm sharing with, too. But the experience did teach me the benefits of not picking up my phone unless absolutely necessary, of using a runway finale not to record a 15-second video but to pay attention to details I may have missed the first time around. Because what's the point of being present if you're not, in fact, present?