Has Fashion Week Finally Become Less Exclusive?

In 2022, reality star Kim Kardashian was photographed next to former Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour as they both sat in the front row for Jean Paul Gautier's show at Paris Fashion Week. Meanwhile, Diesel's SS23 showcase in Milan saw 1,600 fashion students in attendance -- making up a significant proportion of its audience -- and Marine Serre's recent PFW show? It was open to the public and accessible through a registration link on the brand's website.

Whichever way you look at it, fashion week has slowly but surely become less exclusive, which leaves us to question who exactly today's showcases are designed for. Once reserved for journalists and buyers, guest lists have since evolved to include the likes of influencers and celebrities -- with some of the more democratic brands even paving the way for student attendees and emerging tastemakers.

So, how did we get to a place in the industry where reality stars can be given the same preference as lauded fashion critics? Or where students, who once had to fight their way into shows, are now being welcomed with open arms? We've taken it upon ourselves to ask the experts. Speaking to the British Fashion Council, designer Daniel Fletcher, Agency Eleven and TikTok, we've charted the evolution of the fashion week show, from its exclusive past to a hopeful, inclusive future.

What Was the Purpose of the Fashion Week Show?

Initially, the purpose of the fashion show was to present a new collection to a potential buyer in the hopes of establishing sales, however, they were often small, private presentations with little to no photography allowed, in a bid to prevent the designs from being copied. Eventually, small presentations turned into lavish parades and invite lists evolved to include people with influence as well as money, as brands began to understand the importance of publicity. However, back then, exclusivity was still key.


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How Has It Changed?

Fast forward to the present day and the average fashion runway show is bigger and arguably more inclusive than ever, with models, performances and venues now specifically curated to encourage photography and spark discussion in the press.

In terms of the show's purpose today, they're "all about creating content and communicating the brand ethos," according to Laura Dooley, founder of Agency Eleven. "The show really starts the season for the brand or designer and defines the direction of creative marketing straight through to when the product is available to buy. It really helps the designer or brand define who its target audience is."

In the last few years, the realms of a showcase have continued to expand through a multitude of mediums and they're no longer reserved only for the established designers either. "Over the past few seasons, we have seen an exciting mix of emerging and established brands bringing together fashion, culture, music, and technology through different types of formats and storytelling," adds Caroline Rush, CEO of British Fashion Council, suggesting that plenty of change has taken place in the last few years.

Who Are Today's Fashion Shows For?

Along with the purpose and scale of the shows changing, the requirements of those who attend Fashion Week showcases have changed too. The addition of emerging brands to the schedule only adds to the level of access, paving the way for more emerging creatives to get involved, too.

"I think the attitude towards fashion week and shows has changed a lot since I started out," designer Daniel Fletcher tells us. "I remember being a student and trying to hustle my way into shows in London (surprisingly successfully at times; I remember being in first year and telling a PR on the door I worked for Topman who were sponsoring Craig Green's show and they let me in to stand at the back) but it feels very different to that now," he continues.

What's more, what once existed purely as a means for a designer to showcase a collection to someone within the industry, has since transformed into an opportunity for brands to "engage with both trade and consumer audiences," according to Rush, the latter of which naturally lends itself to a starkly different approach. As a result, today's designers need to appeal to both audiences at once, resulting in an inevitable priority shift from press and buyer to influencer and celebrity.

"Back then, it felt very much about buyers and press but celebrities have become so much more important for brands now," continues Fletcher. "Social media is much more present now and celebrities sell more clothes than magazines, so it makes sense to have them there if the purpose of the show is to sell collections," the designer continues. In terms of his own shows, Fletcher notes that his approach varies depending on what he wants to say and who he wants to reach, confirming that a traditional runway show isn't always his preferred format, particularly where consumers are concerned.

How Do Influencers Fit In?

Outside of celebrities, content creators play an increasingly big part in today's showcases. "Content is key – so the selection of content creators and social influencers varies from each client, but they play a key role in the network for the brand," explains Dooley.

Amongst the continuing evolution of the showcase and all its elements, the definition of an influencer is one that's evolved, too, with designers starting to see them as another avenue in which to spread their message. "For Agency Eleven, influencers include all types of creatives and people we respect – we feel these are just as important. It's not all about your typical social influencer who has a large following," Dooley says. As a result, content creators and social reach appear to be a growing priority for today's brands -- and for good reason.

As TikTok's Strategic Partner Manager, Fashion & Beauty, Sonika Phakey, explains, "Right now, TikTok is having a significant impact on the fashion industry, from unearthing the next wave of style makers, to starting and reimagining key trends. Over the past few years, we've seen more and more designers and brands take to TikTok to connect with this vibrant community, to reach new audiences and find inspiration. Inviting TikTok creators to fashion shows is an organic way to build on this flourishing relationship," she adds.

As a result, the fashion show is opened up to an audience who wouldn't have previously been included, and the only impact of that is a positive one which results in more eyes on the brand. With Instagram Reels and TikTok videos possessing the continued ability to go viral no matter who makes them, designers are witnessing firsthand what the addition of influencers can do, and the truth is, there really are no downsides. As a result, the fashion industry has no choice but to become more inclusive and accessible -- even if it goes against everything that it once stood for.

What Does the Future Hold?

In terms of the future of fashion week, it's hard to tell. With audiences ever-changing, costs increasing and sustainability becoming front of mind, the need to host a fashion week show season after season is one that's increasingly under scrutiny -- leading many of us to question how long they'll be around for. At least, in their current form.

Either way, one thing's for certain. Exclusivity is over and it's never coming back.