Though Rebecca Minkoff made waves for sending drones down the runway at New York Fashion Week in 2015, the fashion industry hasn’t been as enamored with the technology as it has been with virtual or augmented reality.
However, Hearst is testing new editorial uses for drones at its fashion brands: It used a drone to produce a fashion shoot and accompanying video that launched on Elle.com today. The imagery was captured in Tbilisi, Georgia and incorporated the use of drones and GoPro cameras to create a series of aerial and 360-degree videos that users can drag to see looks and locales in more detail. Hearst debuted its first drone photoshoot in May, in tandem with Harper’s Bazaar, which featured two models showcasing looks from the 2017 spring and summer collections of brands including Chanel and Proenza Schouler. The video, which was shared online and on Harper’s Bazaar’s social media platforms, was shot in Hawaii and intended to create an interactive, immersive experience in the same vein as Elle.com’s.
“We wanted to marry the idea of showcasing the 2017 collections, but against a travel landscape,” said Anna Jimenez, head of editorial video at Hearst Magazines Digital Media, who worked on the Harper’s Bazaar videos. “We thought aerial videography would an exciting way to take [the shoot] to places the average woman couldn’t go, to bring the fashion to life.”
The decision to foray into drone photography was largely inspired by previous experiments with GoPro cameras during New York Fashion Week in September, according to Nick Neubeck, creative director at Hearst Magazines Digital Media. Last fall, Neubeck and his team worked to develop visual content that transcended standard still shots of the runway, including 360-degree content from the perspective of a street style celebrity.
“Fashion week has always been really big for us. It drives a ton of traffic,” Neubeck said. “We’re always trying to figure out different ways of showing it, and really getting the readers involved and getting them to feel actually there.”
Part of the challenge of conducting photo shoots operated by drone is working around geographic barriers and regional no-fly-zone policies that prohibit operating a drone in designated areas. While drones have been used at events like last October’s inaugural Silicon Valley Fashion Week — which features emerging designers that have a focus on tech — Jimenez said the strict stipulations are part of the reason you won’t see a video being produced with a drone in Midtown Manhattan.
Rachel Saunders, insights and strategy director at youth research firm Cassandra, said testing drones in the fashion industry runs a risk of being perceived as a marketing gimmick, much like the early reception of VR and AR programs launched by fashion brands.
“It’s similar to how brands have been eager to experiment with VR in recent years. Young people told us those early activations felt more like marketing ploys than something relevant to their lives,” she said. “In order for drone photographers to become more widely embraced, fashion brands will need to consider what the value add is. Is there something interesting about the images, other than the fact that a drone took them? If not, it probably won’t resonate.”
Still, Hearst remains focused on building out its drone capabilities, and plans to roll out similar fashion shoots and videos across other brands, potentially including Esquire.
“The visual storytelling aspect of our team gets bigger and bigger by the minute. Now that we have the skills and understanding to do this, we plan to do a lot more of it,” said Kate Lewis, svp and editorial director of Hearst Digital Media.