Sitting front row at the Gucci show in Milan this season was none other than Dapper Dan, the Harlem designer who had incorporated the logos of high-fashion houses, Gucci among them, in his unsanctioned designs during the Eighties. How exactly did a man whose business model was thought to be anathema to the luxury brands of Milan – and whose store was shut down as a result of legal action by one of the brands he hijacked – end up at arguably the city’s biggest show 30 years later?
Just four months earlier, in June, Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele sent designs resembling Dan’s creations down the catwalk during the brand’s Cruise 2018 show, provoking immediate backlash and accusations of cultural appropriation on social media. Gucci swiftly got in touch with Dan, inviting him to collaborate on a capsule collection and star in the brand’s advertising campaigns – and in an unexpected twist, Dan revealed that he would reopen his atelier later this year, with raw materials supplied by Michele.
Today, we’re in what Eva Chen, director of fashion partnerships at Instagram, calls a “new level of transparency and expectation.” It’s no longer prudent to keep quiet in the face of criticism, hoping for the wave of denunciations to blow over. “[Instagram] allows people to raise awareness,” Chen told Vogue, whether that’s acknowledging an act of plagiarism that would have otherwise gone unnoticed, or highlighting the injustices present in the industry.
When the model casting director James Scully took it to Instagram to call out model abuse during the Balenciaga castings earlier this year, he drew comments from model Joan Smalls to LVMH’s Antoine Arnault. This series of events, unfolding on social media, immediately led to the firing of the casting team and undoubtedly played a role in initiating the Kering and LVMH Model Charter unveiled this fashion month.
What’s more, in raising awareness, users also educate those they are in dialogue with. When designer Marc Jacobs adorned white models with dreadlocks for his spring/summer 2017 show, the Instagram community did its part of starting a conversation about cultural appropriation: this exchange caused the designer to shift his views and acknowledge the insensitive nature of his initial reaction, when he uncharitably compared his actions to women of colour straightening their hair.
Changing industry standards
Relatedly, in ushering in this new age of transparency, Instagram has, in many ways, transformed the industry’s longstanding practices as well. This season, Chen praises the feeling of inclusivity that she witnessed during fashion month.
“When I see designers putting models whether they’re curvier or differently-abled, or using ‘unconventional’ beauties, I think the amazing thing about Instagram is that the community of 800 million strong says, ‘Why should there be a definition of conventional?’ Unconventional in one market can and should be conventional in another,” she continued. “I think that global sense of beauty is very much attributed to Instagram.”
Transforming fashion shows
Before the rise of blogs and social media a decade ago, fashion weeks happened largely behind closed doors. All of that, of course, has radically changed. And no social media platform has played a more significant role in opening doors than Instagram.
“What people come to expect on Instagram is not the perfect glossy life. Because of Instagram Stories, they want to see their favourite people and the different aspects of their lives,” Chen said. Today, models, hair stylists and makeup artists regularly offer backstage access via Instagram Stories; brands voluntarily stream shows in their entirety on Live; and fashion editors give their thousands of followers a prime view from the front row.
But though Instagram has become an agent of social change, some industry critics have accused the social media platform of transforming fashion month into a circus, where the attention has been diverted away from the garments. At shows, it might seem that brands continuously one-up each other with increasingly lavish sets and grand finales tailored just for Instagram. Recall the Versace moment, Chanel’s indoor cliffs and waterfalls, or Saint Laurent’s shiny Eiffel Tower behind the runway this past season.
Chen, however, doubts all of this can be attributed to Instagram. “I think about the McQueen hologram or the time Marc Jacobs sent a marching band down the runway – all of that happened before Instagram existed,” Chen explained. “I don’t think Instagram has necessarily forced the industry to change their shows.” What it does do instead, according to Chen, is make designers more aware of the so-called “ripple effect” of their shows. “If they have one influencer in the audience with 1 million followers, what will that 1 million followers experience?”
But even if Instagram doesn’t dictate the way fashion shows are produced, it does, in a big way, dictate how we consume fashion content. With the rise of Stories, consumption of fashion week has shifted away from blurry runway images to videos of the catwalk, allowing Instagram to drive traffic to new heights. This season, the social media platform’s fashion community, comprising 143 million users, generated 709 million engagements, tripling the numbers from last fashion month, according to Instagram’s in-house data team.
How to succeed on Instagram
Consequently, in democratising fashion, Instagram has rendered the battleground much more competitive. Now that everyone has a voice, how can you make sure yours gets heard? “Know your audience,” Chen said, listing such Instagrammable examples as the LVMH Prize finalist Molly Goddard, whose carefree models danced and skipped down the runway, or fellow Londoner Ashish, known for the vibrant energy at his shows.
Of course, armies of top models and majestic stages are perennial favourites amongst the Instagram community, but as Topshop, London Fashion Week’s best performing brand, exemplifies, “a lot of the images that did well showed people behind the scenes,” Chen revealed. “A lot of it had to do with the fact that they posted a lot of Instagram Stories, and this great behind-the-scenes narrative they employed,” she continued. “You don’t need a cliff. Indoor waterfalls are magnificent if you have that kind of budget. But not everyone needs that.”