“We all have our escapes,” Laird Borelli-Persson wrote on Vogue.com this past September. “One of mine is living vicariously through Peter Copping’s Instagram.” Persson then drew links between the archival content the Oscar De La Renta designer had posted on his personal Instagram and his most recent collections for the vaunted heritage house. This approach suggested that in fashion, in 2015, the clothes are simply no longer enough—and that seems to be true. Designers, brands, and retailers must now lift fashion’s gilded curtain of exclusivity to engage with social media, hopefully in a way that's both intimate and innovative. That, or die off trying.
When New York profiled Erin Yogasundram, the founder of the Tumblr-literate fast fashion e-retailer Shop Jeen, for its Fall Fashion issue, their explanation of her brand's runaway success involved lots of nuts-and-bolts Instagram logistics. Yogasundram’s social media strategy “was to follow every single person who followed Nasty Gal on Instagram, wait for them to follow her back, and then unfollow them a few days later," they wrote. "She’d get upwards of 25,000 likes on her posts and made $50,000 from Shop Jeen her first month.” In fashion these days, a winner has paid painstaking attention to social media promotion.(Though, somewhat ironically, things at Shop Jeen are not exactly what they seem).
That’s not to say social media savvy entirely outweighs value and craftsmanship. Shop Jeen still has some 6 million fewer followers on Instagram than Louis Vuitton, a brand that—like Chanel and Dior—has worked to adapt to a generation of consumers that grew up not giving a shit about the difference between resort and couture. Today's most stylish people do not tack pages of fashion magazines to their walls.
For these designers, Instagram has opened a line of communication with consumers. But what was previously a one-way street is now a feedback loop. As individuals master what it means to create their own brands, their expectations of established design houses and emerging labels alike are higher than ever before.
Designers are keenly aware of this. In a panel hosted by Fast Company last month, Proenza Schouler co-designers Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez not only admitted taking social media into account when designing their collections, but detailed the extent of its influence. "It's changed the way we edit the show, the palette of the show," said Hernandez. "The way we think about it is completely different." At the same event, Eva Chen, Instagram's head of fashion partnerships, coined a term meant to describe an instinctively positive, almost visceral reaction. The kind that nearly takes your breath away when you least expect it, that awes you on visual, sensory, and emotional planes. Its name? “The thumb-stopping moment.” That phrase encapsulates a core challenge of making clothes in 2015, and the responsibility designers now have to transcend tactile pleasures, and engage with their fans in unprecedented ways. Here, eight examples of how Instagram pushed fashion's hand this year.
1. Gucci launched #GucciGram to tap into Instagram's wealth of original artwork and creativity
In the caption of the Instagram post announcing the project, Creative Director Alessandro Michele wrote, "#GucciGram is a starting point to tell different stories, which are all united by great freedom. Today creativity is often born and finds its voice in digital media, a vital source of visual culture.”
2. Tom Ford figured out what consumers care about today—Rihanna's Instagram
In an interview with the now-defunct Style.com, Tom Ford said, "Something new is happening that I'm just clueing into now—this probably won't go down well—but customers don't care any more about reviews or hard-copy publications. They care what picture Rihanna just Instagrammed while she's naked in bed, what new shoes she has on, how she's talking about them. That's what they respond to."
3. CFDA released a hardcover book titled Designers on Instagram: #Fashion
Steven Kolb, the CFDA CEO announced that, "The books that really are popular are the ones that give a glimpse into the lives of designers, and Instagram is such an inside look at a person’s life, so we just thought populating that all together in a print book... would be a good way to share that insider glimpse."
4. Olivier Rousteing extolled the PR benefits of Instagram
In an interview with The New Yorker, Balmain creative director Rousteing mused, “I can speak straight to my Balmain army, instantly, and I am making fashion for them...It is too bad for critics if they cannot understand this, but the truth is now that their critiques do not matter...Who would you rather have in the front row? A celebrity or a critic?”
5. Proenza Schouler details the extent to which Instagram has influenced their runway collections
At a Fast Company-hosted panel earlier this year, Proenza Schouler co-designer Lazaro Hernandez admitted, "It's changed the way we edit the show, the palette of the show. The way we think about it is completely different...Color has been more important and also the narrative of the show...It's not just about the clothes, it's how they look on screen."
6. Misha Nonoo eschewed the IRL runway to debut her Spring '16 collection via a series of Instagrams
In an interview with Elle, Misha Nonoo said, "I am obsessed with Instagram – it is the first thing I check in the morning and last thing before bed. I am inspired by Instagram's power to encourage creativity amongst so many different fields. I am very visual person and I love that you can sum up or understand someone else's story in one second; it is an art form in itself."
7. Stuart Weitzman recruited Ann Street Studio to create Instagram-specific Cinemagraphs
Susan Duffy, Stuart Weitzman's CMO told Convince and Convert, “Cinemagraphs allow us to share mesmerizing moments that extend the visual vocabulary of the brand. We are very excited to bring life to this innovative Instagram campaign, which will enable us to connect with new consumers on an intimate and aspirational level. The opportunities for engagement and organic reach are limitless.”
8. And DKNY slid into fans' DMs to personally explain their latest looks
In a statement, DKNY creative directors Maxwell Obsorne and Di-Yao Chao explained, "even in a city as big and fast-paced as New York, you can still find corners and moments of intimacy, [and] our social dialogue is grounded in that belief."