They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Well, companies are looking at new ways to capitalize on that flattery: Create or take part in desirable narratives, and make them shoppable. I like to believe that as individuals we make choices reflecting our own desires rather than those of others. But advertisers will be there every step along the way to tell us that our sense of self will be more complete if we buy whatever it is they are selling. And today advertising is so integrated into our sensory experiences that the line between creative content and paid content is practically indistinguishable. Media, which basically runs on advertising dollars, is one of the most vulnerable industries and it has been forced to evolve.
We opted out of commercial breaks only to get our regular programing saturated with product placement. We opted for free access to the news, only to find advertisements and sponsored links scattered like land mines across the page. We have traded transparency for convenience.
In Hollywood, costume design has always been a great source of inspiration for designers and shoppers alike. And now with the rising legitimization of television alongside film, certain prime time characters are becoming popular sartorial references. With this rise of TV icons, the concept of Shazam-ing (yes, it's ubiquitous enough to be verbified) is being applied to fashion as well. But rather than wait for monthly magazines to tell us where to find the real-people-priced version of Gwenyth's latest red carpet dress, we want the information now. This trend began via shoppable runways, videos (Barneys and Nowness), and online editorials, and is now coming to a TV near you.
Conceptually, shoppable TV is a cool idea. But mostly it raises many concerns. Some of these are brought up in this Fashionista article, like preserving the creative license of the costume designer, a logistically reasonable way to provide the information, and the fact that people aren’t watching shows in real time. Transparency is a real issue in regards to which the format and messaging is key. While it seems like a great tool to know exactly where to go buy that great office wardrobe from the Good Wife, for example, the format of the medium leaves too much ambiguity between the creative prerogative and the sales pitch.
Beyond the ethical issues that would need to be addressed, this idea of prefabricated wardrobes from a celebrity or television character removes the allure of fashion and commoditizes it. It would be one thing if these movies and shows were introducing viewers to designers and products that are hard to find or unknown and ripe for discovery. But the job of costume designers is not to tell you where to shop, it is to develop characters through clothing. And the reality is that most of the sponsored content we see in media comes from big brands and distributors that are accessible to a vast audience because they are the most actionable, and they are backed with the most advertising dollars.
It begs the question that so often comes to mind as technology tackles new frontiers: Just because we can do it, should we?
Isn’t it better to take inspiration from what we see, rather than try to replicate exactly? In literature when we copy and paste it is called plagiarism, in art, forgery. In fashion, to copy and paste is not a crime but it does feed a biassed branch of consumerism. Fashion is one of the greatest means of self expression. To curate one’s identity by emulating someone else is to be deprived of that privilege. There will always be a distinction between leaders and followers. The danger here is not in being a follower, but in choosing your leader, and making sure its a person or a cause you truly believe in, not just the one that is convenient.