By the time New York Fashion Week—which kicks off Monday, Feb. 1—rolls around, fans of fashion tend to be ready for a bit of a social media cleanse. The global menswear shows began in London in early January, and ever since, every fashion editor, clothing brand, and "Instagram influencer" has been posting blurry runway shots of models stomping too quickly past—or carefully posed pictures of themselves wearing the latest styles. Social media have truly become central to fashion marketing, and it's gotten a little overwhelming.
In part, this is because such networks as Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat have helped fashion houses thrive. The direct connection between a designer and his or her fans is great for brand loyalty, and as millennials have come to trust what's in the feeds in their phones more than what they see in advertisements, a robust presence on those platforms is necessary for a brand to stay relevant.
This is a change from the past—accessibility was not usually a key tenet of luxury fashion. According to James Lovejoy, a content researcher at Brandwatch, a social media analytics company, a lot of luxury fashion brands have been timid in the past about engaging in social media because they wanted to retain a tight, controlled grip on their branding. But, he says, "whether consciously entering the social fray or not, fashion brands have been brought into this highly public space. And now, through the power of social media, massive audiences can access their fashion shows in nearly real time. And that may or may not be in the control of the brand."
But lately, as they rush to catch up with the future, the brands that show at fashion week have gone to extremes to use social media more creatively when it comes to showing their collections. Last fall, Burberry gave a sneak peek of its full womenswear collection on Snapchat the day before the official show. Gucci often puts its looks up on Instagram at the moment they make their debut on the runway.
"Fashion shows have always been fantasy visual experiences; I wouldn’t argue that the idea has changed," says Justin Berkowitz, Bloomingdale’s men’s fashion director. "What perhaps has evolved is the frequency. Many designers seem increasingly focused on how the collection and experience of their show translates in social media. More and more often, designers use elaborate sets or highly designed runways to create an interesting environment around their collection. When these elements help tell the story of a collection innately, it works beautifully, but sometimes the connection is only tangential.”
In Milan, Paris, and London this month, we saw some especially edgy efforts that have us wondering what we'll see at the New York menswear shows in early February and the womenswear collections that follow shortly after.
Here are five brand moments from the just-wrapped European collections that moved the needle for future social media experiments.
Grindr Livestreams the J.W. Anderson Show
Huh!? That was the general reaction that could be heard from around the fashion media in early January when we received a press release from the public relations firm PR Consulting stating that the designer J.W. Anderson, the darling of London Collections Men, would be livestreaming his show for the very first time exclusively on … Grindr.
Yes, that Grindr—the all-male social networking app that is used primarily by gay men to "connect" with other gay men nearby. Anderson has a reputation for the unexpected, but no one saw that puzzling, unconventional partnership coming (except maybe PR Consulting, as the firm currently represents both brands).
According to Anderson, the brand is always on the lookout “for ways to push boundaries when it comes to gender and aesthetic.” The fashions in his collections (polka-dot furs, cropped tops, and knitted track pants) are certainly proof of that. But was aligning his young and lesser-known brand with a hookup app for gay men a risky or ingenious move? After all, anyone who is not a gay man seeking companionship, but who wanted to watch the show, would have had to download a slightly seamy new app to his phone.
Here’s how it worked: Grindr’s 7 million users (across 192 countries) were directed from the app to a digital destination where the video was shown live, then on a continuous loop for 24 hours following. According to Grindr, the show drew viewership in the hundreds of thousands, about a third of them during the live event (which would have been around 5:00 a.m. EST). J.W. Anderson's normal group of buyers is quite small, so this stunt may have exposed it to a whole new audience—though whether those viewers will remember the experience when the clothes become available in eight months is not quite a sure thing.
Calvin Klein Hosts an Internet Sensation (Heads Explode)
Call it a strategic partnership or a PR gimmick, but whatever it was, it was pretty brilliant. In what was the most memorable moment of the entire three-week-long European show calendar, a 21-year-old from Chino, Calif., named Cameron Dallas caused a near riot when he showed up as an invited guest at the Calvin Klein show. Never heard of him? Neither had most of the fashion editors and buyers in attendance at the show. But we certainly know him now, and we’re still talking about him, and thus the show, which was the whole point of the spectacle, really.
See, Dallas is a self-created social media star with a collective 20 million followers across such platforms as Instagram and Vine. For comparison’s sake, that’s more followers than fashion folk such as Karl Lagerfeld, Karlie Kloss, Louis Vuitton, and Ralph Lauren have on Instagram, alone … combined. One image of Dallas backstage before the show recieved 111,000 likes (that’s more than snaps posted of female influencers such as Kendall Jenner and blogger Chiara Ferragni).
This helps a brand such as Calvin Klein in particular, because in addition to the expensive runway clothes that wealthy shoppers can buy in upscale department stores, a huge part of the company's bottom line comes from fragrances, $28 sports bras, and cotton boxer briefs that are affordable to Dallas's young fans. Calvin Klein is speaking the language of its desired millennial (and even younger) consumer.
This is after CK launched its #mycalvins campaign in 2014, which has become one of the most successful digitally driven campaigns in the industry—expanding the brand’s social media following by the millions. (They can thank Justin Bieber for that one, too.)
If Calvin Klein was going for maximum impact, they nailed it. "That moment created an incredible sense of excitement—and chaos—outside the show venue," says Berkowitz, who was a guest of the show. "It made me think about what it must have been like when the Beatles hit town.”
But how truly valuable is creating a viral moment like this to a brand that is ultimately in the business of selling luxury clothing? “It really depends on a brand's goals," says Lovejoy, who stresses that social metrics aren't always the most acurate. "If Calvin Klein was trying to get [its] name in front of as many people as [it] possibly could, then a PR stunt like that will probably help rack up those social numbers. But I think brands should always question whether they're actually building advocates or just going for mass likes—and not seeking the most influential and beneficial audience.”
Burberry Partners With Apple TV
Burberry is widely regarded as a pioneer when it comes to fusing fashion and technology. Beyond the British brand's very active global audience—it has 38 million followers across 19 platforms—it has successfully partnered with such platforms as Snapchat (which generated 200 million views of its spring/summer 2016 womenswear collection), Periscope, Kakao, and LINE.
This season, for its fall 2016 menswear collection, it teamed up with Apple TV to become the first luxury brand to broadcast a fashion show live on the platform. (It were also the first to have its own channel on Apple Music.) Burberry won't disclose Apple viewership metrics, but nearly 40,000 people have watched the full 17-minute runway show on their YouTube channel.
Barneys New York and Givenchy Launch An Instagram-Only Lookbook
While designer Riccardo Tisci presented his fall 2016 Givenchy collection—billed as his most dapper and wearable menswear showing to date—this past weekend in Paris, his current spring/summer 2016 line made its debut by way of an Instagram-only campaign in a partnership with Barneys New York.
The luxury retailer enlisted the creative guidance of a social media provocateur, the artist Doug Abraham (known via his popular Instagram handle @bessnyc4), to curate a series of images with photographer by Evan Schreiber. The result was a restrained (for Abraham) and tasteful click-to-buy lookbook called Seeing Stars, which was introduced exclusively on @barneysman to its nearly 72,000 followers.
While the series didn't receive as much attention (likes) as Abraham's more boundary-pushing content, according to Barneys, it is very pleased with the results—and reports a threefold lift in traffic on Instagram, as well as a 50-percent increase in searches for Givenchy on Barneys.com. "The goal of this campaign and the reason why it resonated with our audience was because we were able add to the men's fashion conversation, not just report on what most people are covering,” says Chris Martinez, a vice president and digital creative director at Barneys New York. “Our audience is always interested in our perspective, and through this collaboration we were able to really showcase this collection in a way that was unique and relevant."
Nic Screws is the style director at Bloomberg. Read this article in its entirety on Bloomberg.