For such a notoriously youth-obsessed industry, the world of luxury fashion has a surprising tendency to look backwards, using retro shapes and patterns and relying on tried-and-tested marketing techniques. This September, however, marked a turning of the tide, as designers competed to prove their youthful credentials. Brands including Burberry, Tom Ford, Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren turned their catwalks into shop windows, with the ‘see-now, buy-now’ model allowing consumers to bypass the usual six-month waiting period and purchase pieces straight from the runway. What’s more, designers such as Christopher Kane and Gucci experimented with genderless catwalks by using both male and female models to present their androgynous collections, while multiple designers live streamed their shows on social media.
Millennials with large social media followings were omnipresent at the shows, popping up in the front row, as well as on the catwalk. FROW guests at Dolce & Gabbana’s Milan show included Lily-Rose Depp (daughter of Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis) and Rafferty Law (son of Jude Law and Sadie Frost), as well as model Lucky Blue Smith. Meanwhile, the fashion journalists who would usually get the best seats were forced to sit on the second row. Why? Well, as Stefano Gabbana admitted after the show, “Everyone wants to be young.”
While designers, then, are beginning to embrace social media stars as an inevitable – and commercially useful – product of modernity, fashion journalists are not so keen. During a round-table discussion about Milan Fashion Week, editors for US Vogue criticised bloggers for wearing paid-for brand placements, describing the practice of posing for street photography as “desperate” and saying it “herald[ed] the death of style”. Alessandra Codinha, fashion news editor for Vogue.com, even went so far as to say:
“Looking for style among a bought-and-paid-for front row is like going to a strip club looking for romance”.
Unsurprisingly, these comments elicited a wave of indignation from the blogging community, many of whom have called out Vogue’s hypocrisy for dismissing bloggers for their reliance on brand sponsorship. Susie Bubble, one of the UK’s most influential fashion bloggers, tweeted her disappointment at the comments, saying “Let’s not pretend that editors and stylists are not beholden to brands in one way or another.” Blogger and fashion journalist Pandora Sykes echoed Susie Bubble’s sentiments, saying “The Voguettes are suggesting that bloggers are all biased: so you’re saying you’d write a scathing review of your biggest advertiser’s show, then? I thought not.”
So: are Vogue right to dismiss bloggers as a flash in the pan – or do they have the staying power to affect fashion sales?
Starcount has segmented the UK women’s fashion audience by their motivations, resulting in 10 consumer segments, each with their own passions, aspirations, interests and influences. When the fashion industry is examined in this way, it becomes clear that social media stars are an increasingly important tool in the battle to win the loyalty of younger fashion fans.
For Affordable High Street Shoppers, for example, fashion editors are nowhere to be seen amongst their key influencers. Instead, this group of 18-24 year olds favour a range of male and female bloggers/vloggers, including Zoella, Louise Pentland, Tanya Burr, Jim Chapman, Alfie Deyes and Niomi Smart, all of whom regularly create ‘haul’ videos where they model their latest purchases from a particular brand.
Even in segments where Vogue itself is extremely popular, the key influencers are split between fashion journalists and bloggers, with the latter being equally as important as the former. For Fashion Insiders (a segment largely composed of those who work within the fashion industry, and are loyal Vogue readers), bloggers Sasha Wilkins, Susie Bubble and Ella Gregory appear as important influencers, alongside fashion editors Hilary Alexander, Lorraine Candy and Jo Elvin. As the largest UK fashion segment, the importance of bloggers to this group is not to be taken lightly.
An additional consideration is that the lines between brands, influencers and media are beginning to blur. Many bloggers/vloggers have become brands in their own right, whether it’s by launching their own product lines, like Tanya Burr or Zoella, or by starting media companies, like Leandre Medine (founder of Man Repeller). Tanya Burr Cosmetics is growing in popularity across our UK Beauty consumer segments, with a penetration growth that reaches a remarkable 716.4%. Similarly, Chiara Ferragni, who launched her blog The Blonde Salad in 2009, went on to launch her own eponymous fashion line, leading to an estimated worth of $12m. As designers continue to clamour to work with bloggers and stories like Burr’s and Ferragni’s become less and less of an anomaly, fashion institutions like Vogue, which rely heavily on brand advertising, will find working with this new generation of stars impossible to avoid.
The data is clear; whether or not bloggers meet the impeccable standards set by the ‘Voguettes’, they have an undeniable influence over the fashion consumers of the future. If publications like Vogue want to stay relevant, they have no choice but to embrace the blogging community – or risk falling out of style themselves.
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