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Is Fashion the Latest Victim of Social Media?

Look around – what do you see? A society engulfed by social media? Potentially over dramatic, but undeniably one being shaped increasingly by its forces. It therefore comes as no surprise that the repercussions of our changing society have massive impacts on the fashion industry: on what’s in style and, importantly, what sells. In-your-face items are now dominating, from logo belts to monstrous shoes, and I believe social media is behind it.

There is a ‘logo-mania’ which has been ongoing in the last couple of years, and shows no sign of slowing today, a phenomenon that is social media induced. In part, it can be explained by a term I am going to call the ‘Instagram-effect’. In an ocean of minute photos on the explore page, or the infinite scroll of a timeline, it is hard for an image (or outfit) to stand out. A successful post will attract the viewer, even if only for a second, and result in a form engagement, measurable through likes and comments. The rapid pace of this moment leaves little time for the appreciation of previously more desirable elements of clothing: quality fabric, expert stitching or subtle elegant features. No, more suited to this form of consumption are images saturated in brand names, monograms and logos. These alert the viewer far faster to the ‘fashionable’ and expensive products, securing both attention and likes. Multiply this to the scale of Instagram (1 billion monthly users in July 2018) and previous idylls surrounding style and sophistication are crushed by the indomitable force that is social media. Looking to The Lyst Index, described to be “a quarterly ranking of fashion’s hottest brands and products”, the top three most popular brands globally this quarter (Q3, 2018) are Off-White followed by Gucci and then Balenciaga. What do these three have in common? Iconic, instantly recognisable pieces focussed around brand names, monograms and logos – the Off White’s Industrial, logo belt, Gucci’s double G’s and Balenciaga’s boldly branded bags. When Alessandro Michele was appointed Gucci’s Creative Director in 2015, his first shows sent the flashy, double G logo into style; Bizzarri, Gucci’s CEO, told The Telegraph “The way he played with the logo was a big success. We sold 600,000 products from the new collection and attracted half a million new customers”. This success lives on, the double G belt ranked the #1 hottest women’s product in The Lyst Index’s Q2 this year, 3 years after it’s release.

A more revolutionary impact of the ‘Instagram-effect’ is the unprecedented rise and stay of the ‘Ugly Aesthetic’. This refers to items that are visually displeasing, previously thought of to be poor taste. One popular example of the aesthetic comes in the form the infamous Dad-sneaker. This is a shoe reinvented by Balenciaga’s Creative Director, Demna Gvasalia, in his Fall Winter 2017 collection through the Triple-S – a larger than life shoe which combines three different soles and the Balenciaga logo embroidered along the side - you know the ones. The success of the shoe can in part be explained by my previous theory behind ‘logo-mania’; they are impossible to miss scrolling through a timeline or feed. Their social media ripples spread wider than this, however. What came alongside their launch was a great deal of backlash, and newly in the form of memes. Jokes spread rapidly across different platforms mostly ripping into the ridiculousness of contemporary fashion, one @ZachRedmon tweeting “£500 for these new Balenciaga’s and they really be looking like shoes found in lost property lol”. The saying ‘all publicity is good publicity’ took on a new meaning in the industry at this point with new levels of product circulation being reached. The bigger the shoe (or uglier) ,the bigger the splash in the pool of social media, and so in the Spring Summer 2018 show came Balenciaga’s platform Crocs. Once again the ‘Instagram-effect’ boomed and the heinous shoes sold out in the American Department Store, Barney’s, first drop before midday. Designing to outrage and repel has now become a tactic common across the industry when tackling younger buyers, Balenciaga’s CEO Chabit states “‘Millennials represent 60 per cent of what we sell”, hence shocking is now their staple. This leaves the uncomfortable question, is this the future of fashion? It shows no signs of slowing at present, most recently Gucci have followed suit through the release of their own ugly trainer “inspired by the hiking world”, as described by their website. The shoes are complete with large, tacky crystals and a bold logo across the tongue and flew to the #8 hottest women’s product in The Lyst Index this quarter.

It is clear, then, that the forces of social media are beginning to take on increasing power over trends and style in the fashion world of today. We are seeing designer houses increasingly play into the benefits of this new structure, and as a result see fashion become more and more dictated by what will cause a splash. Dior’s Maria Grazia Chiuri’s revival of Galliano’s classic Spring Summer 2000 saddle bag in February is just one more example of this. In an ingenious social media campaign the iconic noughties bag, previously under the arm of Carrie Bradshaw and Paris Hilton, saw it under those of 100 influencers, hyping the product before its appearance before the Autumn Winter 2018 show. The Lyst Index explains, “When 100 global influencers posted an image modeling the bag on Instagram on July 19, searches for the style online spiked 957% in 48 hours, propelling it to the top of the Hottest Products list”. The booming success of the move leaves us guessing what other houses will do to recreate such a reaction, are we in for more blasts from the past? And what will be the next product to revolutionise our perceptions of modern style?

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