Watching Teyana Taylor perform her 74 million views Fade dance, gyrating on stage at Phillipp Plein's NYFW show last week (via my computer screen, no I am absolutely not high profile enough to have attended), whilst Future sang 'Mask Off' in the background, I wondered how many attendees were actually there to see the clothes.
Plein wasn't the only one to turn his show into a performance this fashion week. Alexander Wang sent his models down the runway (out of a party bus!) in pieces emblazoned with WANGFEST, WANGOVER and PARTY ANIMAL. The old school US Vogue editors (shock!) weren't impressed, writing that they felt, 'penned up in Brooklyn, after waiting in the cold for an hour past the advertised start time, the third show lacked a sense of spontaneity. We knew what we were getting, we’d already seen the show on Instagram.'. Vogue didn't include much reference to the show aside from their focus on the location (which, was their exact review for the previous year, too), but by throwing their toys out of the pram because their SS20 Alaïa boots were forced to touch Brooklyn soil, it's safe to assume they probably weren't a fan of the entertainment, either. And their scathing comment about 'having seen it on Instagram' is another nod to their behind-the-times attitude. But that's okay. Once upon a time, a bad write up from the glossies would have been the end for a brand, but now, Wang couldn't care less. He understands it's not Vogue he's trying to impress, it's the public. And whilst Vogue is available to the public, it's not their high fashion readership he wants to win over, it's the online, youthful creatives. Wang, specifically, has always been ahead of the trend, but this year it's not just him making the correlation between crazy show production and social media. Quite simply, the cooler the show, the more likely the audience are to share it on social media; and a share from a member of the Instagram elite is just as valuable as a favourable write up hitting the newsstand, if not more so.
The shows' production values weren't the only way social media filtered through to fashion shows this year, though. Where once the frow would be full of A-Listers, you're now more likely to spot seats full of influencers than celebrities. At Saturday's Missguided x Jourdan Dunn fashion week launch (which I apparently was high profile enough to attend, lol), I spotted Edward Enniful, Vogue UK's editor, hugging Jourdan and congratulating her on her collaboration; surrounded by influencers and bloggers, all decked out in affordable 'fast' fashion. Amongst Jourdan's featured guests were Giggs, Stormzy, Maya Jama, Neelam Gill and Winnie Harlow, whilst the dance floor was packed with young DJ's, creatives and plus sized models. It was refreshing to see a fashion week party full of such diversity and individuality. And if the guestlist wasn't enough to showcase fashion's move away from the traditional, the very fact a 'cheap' (prices absolutely max out at around £200, but most items come in under the £50 category) online retailer such as Missguided, fuelled by influencer posts and coupon codes, was even included in the London Fashion Week lineup says something about social media's role in the progression of the fashion industry.
And whilst the guestlist at the previously elite-only events are opening up to 'normal' people with large social media followings, designers are also recognising that most of their collection is viewed by regular people on screens, rather than from the front row. And whilst the public used to only be able to see collections once they hit the shops, or from professional photographs released a week later, through live streaming and, more specifically, Instagram stories, designers are allowing their show's audience to be much broader than ever could be contained within one room. Instagram stories allows content creators to quickly share snaps, or live videos, with their followers, without compromising their perfectly curated feeds, and the disappearance of the content 24 hours later still gives it that 'exclusive' feel that high end brands desire. As print culture takes it's last painful breath, designers are becoming more aware that their glossy dictatorship is not the only thing that matters, and is certainly not the most effective way to drive sales.
Even if, like the US Vogue editors, you disagree with the accessibility and commodification of Fashion Week, you can't debate the constructive affect the social media body positivity movement has had on the runway. Of course, size zero and below was still factored heavily into NYFW shows (and the very fact that non sample sized models walked in a few shows is newsworthy shows the industry still has a long way to go), but the inclusion of plus models does feel like a step forward. Designers that featured plus models included Marques Almeida, Rebecca Minkoff, Michael Costello and Michael Kors, alongside a whole host of smaller brands. It would be disingenuous to deny social media's call for larger models on the runway and body positivity movement having an affect on this. Many of the plus size models at the shows were in fact influencers themselves, who have talked about the importance of body positivity on their own social channels. Ashley Graham, a model and creator of the #BeautyBeyondSize hashtag, modelled for multiple designers this year, and has 5.2million followers on Instagram. UK plus size models such as Iskra Lawrence (3.7million followers)and Felicity Hayward (122k, and founder of 'Self Love Brings Beauty') also modelled for, and attended, LFW shows. Lawrence recently said in an interview how 'she realised at 18 that instead of trying to change her body to fit into sample sizes, she 'would try to change the industry'. But by using her huge platform to encourage designers to use non sample sized models in their shows, she, and many others, have enacted real change in the modelling industry, that can only continue to become more and more normalised as yearly fashion weeks continue.
Whilst Fashion Week has always been about the spectacular, it's becoming increasingly obvious the 'spectacular' is being expected more from the show production than the collection itself. In an increasingly digital world we're seeing this consumer desire for aesthetics more and more frequently. For example, four major magazine editors left their jobs this week, citing that when they started out, the magazine's goal was to be a magazine; now it's to be a 'brand'. The overlap is happening in the fashion world too, with designers competing to be known for something, rather than just their clothes. If a consumer thinks a brand is cool, they're going to be more inclined to buy their clothes. Because at the end of the day, a pretty dress is just a pretty dress. But a pretty dress from a cutting edge brand, with a cool backstory and a wild fashion show, is an Instagram post, and a talking point.