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10 Years of Instagram: How One App Shaped Fashion

A look at how one social media platform has shifted the fashion industry in ways that were previously unimaginable.

10 Years of Instagram: How One App Shaped Fashion
Image: Chanel

It’s been 10 years since we’ve been introduced to the world of Instagram, and by extension, a world of double-tapping, hashtagging, geotagging, and photo filters.

Since October 2010, a small community of 1 million users has now ballooned rapidly into over 1 billion monthly active users interacting with each other over the app every day.

And it’s easy to see the appeal of the app, which was founded by Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger. As a platform that relies heavily on visual mediums, it’s easy to get lost in time as you endlessly scroll through the app.

What once started out as uploading a photo of your eggs benedict and trying to decide between the Hudson or Mayfair filter has now become a complex and tedious process of finding the best photo-editing apps that can make the sun shine brighter or your lips look plumper before it gets uploaded for the world to see.

But beyond the instant gratification that the app offers its many users, Instagram has also grown in its influence, especially in the manner that it shapes and transforms the fashion industry. Whether it’s for the better or not, the sizeable footprint left by that rainbow-coloured square on your smartphone is tangible on so many levels.

When Street Style Became The Buzzword

These days, it seems like anyone with a camera in an urban city can start their own street style blog, while others with access to fabulously loud clothing prance about outside fashion shows in the hopes of getting photographed so that they may claim their titles as ‘street style stars’. This phenomenon arguably owes its rise in popularity to the likes of Instagram, given how quickly a street style snap can be shared across the virtual world.

Image: Jimmy Choo

In the early days of the street style movement, the focus largely fell on the fashionable crowd of industry insiders, editors and store buyers scooting from one show to another. Now, it’s opened up to a whole host of fashion week attendees, and those who want to look like they are attending shows.

In the past, finding an unguarded exit to sneak in to watch a show was a hobby of fashion enthusiasts living in the major fashion cities. Today, they find more thrill in hanging around outside the show venues, waiting for cameras to point their way. The action is no longer behind the closed curtains of the fashion show space, but the streets outside of it.

“The fuss around the shows now seems as important as what goes on inside the carefully guarded tents,” fashion journalist Suzy Menkes once wrote in the New York Times. “Ah, fame! Or, more accurately in the fashion world, the celebrity circus of people who are famous for being famous. They are known mainly by their Facebook pages, their blogs and the fact that the street photographer Scott Schuman has immortalized them on his Sartorialist website.”

Even designers feel pressured to create looks that translate well on an app, so that they have your attention for mere seconds. In 2015, the then-designer of Lanvin Alber Elbaz offered up a peek into how he chose to embrace the effect that Instagram had on his work.

“I realize that people aren’t really living today, they’re posting. They are not really listening, but they’re taping. They are not really looking but they are filming. In that world of taping, and filming, and posting, the one thing in common for all of us is that we want to document the moment,” Elbaz noted. “You go to restaurants it’s not really about eating it has to look good. When you get dressed, it’s not about how comfortable or how beautiful you feel, but how it looks in the picture. Everything is for the photo. So we created a collection that is for the photos. I went with vibrant colors and vibrant prints and everything that is just a little bit loud.”

Elbaz isn’t the only who designs clothing with the app in mind. Whether consciously or not, other brands have come along to offer up their own version of Insta-bait: Gucci and their iconic fur-lined flat mules, or Gentle Monster with their head-turning eye wear are just some of the names and things that come to mind.

Today, street style continues to be a huge phenomenon, as evidenced by the endless flurry of feathers, gemstones, ruffles and the eye-watering bright colours that await the audience of clickers positioned outside each fashion show.

Furthermore, street style has also grown beyond fashion week. Anyone with a smartphone is both a street style photographer and a street style star as well. Hashtags like #ootd and #outfitinspiration allow everyone to partake in this ritual of performance and showing off, whether they are in Paris or in their own bedrooms.

The Age Of Influencers

Ah, the one group of people that you either love, hate or love to hate: influencers.

Owing the creation of what is expected to reach $15 billion in revenue by 2022 according to Business Insider Intelligence, the global influencer industry is one that is still growing constantly and consistently.

In 2019, the annual total number of Instagram posts tagged with hashtags demarcating that they were part of a paid campaign from the brand – namely: #ad, #sponsored, #sp or #spon – rose to 32.3 million posts from 21.7 million posts in 2018. With that same period, the global Instagram influencer market revenue has risen from US$1.06 billion in 2018 to US$2.38 billion in the span of a year.

But beyond numbers, influencers have now become part of fashion’s new gatekeepers – much to the chagrin of some industry purists. They now sit front and center at every fashion show – usually reserved for the top veteran editors and buyers in the past – in hopes (on the part of the brand’s PR team) that they generate enough content to net in sizeable views and likes for whichever brand’s show they are attending, as well as introducing more followers for the brand.

Coupled with all the paid-for content that brands regularly syndicate to influencers, and you have a social media platform that’s saturated with content – a situation that may redefine the way brands and influencers create business exchanges in future.

“The sophistication of both the influencer and the customer means that brands need to be a lot more strategic when it comes to their marketing campaigns,” says Alison Bringé, chief marketing officer at Launchmetrics.

Like everything, the influencer industry isn’t perfect. Beyond battling content saturation and fatigue, calls for more diversity amongst the influencers that brands choose to align with are growing, especially with the recent Black Lives Matters protests that swept across Instagram.

“Brands need to convince audiences that they are serious about [catering to] a diverse customer base,” states London-based fashion influencer Natasha Ndlovu. “You can’t do that by using a Black influencer once a year and calling it a day.”

“When I see designers using curvier or differently-abled models, or working with ‘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?’” muses Eva Chen, who is the head of fashion at Instagram. “Unconventional in one market can and should be conventional in another.” 

Shoppers also agree with Chen. In a market survey from research firm Ypulse, 69 percent of Gen Z and millennial shoppers polled agreed that it would be a positive image for brands to include diverse races and body types in their campaigns. And while fashion brands have used the opportunities that 2020 has presented to realign their marketing directives and include more minority groups, only time will tell whether this will remain in the next 10 years.

The New Shopping Mall

During the circuit breaker, did you find yourself perusing Instagram more than usual? And during those moments scrolling through your feed, did you find yourself coming across items that you were tempted to get? If so, you’re not alone.

According to a study done by Influenster in the UK, almost half of the more than 3,000 people polled said that Instagram was their most-used social media app during the lockdown earlier this year. Of the 46 percent who indicated so, 39 percent cited that the most popular posts for them were shopping-related content. Additionally, Rakuten’s report published in Q3 of the year has shown that 31 percent of global shoppers who are using social media platforms to get their upcoming holiday shopping done will do so using Instagram.

Image: Hans Vivek/Unsplash

While Instagram shopping isn’t a new trend born out of global lockdown measures, it was certainly increased amidst movement restrictions and mall closures. It’s also become a place for younger designers who once struggled to get a seat at the table with fashion buyers to now be able to reach out to a wider audience more directly. Who needs the endorsement of a prestigious department store, when you can garner a solid reputation amongst the Instagram community, and trade wares for cash via direct messaging orders?

For Harris Reed, a recent graduate of Central Saint Martins in London, Instagram was how he got his foot into the door. His gender-neutral glam-rock pieces include ruffled blouses for men and blinged-up lurex suits that can be spotted a mile away, and has been worn by Harry Styles.

“The buyer from Matches [Fashion] reached out to me through Instagram and we sat down and they said that they were blown away by the world I’ve created,” Harris revealed. “I didn’t need to go to the meeting with a book or portfolio and yet they understood exactly what I stood for. It’s not just a physical collection, the message, politics and activism is just as important…I have so many people contact me about purchasing my designs, but I want to stagger it.”

This direct-to-consumer approach has helped brands to weather through the pandemic-effected retail slump. Many have turned to Instagram Live as a way of getting their products in the homes of shoppers who couldn’t or wouldn’t step outside their four walls.

“I’ve always tried to use platforms to talk really honestly about where I’m at and what I’m feeling, in hopes that maybe somebody else sees that and we can start a dialogue,” admitted fashion designer Brandon Maxwell, who used Instagram Live to bring his consumer into his world during the April lockdowns in New York. “It just helps you feel more connected in a world [where] you’ve become so very disconnected.”

Instagram: The New Fashion Musuem?

Another boon of being a visuals-led medium? Instagram has now given birth to a fleet of accounts that are dedicated towards preserving the memories of fashion. Think of them as a museum repository of fashion moments, all accessible within the plam of your hand.

From accounts dedicated to Dior’s designs in the 2000s to actual feeds curated by fashion historians, the app has now taken the power and politics of preserving fashion memories from a handful of museums in the world, and democratized it for all to be involved in.

To be fair, Instagram didn’t create this wave of fashion fandom. Since the integration of the Internet into everyday households, young and enthusiastic fashion fans need only have a scanner and a connection to the Web to begin cataloging fashion. This was done through forums primarily, where said fans would dedicate endless posts to a single model or designer, right down to their diet, how they walked on the runway and the clothing they wore in between shoes. As it grew, it spilled out of online forums and into Livejournal, Tumblr and finally, Instagram.

Now, there’s an account for everything. You want an account that notes down everything Miuccia Prada has worn? Check. How about a feed dedicated to all things McQueen? Here you go. What about somewhere that lets you reminisce about the Tom Ford years at Gucci? Try this account.

But beyond the dedication of these hardcore followers, the fandom allows like-minded consumers to find each other and build a rapport that transcends borders. This has also allowed brands to find these fandoms who dedicate their feeds to a certain house’s work, and eventually convert them into future consumers.

So far-reaching are these fandoms, that the fashion industry has adopted terms such as “Old Celine” or “New Bottega” as monikers tossed about regularly in conversation. In fact, both terms come from Instagram accounts of the same names, once again reminding everyone of the unmissable influence and power that Instagram has in shaping the fashion industry.

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