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Immediate release

 

Text by Augustine Hammond

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The press releases issued by the top 20 luxury fashion houses for their Spring/Summer 2024 collections exhibit their own sort of verbal fashion. If you were to page through them all in one sitting, your eyes would snag on the same recurring words. “Culture” and “style” appear in 80% of the releases, while “silhouette” and “expression” feature in 77%, and “personal” and “individual” in around 60%. Gender is a focal point: one is busy “taking elements of a man’s wardrobe making them lastingly feminine,” another declares a “refusal of all clichés that confine women to predefined categories,” and yet another promotes “tailoring that is masculine.” This is a canon in which “lightness, sensuality, beauty and elegance” are explored, though “seduction and glamour are still pivotal”. Here, “the everyday is elevated”, where “a laid back and sophisticated silhouette sets out its own idea of nonchalance and elegance.”

The fashion press release follows a predictable formula: 400 to 500 words in 4 to 5 paragraphs. Months of ideas, inspirations and technical developments are compressed into a single page of A4. The text is called upon to contextualise a collection and enrich the meaning of clothes on the runway, placed on the rows of seats at fashion shows and later distributed via blast email to those in attendance as an “immediate release”. In the press release a grey sweatshirt becomes an act of rebellion; a black tie an attack on gender; a handbag a token of power.

Somewhere between ekphrasis and marketing, both informative and driven by publicity, the press release is a mediator of critique. It comes between brand and writer and has increased in prominence in the fashion journalism chain of production with the decline of outlets pursuing long-form, unaffiliated fashion writing.

Sometimes, however, the release transmits otherwise unavailable information helpful for broadening understanding and expanding access to sometimes obscure ideas. Twentieth-century American publicity expert Ivy Lee, who invented the press release in 1906, saw it as a useful tool. After a Pennsylvania Railroad Company-owned train derailed in New Jersey, killing 53 people, it was Mr Lee who pacified the press and soothed public opinion with a press release, masking what would have been a PR catastrophe under a veil of communication.

Since then, the press release has undergone more than a century of evolution to become what it is today. In 1954, the launch of distributor PR Newswire meant that press releases could be sent to multiple news outlets simultaneously. Then at the turn of the century, the release adapted to the digital age with the inclusion of images and video – the first example being the inclusion of B-roll snippets and stills in the promotional release for the film Pearl Harbor (2001).

Today, the press release is witnessing yet another revival, guided by the impending AI revolution, in response to a chronic state of crisis demanding PR management battle the unbridled influence of social media platforms. Now that work can be shared in different spaces, the press release is a way to ensure continuity across platforms. For Sabato de Sarno’s debut Spring/Summer 2024 collection for Gucci, the brand published its release on social media channels before the show had even started, giving everyone an account of his inspirations and ideas before they could interpret them in real time. This level of access is symptomatic of how critique has become diluted as the profession of the independent fashion critic comes under strain. Now, the press release faces increasing pressure to make up for critique’s lost role through narrative.

In June last year, OpenAI’s ChatGPT authored the press release for the Marc Jacobs runway show at the New York Public Library. In a three-minute meditation on our lapsed attention spans, in which models came on and off the runway in the blink of an eye, Jacobs’ collection served as a commentary on where we find ourselves in the current moment. The AI-penned press release offered a prime example of the highly replicable tone these documents adopt, mentioning an “innovative approach to blending menswear-inspired tailoring with feminine aesthetics,” and “practicality without compromising on sophistication”; as expected, the computer generated the tone these documents adopt, ultimately raising the question whether our quest for efficiency and connectivity has left us with something even less tangible.

Some designers are opting out of the traditional approach. For Spring/Summer 2024, Simone Rocha released an eight-line poem, alongside a list of gallery-like titles and descriptions for each of her 22 looks, from “Paper – Paper roses twisted into garments” to “Bronze – Crystal cage veil.” ASAI also penned a poem calling for spectators to “taste the rainbow after the acid rain storm” in his kaleidoscopic run of looks, each made using a knobbly knotting technique.

Stefan Cooke broke his show notes down into single declarative sentences rather than formulaic paragraphs with lengthy descriptions, noting that “Champion sashes are knitted in lambswool and feel more homespun than Olympic”; “And a huge new ‘SC’ monogram debuts on a white T-shirt dress. Billboard size.” Meanwhile, Molly Goddard also kept her release short, opening with a rare first-person address: “I have always loved the internal workings of garments, hand-sewn adjustments and finishings.”

While the future of fashion criticism follows a design one cannot foresee, innovations in the format of the press release are likely to proliferate. As AI continues to evolve, ChatGPT and other programs will be writing many more immediate releases in the coming years, and the distillation of inspirations, techniques and design development will continue to shroud clear assessments. But if the sheet of A4 is torn up and new ways of communicating show notes are established, there is hope that fair criticism can survive. ◉