What social media is doing to the world of fashion
HOW SOCIAL MEDIA HAVE CHANGED THE WAY FASHION IS CREATED, EXPERIENCED AND SHARED
not long ago, fashion weeks were reserved for a happy few who were sensibly picked for being the industry’s crème de la crème: editors, high-end fashion buyers and devotees, glamorous celebrities who turned the front row into an elite rank of experts hiding behind dark sunglasses, wealthy clients and VIP invites.
Outside, and excluded from the shows, the rest of the world (or at least the circles with an interest in fashion) waited in awe, reading every review streaming out of the guarded tents as the holy word to the believers. Fashion critics Kennedy Fraser, Cathy Horyn, Suzy Menkes and Robin Givhan (Givhan was the first fashion writer to win a Pulitzer Prize for criticism in 2006) were some of the few setting the fashion tone with their sharp reviews of collections and their insider look at the industry. It was bordering on religious: they told us, we listened, we accepted.
But since the internet revolution, the rise of blogging and the explosion of social media (hello Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, Facebook) the front row has changed and next to Anna Wintour one can now find a bevy of celebrities, bloggers, socialites and lesser-known bodies, armed with a large Twitter following and smartphones flashing like strobe lights. From their hands to our screens, the universe has shrunk and reviews are now squashed into 140 characters, a hashtag, a cropped and filtered image. ‘I see therefore I tweet’ has become the new norm and a constant stream of images, tweets, re-tweets and short, sharp and snarky opinions bombard the dedicated followers of fashion. It isn’t just crazier; it is faster, more compact and hellishly widereaching. What used to be a privilege of only a carefully selected few is now a function of many, directly injected into the wide, wide
world with no time for meaningful analysis and proper understanding.
Designers are also affected by our digital age: just when the LBD (little black dress) had made its mark as the ultimate garment in any woman’s wardrobe, Tom Ford explained that he was rarely designing black dresses any more because it didn’t look great on a computer screen, thus negatively influencing online sales. Offsetting the trend was Alexander Wang, who, for his A/W 2014 show in Brooklyn last February (amid the snow and the #trafficjam), featured garments that were a feast for the Instagram lens. Made out of thermal heat-sensitive fabric, with moulded utilitarian pockets (that popped out like 3D material) or bubbled knitwear, the range was easy and incredible to shoot, tweet and post.
Other brands have jumped on the social media express train: just before the Chanel A/W 2014/15 show, which was set under the roof of the Grand Palais in Paris in what looked like a real-size supermarket filled with Chanelstamped goodies, spectators were invited to walk through the aisles, taking multiple selfies, and pictures of the décor were soon posted on every possible platform. Shots of Jambon Cambon (standing for couture ham),Tweed Lemon drink (Rose’s cordial but chicer) and Haute Ketchup rivalled images of Chanel’s iconic twinset, little tweed jacket and new ‘It’ shoes, the not-so-glam (albeit très haute couture) multi-coloured trainers. It was overwhelming, fun and instantaneous and left a powerful imprint as the images floated around the planet like the minuscule pebbles of Hop-o’-my-Thumb (sending one back directly into the Chanel digital home).
Victoria Beckham quickly understood how the digital revolution could help her reach a wider audience. In January 2014, she collaborated with Skype on an ‘exclusive interactive editorial’, releasing a behind-thescenes video starting with the words, ‘I had
been waking up every morning and feeling like I was juggling glass balls. I lived in LA, my business was run out of London, and most evenings I was in front of Skype speaking to my studio in London.’ Beckham revealed some not-so-intimate-but-still-exclusive images of her team, ideas, day at work, later telling The Telegraph, ‘I hope by sharing my story, I will inspire others who are interested in fashion and encourage them to work hard and follow their dream as I did.’ Along the way, she managed to strengthen her presence worldwide and build brand loyalty.
At Tommy Hilfiger, social media are taken so seriously that the house launched the first InstaMeet during its A/W 2014/15 presentation last February, where it invited 20 Instagrammers to document its catwalk show. For those not familiar with InstaMeet, Instagram explains it as ‘gatherings of people coming together to connect, explore and celebrate their creativity’. The result was shots galore of the collection; although it did not have the widest reach, it certainly was the most creative one.
Locally, at AFI Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, Marianne Fassler presented a collection dubbed #VoteFassler; it opened with her studio team walking the catwalk in white uniforms and carrying #VoteFassler pickets. The designer surfed on both the country’s elections and the rise of social media to market her collection. Similarly, David Tlale provided the public with enough slogans to turn the
Next to Anna Wintour one can now find a bevy of celebrities, bloggers, socialites and lesser-known bodies, armed with a large Twitter following and smartphones flashing like strobe lights
Twittersphere alight. Although his show seemed lost in the business of Mandela Square in Sandton, Jo’burg, he had organised a small crowd with banners stating: ‘Love SA’, ‘Africa is Now’ and ‘Africa is Rising’ that were relayed via Twitter like little hot cakes.
Of course, the rise of social media helped democratise fashion and brought it to the masses. But it also left its audience with a huge amount of information that can quickly become overwhelming. Brands also have to be ever faster and louder than the next competitor; still, the trick with immediacy and interactivity is that it doesn’t always work the way you expected it to and you don’t always have it under control.
At Alexander Wang, despite the many innovative garments, all that everybody was talking and tweeting about was the #EscapefromWang taxi bill, with Harper’s Bazaar’s Laura Brown noting, ‘Alexander Wang models moving faster than our cars’. In fact, the designer had his show set outside of Manhattan, far from the usual Lincoln Center, forcing anyone attending to drive or take a cab, which was, given the snowstorm, a real expedition. In 2013, American designer Kenneth Cole had models walking the catwalk, cellphones in hand, snapping photos of the audience and live-tweeting them to their followers. Cole took a dose of risk (one cannot control what the models will be sending out), especially after his Twitter-disgrace when he posted in 2011,‘Millions uproar in #Cairo. Rumour is they heard that our new spring collection is available online.’
Similarly, in 2012, American Apparel tactlessly made a reference to Hurricane Sandy to promote its latest sale; the brand posted on its Twitter account: ‘In case you’re bored during the storm, 20 per cent off everything during the next 36 hours’; Gap was not too far off when it tweeted, ‘All impacted by #Sandy, stay safe! We’ll be doing lots of Gap.com shopping today. How about you?’ Bad taste is definitely not just a sartorial thing.
From exclusive previews to live-streamed fashion shows, fashion is now everywhere, haute couture and streetwear walking together side by side on the internet highway. It is, without a doubt, more democratic; and with every new democracy comes debates, conversations, experiments and inevitable faux pas, now widely shared instantaneously across the globe.
Above left Tommy Hilfiger’s A/W ’14/15 show (#TommyFall2014). Above right, from
top to bottom Models walking through the Chanel aisles,A/W ’14/15. Opposite, above far right Kenneth Cole’s models snap away at guests during the designer’s A/W