“Wearable” certainly would not be the word to describe the looks that went down the runway at VFILES's Spring/Summer 2016 show on Wednesday night. But that’s not what it’s about. It’s not necessarily a problem that people will not be adopting the blow-up serpentine tentacle-adorned look that Namilia showed, the design duo of Royal College of Arts grads, whose brand slogan is, “my pussy my choice.” The same goes for Kozaburo’s faux fur man dress styled with cowboy-esque boots, or the oversized fluffy dresses that UK-based David Ferreira showed. A lack of general commerciality - something for which other brands would surely be chastised by critics - is not an issue for NYC-based digital platform/e-commerce store-plus-brick and mortar store, VFILES.
While the majority of TFL’s readers are likely not lusting after any of the aforementioned looks (Ferreira’s voluminous frocks, one is pictured above, are certainly worth a second-glance, however) or terribly fazed by VILES’ happenings, that’s similarly not the point here. Regardless of whether you are into teenage rebellion, gender fluidity (yes, one show was complete with an array of cross-dressed models) or costumes as fashion, there is a takeaway here, and it is a lesson on brand building. More accurately, on community building.
VFILES is nothing if not a community - albeit an off-kilter one. The platform, which was launched in September 2012 by Julie Anne Quay, the former executive editor of V magazine, has managed to do what virtually all brands dream of: building a relationship with their actual clients and with potential consumers. This is, after all, one of the driving forces behind brands’ presence on social media. Most brands have cited a desire to connect with existing and prospective clients as the primary reason for their foray into social media. This is an aspect of business in which many brands fail; they try to forge a relationship of sorts with their customers and ultimately fall short (because consumers are less loyal than they used to be; brands are not reaching the diverse demographics that make up the market; brands' failure to send what consumers perceive is an authentic message; etc.). VFILES, on the other hand, has completely nailed it in this respect with its self-proclaimed "fashion democracy" approach.
According to a recent article on Mashable, VFILES “has become one of the web's most influential hubs for the fashion, style, and pop culture voices of Generation Z. It has become one of the most important and influential fashion communities online.” And this is driving sales. Maybe not of Kozaburo’s likely-very-costly faux fur man dress (and the similarly high-priced emerging designer wares that the brand offers, such as Melitta Baumeister, Andrea Jiapei Li, Caitlin Price, and Craig Green) but of the array of other wares, such as the t-shirts, sweats, and soccer shorts that make up the VFILES in-house collection.
Speaking recently, Quay told Mashable that the platform is aimed at building a community as opposed to employing a distinct marketing strategy so to speak, and “reiterated that VFILES is the complete opposite of traditional, stalwart media institutions that are ‘built on preaching they know better than you.’" This seems to be the sweet spot for them. Their niche in the high fashion market that is less pretentious and holier-than-thou than what we are all accustomed to.
So, while we thought that the hype surrounding the platform may have died down a bit since its launch three years ago, it seems from the scene at their S/S 2016 show last night and the fan fare on social media (think: A LOT tweets and Instagram and Snapchat posts) in connection therewith that the buzz is still very much alive, and thus, there is an ongoing study on consumer engagement still unfolding.