03/01/2012 12:45 pm ET Updated Oct 11, 2012

Barbarians at the Runway

Dear Julia: I follow you on Twitter and see you've just finished covering Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York. I'm a big fashionista myself and I'm curious to know how the industry feels about social media.

-- Social Media Style Maven

Dear SMSM: I know this may come as a shock, but fashion designers are people. Crazy, right? Some traffic in the avant-garde, while others stick to classic, time-tested tradition. So it goes with social media. Some have embraced the possibilities with verve, others have been forced to use it by their PR people. Because I'd like to continue to cover Fashion Week, I won't hint at who the latter are, but I will say this: When confronted with anything newfangled, experimental or just plain unfamiliar, those people in even the most innovative professions (fashion being one of them) can panic.

Why? Because the gatekeepers lose control when trampled by aficionados armed only with their iPhone, their autonomy and their attitude. The new fashion elite aren't beholden to anyone -- and they tweet and post what they really think, loyalties be damned.

"Social media has made fashion very accessible," says co-founder Tina Craig, cradling a hot-pink Birkin bag between shows. "In the past, you had to wait until Vogue or Elle came out with their trends six months later. I was at DKNY earlier today and already did a post on their bags. We've made it faster and more opinionated. We're the friend next door, and that really resonates with women. That's where everyone gets their fashion inspiration now -- blogs!"

Dear Julia: I've noticed a bunch of Fashion Week shows live-streaming for the first time last season, which is really cool because I don't live in New York. What's the deal?

-- Glued to MyYouTube

Dear YouTube: This month was my tenth season covering New York Fashion Week, and when I first started discussing live-streaming the shows in 2008, the idea was not -- shall we say -- well received. The designers' concerns centered on one core issue: Creating demand for a product that does not yet exist is a dicey business proposition.

In other words, how does it benefit, say, Michael Kors to display his new collection to the world only to say, "Oh, I'm sorry, you may love, love, love that fabulous dress, but it won't be available for purchase until September." And by September, that same fabulous dress will be old news -- old news being, of course, the fashion industry's worst nightmare.

In this post-Project Runway world, it's hard to remember that fashion shows were, until quite recently, trade events for industry insiders: buyers and editors who needed a six-month lead time to get the clothes into their stores and onto the pages of their magazines. The consumer or fan wasn't a part of that equation.

So what happened? Why are most designers now live-streaming, either on their individual sites or in conjunction with YouTube ( Have they resolved the demand-supply issue? In a word: Nope! What they have realized, however, is that the future is now, and they can't fight it.

As Diane von Furstenberg told me before her show, "Usually, I'm against [live-streaming], but today, I said, 'I can't go against the world. Since everybody else is, I will.'"

With the rise of fashion bloggers posting live updates from shows, instant access to the catwalk is an inevitability, so designers may as well embrace the advantages: inclusion, democratization, creation of new brand devotees.

"We have a lot of customers and fans who want to be a part of Fashion Week," designer Tracey Reese says of her decision to live-stream. "It's invited people behind the scenes. A lot of people are curious: What goes into making clothes, and how do you get your inspiration? We wouldn't want to shut them out from all the excitement just because they're thousands of miles away."

Designer Derek Lam agrees. "It's become such an important way of doing business and letting people know what we're about," he says. "We have a limited audience in terms of how many people can come to the show, but live-streaming is great because you get to participate in the moment. It's exciting for fans to be able to see it alongside people in the front row."

Disclosure: Originally published in 2011 as a syndicated column for Tribune Media Services. Edited and reprinted with permission.