It's 6pm in Milan and there is the usual scrum to get a good vantage point at the Burberry menswear show. Only this time the jostling isn't going on in the Italian fashion capital – it's happening at computer terminals across the world, as fashion fans rush to log on to see models strut down a virtual catwalk – invite not required.
Such was the scene last night when Burberry Prorsum streamed its men's autumn runway show live on its own website and GQ.com, in an attempt to widen its reach beyond the rarefied confines of fashion's inner circle. Other top designers followed suit, with shows from Dolce & Gabbana and Emporio Armani also available online yesterday.
Welcome to Fashion 2.0, as luxury fashion houses, which have been criticised in the past for lagging behind other creative industries, finally wake up to the power of the internet. As well as making catwalk fashion instantly accessible – the biannual fashion shows work a season ahead of what is in magazines – streaming fashion shows live creates an additional advertising window for the brand. This is important, given the expense of putting on a fashion show: the US label Ralph Lauren spent around $1.5m (£920,000) on its last one.
Fashion houses believe that increasing their internet presence helps them get closer to their customers. "It gives people an insight into a part of the brand they wouldn't see if they went into a department store that sold our dresses," said Alice King of the designer label Issa. It also makes it easier to get customer feedback. Christopher Bailey, Burberry's creative director, asked the label's fans to provide "comments and feedback" when he issued the open invitation to the Prorsum show via YouTube last week. "OMG I'm watching from Casablanca. I can't believe it," one fan wrote as the show began.
Some fashion commentators view the move in part as a backlash to the increasing army of fashion bloggers who have muscled their way on to – and into – the fashion scene. D&G put bloggers, including Philippines-based Bryan Grey-Yambao, or BryanBoy, in the front row of its spring/summer 2010 show last autumn. Domenico Dolce recently told Women's Wear Daily why he liked the internet. "It allows us to constantly update our consumers. It's much faster and instantaneous and allows you to update the information in real time." D&G's online activities include its site Swide. com, YouTube and a Twitter feed.
In addition to giving fashion fans a peek at new collections three months before they hit the shops, live streaming also helps to drive sales, encouraging fans to order a small selection of catwalk pieces during the show. That's if the shows go according to plan. Millions were left disappointed last October when the website due to screen Alexander McQueen's live spring/summer show crashed.