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A Front-Row Seat via Video

As the Belstaff runway show began in New York City last week, buyers, designers and bloggers crowded into their seats, jotted notes and took smartphone photos as the models strutted by.
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Belstaff live streams its shows, and the online behavior of its Web viewers is used to help predict which of the runway items might be hits.
But it was another crowd, outside the tents, that Belstaff executives were particularly interested in this season. For the second time, it was live streaming its fashion show. And the Web viewers were not just potential fans, they were data sources to help Belstaff predict which of the runway items might be hits in stores this summer.

“If you can have a bit of information that helps you beat the market and pick more winners,” said Damian Mould, Belstaff’s chief marketing officer, “you’d be stupid not to take it.”

Fashion Week, which wrapped up last week in New York and moved on to London and to Milan this week, used to be an insular industry event. Buyers and editors attended and made calls as to what their customers would want months from now.

But that has changed. Fashion houses in recent years started to sidestep the middleman by giving the public a front-row seat via webcam video. While that was more of a marketing tool at first, live streaming — and other ways to give consumers digital access to runway fashion — is now being seen as a research opportunity.

As more brands offer live videos of the shows, regular viewers see exactly what the buyers and editors are seeing, and influence what will be made by pausing on an outfit or posting Twitter messages about a particular style.

On retail fashion Web sites like Lyst and Moda Operandi, designers are allowed to track consumers’ early orders to gauge demand before they make clothes. And a handful of brands, like Burberry, are allowing regular customers to order runway clothes as the shows are live streamed.

Increasingly, the public is weighing in on fashion — and designers are listening. “It’s creating a commercial opportunity around an event that was previously an industry event,” said Aslaug Magnusdottir, the chief executive of Moda Operandi.

Mass-market apparel has long embraced the Web, but high fashion brands were wary of even having e-commerce sites a few years ago, fearing that would cheapen their brands. Now, the embrace of the Twitter-using public is causing some tension in the high-fashion world, where buyers’ tastes used to reign supreme.

“Of course the buyer knows their customer,” said Mortimer Singer, chief executive of the retail consulting firm Marvin Traub Associates, “but I think it’s hard to ignore when someone turns around to you and says, by the way, we got 50 preorders of this style.”

Live streams are an important way of measuring customer interest. They became popular a few years ago and are now regularly syndicated on fashion blogs and style sites.

“It’s not only what consumers are watching, but the devices they’re on, the geographies that they’re in, the engagement — what part of the video stream was of most interest, where did they abandon the video,” said Jay Fulcher, chief executive of Ooyala, which makes a video player that streamed Fashion Week shows, including those for DKNY, Marc Jacobs, Oscar de la Renta, Belstaff and Tory Burch.

According to B Productions, which produced the video for those shows, viewership has grown by about 20 to 40 percent every year for brands that have been streaming for a few years, and the data is becoming more precise.

“It’s not just that they stopped watching five minutes in,” said Russell Quy, president of BLive by B Productions, “but we’re able to attach that to an actual outfit.”

Belstaff, a British brand known for its outerwear, gathered data via the live stream of its recent women’s show in a few ways. It syndicated the live streams on a number of fashion sites.

By looking at Twitter mentions timed to the live stream, the company saw that the first five looks — new twists on classic jackets — drew enthusiastic responses.

“I’ve informed the buying team of that interest, so I know they’re going to buy big and deep in that category when the product comes in,” Mr. Mould said.

Data from the live stream also helped the company better arrange its e-commerce Web site. Viewers in the United States were clicking through to the site in the early part of the runway show, when Belstaff was showing its cutting edge pieces, while those in Britain and Germany clicked through when more traditional pieces were shown. Now, the company plans to adjust its e-commerce sites accordingly.

About 50 percent of people who watched the live stream went to the Belstaff Web site, and sales there were about 50 percent higher than on an average day, though the site was selling last season’s clothes, not this season’s. Mr. Mould said the company was now examining the live stream data as its internal buyers and retailers’ representatives placed orders.

“It’s not something overt — we don’t give them a package of information to say what trended well — but they’ll say, this is one we got a lot of heat on,” he said.

Many major designers now stream their shows — Ooyala handled 77 live streams for New York Fashion Week — and as style blogs proliferate, the streams are getting more and more views.

Other brands that use live stream audiences’ responses include Marc by Marc Jacobs, which saw Twitter conversation spike around its luggage-handle bags during last week’s runway show and alerted its buyers. And Tory Burch studied a live lookbook feature that let people share runway looks via social media. “That allows us to give our clients data on who liked what looks in what country and what regions,” Mr. Quy said.

Other brands are looking at different cues to indicate what customers will want months from now.

Moda Operandi, an online site, offers collections for sale days after a runway show, though the clothes and accessories are not made and delivered until months later. For customers, who have to pay 50 percent of an item’s price up front, the appeal is making sure they get an item before it sells out, and in case major department stores don’t order it.

For the brands, the preorders mean an early read on what is working.

“It allows them for the first time to make a very educated decision about how to plan,” Ms. Magnusdottir said.

Moda Operandi gives brands information about who is ordering what, so brands can stock their stores accordingly. “We know the age group of the women who are buying, color preferences by region,” Ms. Magnusdottir said. “Many of the designers have started looking to that to make decisions when they have their own stores or own Web sites they sell on, or even feeding that to a retailer.”

Lyst, a social-shopping site, allows shoppers to track runway items and alerts them when that product becomes available, right through to the time it goes on sale. Lyst has started feeding that information to brands and retailers, too, after they demanded it.

Mr. Morton said he believed that in part, the brands were trying to ward off fast-fashion companies that knock off runway trends and get them into stores just weeks after the fashion shows, by responding more directly to consumers.

“With live blogging from the runway, and Style.com and sites like us showing images straightaway, all that is setting expectations,” he said, adding that consumers are asking, “ ‘Why should I have to wait?’ ”

The New York Times