Somerset House recently hosted an exhibition celebrating the life and work of the fashion icon, Isabella Blow. A huge character in the fashion scene with a career of over 30 years as writer, fashion director, muse and finder of the latest, hottest young things, including milliner Philip Treacy, models such as Stella Tenant & Sophie Dahl and the original l’enfant terrible, the late great Alexander McQueen.
Amongst the dozens of pieces from her classic collection, photographs and glass cases of intimate trinkets from her life; there were several video installations featuring famous fashion shows, especially those of Alexander McQueen. One in particular caught my eye – his autumn/winter 1996/1997 collection entitled ‘Dante’ which was housed in the beautiful Christ Church in Spitalfields. The front row featured young, fresh faced fashion journalists, editors, buyers, ‘friends’ of the designer and a smattering of photographers. All diligently focused on the models, the clothes, the experience, each other and being aware that this was something truly special and unique. A ‘moment’ if you will.
The one notable absence from the scene was the smartphone in everyone’s hand.
No taking photos of the show as it happened.
No Instagram shots of the frow.
No backstage shots from the models getting ready.
No Twitter updates from the stressed out stylist.
And no facebook udpates.
Just the simple, bold reality of the situation as it unfolds for the first time.
Never to be repeated.
Exclusively just for those lucky enough to be there at the time.
Don’t worry; this is not a sentimental rant down nostalgia lane or a desperate attempt to cling onto a pre-digital world. Not at all. I’m as big a fan of the hyper-connected semantic social Internet of things (3.0) as the next man. But it reminded me that something was lacking, or extremely scarce in the modern world. Secrets. Surprises. And the truly exclusive.
Connectivity, super powerful handheld devices, social media and content sharing platforms have brought down the walls that once kept the general public out. Whether back stage at fashion week or inside your own government’s confidential hacking network, everything is up for grabs, to share and comment on, instantly, worldwide.
I miss seeing the cover of a magazine for the first time in a shop, instead of having the model or retoucher ‘leak’ it on Instagram.
I miss seeing a film without having seen half of it already with spoilers and extended trailers.
I want to watch a gig without a sea of iPhone screens blocking the way.
And by the time a model takes the first step down the runway of a fashion show, half the world has already seen the entire collection.
I feel like I’ve seen and done everything before I’ve even left the house.
There’s an opportunity here for brands. A chance to buck the trend and keep things under wraps. Bring back a little secrecy and an element of surprise. Instead of constantly feeling the need to invest in huge amounts of pre-promotion and launch activity, why not just let it happen. Nurture and protect your brand from prying eyes, press and bloggers. Be confident and just let the good-ness and integrity and credibility of the product stand up for itself and let the rest happen naturally. This won’t work for every brand, but if used carefully and creatively, it can create the distinctive edge needed to differentiate away from the rest of the herd.
Secret Cinema (barring recent cancellations) has built an entire business out of secrecy and surprise. And everyone who attends has been very happy to be part of that secret and keep it all hush, even after attending one of their shows. And in a moment of genius at the end of last year, Queen Bey released an entire album’s worth of tracks and 17 music videos with no promotion, no airplay, no press tour, no TV appearances, no teasers and no advertising. Just announce the launch to your fans and watch 430,000 copies of your album get sold in America on one single day.
So maybe consider being a little braver when considering your next launch, event or announcement.
Sometimes less is more.
Be bold, be exclusive.
Whisper, don’t shout.
And keep the damn thing secret.
Your audience might just thank you for it.