Instagram is now overcrowded with fashion labels, aspirational accounts, models, and bloggers. Fashion houses are exploiting every level of the marketplace as an image library, a showcase, and a platform on which to set trends, but most importantly, an entryway into the consumer’s head. With half the users under the age of 25, and its candid visual identity, Instagram is making fashion and trends more accessible. What used to be a very closed and exclusive world has now become democratized and open to the public as a result of Instagram. There is a growing movement in the discourse on fashion, in terms of the application of democratic values to the ways in which we view and consume fashion.
Luxury fashion houses, though exclusive and limited, have always offered entry-level consumer products for the aspirational clients. This shows that in fashion, even luxury brands, need to be mass consumer brands in order to maximize revenue – as being really exclusive limits the opportunity for business growth. Today, luxury brands have adapted to mass media and globalization and have become more accessible than ever. Most, if not all, luxury brands, including Chanel are now active on social media, creating fast-fashion collaborations such as Balmain x H&M, public exhibitions such as Louis Vuitton “Volez, Voguez, Voyagez” and present in airports such as Hermès. Fashion’s luxury brands have mastered the balance between exclusivity and accessibility. Critics fear that this is upsetting what made these brands desirable and that perhaps, fashion has become too mass.
Luxury brands were skeptical of adopting social media into their brands at first. Just as some brands still refuse to sell their products online, they feared that being visible on the internet would take away from their mystique. In the past, aspirational consumers incapable of travel and closed off to information did not have access to luxury megahouses. For example, prices were never shown for luxury items, whereas now, blogs such as PurseBlog have forums where consumers and fans have access to almost anything relating to luxury brands. A community formed around the sharing of information that was not available and accessible before. Through social media, aspirational consumers are able to access these brands and digitally experience them. The global consumer is online and connected and luxury brands cannot afford not being online.
Beyond their online presence, the biggest step that fashion luxury brands have taken towards democratizing the fashion industry is by opening up access to fashion shows during PFW, LFW, MFW, and NYFW.As we know, fashion shows have always been a crucial consumer-marketing tool, and are now so more than ever through Instagram. These shows were perhaps the most exclusive, closed off, and private part of the fashion industry. Only select editors, journalists and clients had access to these events. Today, partly, if not mainly due to the rise of Instagram and other social media platforms, which led rise to fashion bloggers, these shows have become almost completely a public showcase of the brand. There are many examples of this.
Websites like NowFashion are streaming live videos and photos to give the public insight into what the bloggers and editors are seeing at the shows. The likes of Elie Saab and Valentino are beginning to stream their shows online, even giving access to certain bloggers to live stream the show on their blogs. In 2015’s Fall NYFW, Riccardo Tisci of Givenchy opened the show to the general public, where approximately 1200 “real people” — mostly non-industry, non-celebrity civilians as well as students and faculty from local fashion schools — attended the show.
Following in his direction was Kanye West’s collection for Adidas is further disrupting the fashion industry. Just last month, West secured the world’s most famous arean, NY’s Madison Square Garden to host the Yeezy Season 3 show. Tickets were sold to both an industry and non-industry audience. With almost 20,000 people in attendance, including Naomi Campbell, The Kardashians, Anna Wintour, Olivier Rousteing of Maison Balmain and model Karlie Kloss amongst others, the show was almost streamed in cinemas worldwide, opening up the show to an audience of millions.
On the other hand, designer Tom Ford, known for his exclusivity, has decided to completely cancel this season’s fashion show in favor of one-on-one appointments with the press and buyers. As other luxury fashion brands are becoming more democratic and inclusive, Ford resorts to alternative ways of showcasing his collection to a select number of people, as he seeks demanding and sophisticated high-end consumers only.
Though some brands choose to remain closed off, shows are still by invitation only to the actual shows, but they are being streamed online by almost anyone from anywhere. If the shows are not streamed, the invitees to the shows are constantly updating their Instagram feeds, disclosing the show to their audience. After the shows, some brands choose to also display photos and videos from the show on their social media accounts. In the past, one would have had to wait for fashion magazines such as Vogue and Vanity Fair to release their issues for the normal consumer to have access to what happened during the show.
Not only are the shows being opened up to the public, fashion bloggers and even the brands themselves are giving the public access to footage of backstage and private after-parties events. This further allows the consumer to experience the brand as well as the brand culture and potentially connect with the brand, leading to brand loyalty by the consumer. Fashion luxury brands’ fast-fashion collaborations and exhibitions are manifestations of luxury brands’ testing their positions within the mass market. Will luxury megabrands begin putting on fashion shows more than twice a year? Will tickets be sold openly to the public, the way it is done with concerts? Will brands try to capitalize on the mass-market consumer by letting them experience than brand without owning their iconic and exclusive products? And lastly, has Instagram changed the fashion narrative?