vaqstyle 2017-02-15, 10:07
Alexandra Van Houtte spent her early career chasing down runway images. As a fashion assistant at the Paris offices of Vogue, Grazia, and Glamour, she was tasked with researching looks from the four major Fashion Weeks that take place around the globe all year long. At each event, designers present hundreds of runway shows totaling many thousands of looks.
If her editor wanted a photo of a "red dress," Van Houtte, who's originally from the U.K., would spend 10 hours sifting through images of shows to supply viable options. "I’d have to go through every single show, screenshot-ing it and putting it into a folder," says Van Houtte, 27. "It took up so much energy. There are so many collections every year, so many styles, and nothing to sort them out… It was really tiring."
By her own admission, Van Houtte is "impatient." And she was frustrated. She saw efficiency in so many other industries but hers: Hollywood has IMDB. Academics have JSTOR. Lawyers have LexisNexis. Where was the transformative research tool for fashion?
"[The fashion industry] is so forward-thinking on so many things but when it came to sourcing out collections, it took so much time," she says.
After one too many nights poring over thousands of images of ruffles, Van Houtte decided to end the tyranny of runway research. She quit her job at Grazia in May 2015 to create TAGWALK, the world’s first fashion search engine. Launched in January 2016, the site allows users to search Fashion Week collections by brand, season, fabric, style, city, and trend. Unlike shopping search engines, which present consumers with options broadly related to keyword searches, Van Houtte's startup is designed to help the fashion industry track down looks with as much specificity as possible, from runway shows in Paris, Milan, London, and New York that occur twice a year. It's like Google, but in Anna Wintour-speak.
Van Houtte envisioned a neutral resource where people could find every Fashion Week designer, big and small, established and up and coming. As the website explains, "TAGWALK is based on three words: fashion, simplicity, and rapidity." The idea was to build a database that housed every single look from each show as soon as it was presented, with multiple keyword "grades" for each image. For example, "denim" is one keyword. If a look is a full Canadian tuxedo, it would receive a 10/10 for denim, whereas a jacket with denim lining might get a 3/10.
The first step was finding a web developer. And from there... the initial six months were rough. "I did it all on my own," says Van Houtte, who personally contacted every single brand involved in Paris and Milan Fashion Weeks, requesting images to feed her growing database. It was, much like her assistant days, painstaking and tedious. She edited and tagged every single image by herself.
"That’s 10,000 pictures that I referenced with my own hands," she says. Eventually, she hired a team of fashion experts to help her sort through the mountains of visuals.