When it comes to technology, the fashion industry is resistant to change. For fashion shows, publicists use unwieldy seating charts, using stickies to seat and reseat editors and buyers up until the last minute. Editors at big glossies arrange their books so they're spread out, page by page, along a wall or table (you remember that room in The September Issue where Vogue's book was laid out right? The one Grace Coddington kept popping into to see how many pages of her spreads had been cut?) Designers send out thick glossy lookbooks after their shows so editors and buyers can request the looks they saw on the runway. Invitations to shows are bulky (though their heft and shape is part of the fun) and sent via snail mail or hand delivered.
But the industry has slowly but surely begun to embrace technology wholeheartedly (without losing the glamor, of course). A lot of the credit is due to a small startup called Fashion GPS. This year, Fashion GPS is managing 80% of Mercedes Benz Fashion Week's shows, and 184 shows total during New York Fashion Week. That means they're providing the tech systems that manage contact lists, provide online invitations, handle RSVPs, and seating. Last season, they managed just 40 shows. If you're in the biz, you know the name. Fashion GPS has been around for six years now. The 15-person company, helmed by tech consultant Eddie Mullon, was started around six years ago when fashion PR powerhouse KCD, one of his consulting clients, asked him to create a tracking system so they could keep tabs on their samples. Imagine designer's collections like library books that needed to be checked in and out. From there, Marc Jacobs expressed interest in Mullon's sample tracking system, and he revamped his system so that it was web-based and allowed multiple users to access the system.
"I figured out there was a niche," says Mullon, "But for the first couple of years it was a pretty hard sell trying to pitch it to other brands...it took me about two years to really understand the fashion world."
After building up a network of clients who used Fashion GPS to track samples, the next logical step was creating a system to manage contacts, lookbooks and fashion shows.
"It's taken a lot of work and persistence to get people to come on board," says Mullon, "but I think there's a shift in the industry and people are seeing the efficiency of technology."
Here's what the shift looks like: While hard invites are still sent out (and we hope that's a fashion tradition that never fades), most shows send out an online invitation as well. RSVP'ing to a show using Fashion GPS is as simple as clicking "Yes." If you've already received your seating via email, you'll also have a barcode, which you simply scan at the entrance to the show. Once you've scanned in, that alerts the system that you've arrived and marks your seat as filled. If you have an invite (with a barcode) but no seating, you'll scan your barcode at a kiosk, just like self-check in for a flight, and the kiosk will print out a little ticket with a barcode and your seating assignment. If you've got nothing--no invite, no barcode--just your name and affiliation, there will be two "designer desks" manned by publicists bookending the kiosks so you can talk to a real person and check in with them.
At the Mercedes Benz tents at Lincoln Center, you can also expect ipads instead of clipboards in the hands of harried publicists. These ipads hold seating charts for each show so names can be dragged and dropped into seats up until five minutes before the show starts.
You'd think with all these checks and scans it might be harder to sneak into fashion week this season.
"If you've got the gift of the gab, you'll sweet talk your way in anyway," says Mullon.
Some things never change.