Fashion Hitgs the Internet

Article excerpt

Cyberspace used to be thought of as a territory inhabited solely by the pocket-protector set _ but with the fashion industry jumping with both well-shod feet into the Internet, a modem and a mouse are about to become the latest musthave accessories.

Surveys show that women are responding in greater numbers to the Internet, the international computer network highly touted as the entrance to the information superhighway. User-friendly subscriber services such as America Online, Compuserve, Prodigy and MCI also are noting the trend. America Online estimates its membership at 70 percent men and 30 percent women, but experts contend those numbers soon will alter to reflect a 60-40 split.

And the fashion industry is sitting up and taking notice. MCI recently offered runway photos from the fall/winter collections in New York in the Mfashion section of its Home Page on the Internet's World Wide Web (Internet "address": WWW.internetMCI.com). On-line "chats" with such designers as Todd Oldham and Cynthia Rowley, a segment on male models, and news from the shows also were made available.

"Elle" is the only fashion magazine, but one of an increasing number of women's magazines, to join forces with a subscriber service, in this case America Online. In addition to the articles and departments found in each issue. "Elle" Online also offers features _ reviews of the fall/winter collections, for example _ available only in cyberspace.

"You have to appreciate the power of this medium," said Paul DeBenedictis, senior vice president and chief financial officer for Hachette Filipacchi, the New York-based publishing group responsible for about two dozen magazines, including "Elle." "There are no deadline constraints, and the lead time is much quicker. So it's now possible for us to put out daily, weekly content that's specialized for our consumers and our target areas."

"Elle" Online recently hosted a conference chat featuring Bobbi Brown, the New York makeup artist and creator of an eponymous makeup and skin-care line. During the 45-minute on-line event, 256 subscribers signed on and asked about 600 questions, ranging from "What is the biggest makeup mistake?" to "Is there a sure-fire way to find the right foundation color?"

Brown said her conference experience reinforced her beliefs in what type of beauty advice women are seeking.

"Those questions that most fashion and beauty editors think are silly really aren't," she noted. "Women want answers to the most basic questions. I wasn't surprised at all by what they asked."

Ultimately such conferences provide the opportunity for consumers to enjoy otherwise rare one-on-one contact with industry professionals. The obvious flip side is that Brown also reaped the benefits of exposure to an audience that may have been unfamiliar with her or her products.

With that in mind, would she participate in another conference?

"Oh, definitely," she said. "Elle sent flowers the next day and has already asked if I'd do it again. …