Monday 29 May 2017

So, does my avatar's bum look big in this?

As fashion websites Asos and Net-a-porter celebrate 10 years in business, Deirdre Reynolds looks at the changing world of retail

Deirdre Reynolds

Deirdre Reynolds

If, 10 years ago, man had imagined a world in which their womenfolk no longer lugged them the length and breadth of the local shopping centre every Saturday, then it was probably the same realm that saw Eva Longoria serve them a cold beer in a bikini at the end of it all: their dreams.

Now though, thanks to the internet, that fantasy has become a reality for thousands of shopped-out boyfriends and husbands -- or the shopping part, at least.

But while it's eliminated the migraine of crowds, tailbacks, parking and checkout queues, the unstoppable rise of online shopping can only help you so much, guys. Retail's most time-honoured row may now erupt in the sitting room rather than a dressing room, but consider yourself warned that there's still only one right answer to: 'Does my avatar's bum look big in this?'

This year marks the tenth anniversary of cult fashion websites Asos.com ('As Seen on Screen') and Net-a-porter.com. And if the milestones mark a sort of victory over the high street, now the online fashion movement is taking on an even greater rival.

From trend-spotting on photo blog The Sartorialist to designer spending sprees on Net-a-porter or salivating over the latest runway shows on You Tube, could the catwalk be the next to lose its chokehold on the once exclusive world of couture?

Why slavishly traipse through the boutiques or spend hours digesting Vogue when fashion credibility is just a click away, says Stylebible.ie Editor Liz Greehy.

"Cyberspace has rapidly become a super-stylish place to occupy," says blogger Liz, who founded the fashion & lifestyle portal.

"In recent years, there's been a huge influx of fashion retail sites and style blogs, meaning fashion followers can find up-to-the-second trends and tips at the click of a mouse. Fashion is all about keeping ahead of the curve, so it makes sense for it to have such a strong online presence."

"Nearly two million internet users in this country make purchases online," she adds. "It has created a whole new stimulant -- the online shopping high. The browsing, clicking, purchasing and waiting for that all-important delivery bring has created a whole new level of retail therapy."

And when it comes to style, e-shopping is no longer just about bargain basement rejects, knock-off designer duds or past season seconds -- even the Prada posse previously found propped up by sales assistants in sniffy designer showrooms are embracing the trend.

'Luxury brands were initially skeptical about the internet," says Emily Zak, executive editor of Vogue. "They reluctantly developed slick and bland websites, while swearing off internet sales, afraid of cheapening the brand or shopping experience."

But websites like Net-a-porter.com are proof there's nothing cheap about online fashion any more. Celebrating 10 thriving years in 2010, the virtual boutique stocks high-end pieces by designers such as Vivienne Westwood, Mark Jacobs and Oscar de la Renta, whose dresses fetch upwards of €2,000.

Likewise, As Seen On Screen -- which began life by offering celeb looks at Z-list prices -- has branched out to become a comprehensive collection of budget, designer, and up-and-coming labels, as well as flogging beauty products.

And if there's one thing that never goes out of fashion, it's the chime of the cash register -- real or imagined.

Swallowing humble pie on behalf of designer boutiques everywhere, John Lewis and Jaeger both recently announced that their online sales are second only to that of their flagship London shops.

"Net-a-porter has made us more comfortable with shopping online across the board," adds Zak. "Every product arrives beautifully wrapped."

For those of us who feel a little like Julia Roberts' pre-makeover hooker in that classic Pretty Woman scene every time we enter a designer store, the internet has leveled the fashion playing field. It doesn't matter if you're tottering around the Champs Elysées in six-inch heels or curled up on the couch in your pyjamas in Cootehill, anyone can become a fashionista, says Off the Rails presenter Brendan Courtney. All you need is internet access (and, presumably, a credit card).

"Fashion has become 100pc more accessible thanks to the immediacy of the internet," says style coach Brendan.

"The only drawback is that people tend to only look for stuff they like online, so they miss out on the items you wouldn't normally look that you sometimes stumble upon by accident in stores."

Dedicated followers of fashion didn't need a front row ticket to attend Alexander Mc Queen's Spring/Summer 2010 show, which was streamed live on fashion photographer Nick Knight's SHOWstudio.com andwatched by more than 1.5 million people on YouTube.

With recession hitting the luxury sector hardest, Irish designer Jennifer Rothwell reckons the internet is part of the fabric of modern fashion.

"The internet is crucial for designers," says the Dublin couturier. "I find that a lot of my clients check out my website www.jrothwell.net before coming to my studio to purchase one of the designs. Selling online means you're open for business 24 hours a day and you can sell your brand internationally. Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and LinkedIn are essential marketing tools."

And with the real-time nature of such tools, fashion junkies no longer even have to wait until the glossies hit the magazine stands for a slice of the front-row action.

The catwalks have some fierce competition in the form of online critics. Whether moonlighting fashion editors unbridled by anonymity or tenacious teens eager to be published, musings by the likes of Jackie Dixon of Showmeyourwardrobe.com, Susie Lau of Stylebubble.typepad.com and 13 year-old Tavi of Tavi-thenewgirlintown.com have built a fan base the fashion magazines can only lust after.

But for those who miss the camaraderie of the changing rooms and the elbowing at the checkouts, the virtual fashion world strives to foster a sense of community among its online shoppers.

Topshop.com runs blogs, competitions and flags up not just what new pieces are going in-store, but how many doughnuts its staff has eaten that day. Asos.com videos its pieces on models, so potential buyers can see how fabrics move and fit. On Stardoll.com, users can even create an online avatar in their image to try on the clothes for them.

Fashionair.com, recently launched by music mogul Simon Fuller, offers interactive styling and shopping functions.

"There was an opportunity to merge the interactivity of the web with video content, to provide a more engaging experience," says co-founder Sojin Lee. "I wanted to harness that 'eeee' moment, when a girl squeals in excitement after finding the dress she has been searching for."

Irish Independent

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