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Goldsmiths' Official Student Magazine

Social Media vs Fashion – A shift in power

January 1, 2017
George Toon explores the impact and repercussions of social media in the fashion industry.

It is hard to imagine a fashion industry without social media; it seems to have permeated it to its very core. Models, designers, brands, photographers all have the trinity of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. However, what has this done to the industry and what could it do in the future?

Julia Yates in her book The Fashion Career’s Guidebook estimates that there were 27 million blogs in 2006, 2million of which were dedicated to fashion and shopping. I imagine that almost ten years on from them the figures are even higher. Alongside the hardcore fashion blogs is also the emergence of the Vlog, with suburban America torrenting us with their clothing purchases for tonights party. It seems that everyone is getting a slice of the fashion pie, posting about collections and models, sharing ideas and producing reviews.

Fashion is becoming faster than ever, trendsetting is now a sprinting competition. Thanks to instant uploads, gone are the days of the six month turnover from catwalk to consumer. Due to the exclusivity of the catwalk, previously consumers would only see the collections in shop windows, months after the show. The collection would slowly trickle down the ladder through commercial buyers in North America then Europe, and a month later private clients would see the garments, until finally the public would see the collections. Therefore, to a certain extent, social media has democratised the industry. Through the live streaming of shows online, recorded interviews, backstage photographs and Instagram accounts the clique of the fashion world has been made accessible to the average person. However, I cant help but feel that because collections are seen instantly, they are becoming out of fashion sooner, as soon as they are available to buy it appears they have already become yesterdays news.

Everyone gets a look and a say on these collections, but whether this new openness will be used to call out the fashion industry on its problems is another matter. Perhaps people are too caught up in the glamour to see the problems of the industry?

Social media has also reshaped the way in which fashion houses are now advertising. Creating a more personal appeal to customers, fashion brands are now able to connect with their customers, allowing them to inspire and delight their fans and provide a more intimate universal shopping experience. In using social media, customer loyalties and communities are formed which are then formulated to the brands advantage.

Marc Jacobs is perhaps the most proactive of brands in utilising the power of social media. In 2014 he scouted his models for Marc by Marc Jacobs on Instagram and Twitter using the hash tag #CastMeMarc. Over 70,000 people applied with selfies and these were then whittled down to 50, of which 30 were flown to New York – fashion photographer David Sims choose the final 9 models. As Jacobs said in an interview with WWDs Marc Karimzadeh: It seemed like a great idea to me, as casting through Instagram seemed cool, current and strong. We wanted the ads to shout with youth and energy… To be fresh and reclaim the spirit that the collection had when we first conceived of it – to be another collection, not a second line…ads transmit a current social lifestyle that doesnt play into other clichés…and totally feels like our company — a cast of colourful and dynamic characters. Jacobs furthered this reach-out with free perfume samples for every Instagram and Twitter mention using the hash tag #MJDaisy Chain. In this competition whoever was the most creative in their post won a free Marc Jacobs handbag.

However, there has been some resilience to the advent of social media. With the fear of social media exacerbating the industrys sense of vanity, people are judged on how many likes and followers they possess. As stated by photographer Mark C. OFlaherty: the urge to post anything and everything linked to a fashion event has become frenzied, hysterical and masturbatory. He argues that camera phones at shows have ruined the fashion industry and are an indicator of the infantilism of the culture, where people are there to be seen rather than to see. These instastars wouldn’t know their bubble skirts from their balloon skirts. I myself have encountered this faux fashionista, having been fortunate to attend a few shows. I found myself bending down or standing up to dodge the myriad of smartphones of mindless people taking photos. Heads bent down they simultaneously post comments and chat with their Instagram-famous friends, rather than appreciate the artistry and craftsmanship of the clothes that their blurry pictures fail to encapsulate. One journalist remarked to me during graduate Fashion Week, some people were there purely because they have a huge Instagram following rather than any history or interest in the industry.’

It is interesting to see this shift in control of imagery from the brands who carefully crafted an image of the label, to now see it controlled by anyone with an Instagram account. The quality of the images and how the person is wearing the brand, however, could prove detrimental to the labels original intentions.

No matter what your views on social media, one sure thing is that it is here to stay. There has been some grumbling for camera phones to be banned at fashion shows – in a bid to encourage people to appreciate the collections more, but its clear that social media is here to stay. Personally, despite my reservations, I think that social media can be used constructively. Social media could improve the fashion industrys ideas of beauty, sustainability and inclusivity, though only if utilised correctly, and this I feel will take time to evolve.