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Was The Row’s No-Social-Media Policy Alienating or Genius?

by Oana-Maria Moldovan

In an industry known for its constant evolution and embrace of the digital age, The Row, the luxury fashion house founded by Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen back in 2006, surprised the fashion world with a seemingly archaic request prior to its Autumn/Winter 2024 show at Paris Fashion Week: 

“We kindly ask that you refrain from capturing or sharing any content during your experience.”

Photo: Kevin Mazur

This departure from the norm has sparked debates about the purpose behind such a decision, with speculation ranging from a publicity stunt to a deliberate move to distance the brand from the ever-present online spotlight.

The request prompted guests to stow away their smartphones and embrace the simplicity of Japanese notepads and pens which were provided, a nostalgic and sophisticated choice that garnered both praise and disappointment.

Vanessa Friedman, chief fashion critic at The New York Times, expressed her disappointment, arguing that taking pictures doesn’t interfere with the ability to consider what is being presented fully. 

But the decision wasn’t related to attendee’s ability to maintain their full attention to the show.

Despite the evident displeasure, most guests complied, creating an atmosphere described by Dazed fashion director Emma Davidson as a “massive power move.” Was it just a power move, or was it more?

The decision to ban social media snaps during the runway show raises questions about the evolving relationship between fashion and technology. Runway shows have traditionally served as a portal to the brand’s universe, enticing consumers and creating a buzz that extends beyond the fashion elite.

There is a certain art and history in creating a fashion show. Some of the firsts can be tracked down to the 17th Century, using the Pandoral Dolls as models by the French couturiers to showcase their work.

By cutting off this digital access, The Row made a bold statement: it doesn't need to entice consumers through the online realm.

This exclusivity of The Row’s no-social-media policy has sparked discussions about whether it is a deliberate move to cater to a specific demographic, fostering an air of elitism. 

Truthfully, fan alienation is both a valid theory and a concern. If that was indeed the purpose of it all then we might start to worry about the future of the industry.

Critics argue that this move, excluding the masses from experiencing the show online, is a form of digital exclusion – very similar, if I may add, to the way the 1600s fashion events used to take place. 

The internet has become the primary means for many to engage with luxury brands, especially those beyond their financial reach. By limiting online access, The Row may be intentionally crafting an image of inaccessibility.

Although there are already brands that work exclusively on the idea of inaccessibility – take Hermes as the best example – they do it in a way that allows the general public to be aware.

The impact of social media on fashion shows is undeniable, with statistics evidencing a significant correlation between media impact value and sales. 

Many designers strategically seat influencers and celebrities – among side well-known fashion editors – to maximize exposure, creating viral moments to enhance brand visibility. 

However, The Row’s decision to shut off this outlet may indicate a desire to let the clothes speak for themselves without relying on influencer-driven buzz.

In an industry where the intensity of a runway show’s circulation creates a universal and democratized experience, The Row’s no-social-media policy is undoubtedly a strategic move, no matter the reason behind it.

As powerhouse names in the industry like Vogue and Louise Vuitton try desperately to foster an online presence, The Row’s move in the opposite direction seems to have caught our attention even more. This move has sparked so much conversation around the brand, arguably more than it would have if the show were posted online. 

By regaining creative control over the timing and presentation of its collection, the brand is building intrigue and excitement around its imminent unveiling. The discourse generated by the no-phone debate has already positioned The Row at the center of fashion conversations, even before the clothes have been revealed.

The decision to restrict social media at The Row’s Autumn/Winter 2024 presentation can also be seen through the lens of Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen’s journey in the public eye. Having grown up as child stars on television, the Olsen twins have experienced a lifetime of scrutiny, fame, and relentless media attention.

That, added with the hyper-sexualisation that society put them through during teenage-hood, can easily add to the desire of a more safe environment for them to showcase their work. 

Their decision to curate a more private and intimate atmosphere for their runway presentation may reflect a personal wish to distance themselves from the constant glare of the spotlight.

 As already stated, the nostalgia-inducing Japanese notepads and pens provided to guests suggest a return to a simpler era, evoking a sense of quiet luxury and a desire for genuine, in-person experiences over the digital spectacle.

In a fashion landscape where authenticity is often overshadowed by the pursuit of viral moments, The Row’s deliberate choice to create a more private event can, in their case, speak to a yearning for genuine connections.

By eschewing the immediate online sharing of their collection, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen could be reclaiming control over their narrative and presenting their creations in a way that aligns with their personal careers, inviting guests to experience the show more intimately, just as the designers themselves may have wished to experience in their work over the years.

Whether intentionally isolating or not – I would guess the former –, The Row’s decision challenges the status quo and prompts a reevaluation of the relationship between fashion, technology, and consumer engagement. 

As the fashion world eagerly awaits the unveiling of their Autumn/Winter 2024 collection, The Row’s no-social-media policy has undeniably left its mark on an industry that thrives on constant innovation and reinvention.

Edited by Emily Duff

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