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.
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 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 websites like Lyst and Moda Operandi, designers can 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.
According to B Productions, which produced the video for those shows, brands' live-stream viewership has grown by about 20 to 40 percent every year, and the data are 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," Mould said.
Data from the live stream also helped the company better arrange its e-commerce website. 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.
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," Quy said.