At 7:50, just shy of an hour late (as is fairly customary), the lights dim and deep bass sounds begin to thump through the speakers. A procession of gorgeous young things in angelic silk slips and skinny suede pants parades down the runway. Ten minutes later, it’s over. The models take their final walk, Mr. Azria emerges for his congratulatory bow, attendees clap, then the whole room scrambles for the exit. My friend Lisa, an entertainment editor and fashion show newbie, went with me to the show. She summarized the experience well: “That’s it?” We had spent fifty minutes engrossed in the fashion show circus and ten minutes looking at clothes. Thus the first lesson in today’s fashion coverage: It’s not about the clothes. Up until about fifteen years ago, fashion, for the most part, was predominantly about clothes. Catwalk shows weren’t televised; they were more straightforward affairs attended by magazine editors, newspaper writers, and store buyers.
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The season’s styles could be seen in timehonored fashion warhorses like Women’s Wear Daily, Vogue, and Harper’s Bazaar, but rarely, if ever, in entertainment magazines and general-interest publications. Oh, how things have changed. Today, the worlds of fashion, media, and entertainment have collided, creating a mutually beneficial Big Bang of art, commerce, and theatrics, and saturating our daily lives with images of (and stealthy advertisements for) fashion. Ever wonder why our society is so obsessed with style? We’re soaking in it. “Nobody needs to buy all these things, but with the influx of fashion on websites Style.com, for example, where you can see every look that walked down the runway, fashion on TV, fashion columns in newspapers, and all the fashion magazines you get to feel that you must buy into all the trends each season, or else you’ll be out of it,” says Marilyn Kirschner, editor-in-chief of The Look On-Line and former senior market editor of Harper’s Bazaar.
Traditional advertising is expensive, and as more companies vie for the same conventional ad space, its effect becomes less potent. A one-page ad in a major magazine like Vogue can cost over $100,000 (typical one-pagers run about $80,000). A thirty-second TV spot on a major network during prime time can run you anywhere from $150,000 to a whopping $2 million during big events like the Super Bowl, and that’s not counting the costs of producing the actual commercial. To circumvent some of the expense, companies have brainstormed for alternative methods of promoting themselves, realizing that showing their wares in a variety of different arenas can be a beneficial supplement to their conventional campaigns. “Many TV shows seem to have become long advertisements the trend is just one more example of the increasing commercialization of our culture,” says advertising critic Jean Kilbourne, Ph.D., author of Can’t Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel. Fashion plays such a large, often subliminal role in modern media and entertainment that the lines have been blurred between what is advertising and what is not.