Influence and Influencer: Where’s our next fashion fix?

Photo by  Brunel Johnson  on  Unsplash

In this age of influence and influencer, where are we looking for our next fashion fix?

Ahead of February, and the new wave of fashion-show-mania that will resurge once again, what area of influence really has the most power? Look to social media and digital platforms, and you will be saturated with new-season trends, from street-style images to the runway to behind-the-scenes snaps from the models and creatives. It’s accessible, and it’s clear that designer brands are no longer keeping their visions a reserve of the elite. This digital age is defined by sharing, and influencers (in their many forms) are dismantling any sense of hierarchy in powerful ways. Yet, it seems that the relationship between catwalks and audience, runways and street style, the conventional and the rule-breaking, digital and print, online and the high-street, has been shifting to such an extent that the global fashion marketplace is working at accelerated rates to keep up with every single avenue of influence. It’s like a kaleidoscope. No one region, no one media outlet, has the sole focus. It begs the question, are the dots connected or are cracks beginning to show for our favourite fashion brands?

Where glimpses into glossy magazines and Hollywood film stars may have been a first port of call for inspiration previously, now you can seek an instant fashion fix directly from your social-media ready fingertips. The intrigue and exclusivity of the runways has been dissipated. While stars were once kept at a stylised distance from an audience’s gaze, just far enough away to maintain their aura of goddess-like status during the Classical Hollywood era, influencers now are from all manner of industries, backgrounds, ages and corners of the world. Influencers are not confined to an elite and few and we have access to their fashion choices every day. We still have stars of the screen and stage, and supermodels to some extent, but our social world has begun to dismantle the levels of hierarchy between us and them, between the public and the ‘star’. We have developed this culture of sharing. A culture where sharing style has fewer boundaries and no set stereotype. However, the way we manipulate what we share - that distance between the real and contrived - has its whole new set of uncertainties and limitations. How truly ‘real’ are influencers today? What they share on social media can be as far removed from the ‘real’ as it was for previous generations. Advertising contacts and targeted fashion promotions that are channelled into social media all form part of this shifting kaleidoscope where no one really knows the true source of influence.

With every impending season, speculation is made over what trends will reign supreme. Someone new will take to the helm at one of the major fashion houses, a new model will become the runway favourite. The shows are getting more extravagant year on year, as the runways themselves turn into spectacle. Take Chanel’s SS19 Le Grand Palais beach, with models wending their way barefoot across a catwalk of rippling waves and sand, Gucci’s AW18 spooky operating theatre, the TommyNow spectaculars, from Formula 1 catwalk race tracks to Venice Beach Festivals and Football stadiums. But where do the camera’s turn? Not only do they capture the extravagance of these runways, they turn to the audience too. The battle between cameras, the battle of the gazes. Smartphones facing one way (capturing every detail of the show to be streamed around the world to millions of followers) while cameras snap back at these influencers wearing the new designs. And then beyond these runway rows are the street-style set, dominating our digital platforms with what trends they too are bringing to the table. With this surplas of sharing, is their any room for exclusivity? How loud will the shows have to shout, how large a spectacle will they have to create, to uphold their levels of influence.

It’s clear the market is growing in such a way that fashion houses are having to up their game to achieve any sense of difference. Take the Dolce & Gabbana Alta Moda Show set against the backdrop of Lake Como. Is this their way of fighting back against the instantaneous fashion fix? Only the elite can be a part of this exclusive club. This is not for the influencers, the editors, and buyers - this is an event exclusively for their wealthy client base. This is not about sharing, this is not about showcasing trends for the masses, this is about making clients feel like VIPs again. Rather than streaming to social media, this is the arena clients send their photos straight to headquarters to place their orders. A playground of opulence and eccentricity, and a sure signifier of the extent companies have to go to achieve exclusivity.

Typically we have turned to New York, Paris, London and Milan for our seasonal inspiration. Now, there is opportunity to take inspiration from fashion weeks across the globe. Tokyo, Seoul, Stockholm, Kiev, Copenhagen, Berlin... these cities are all hosting new talent, biting on the heels of the four big players and trailblazing their own cutting-edge take on next season’s trends. To focus on South Korea, in particular, this is a city that has exploded their fashion scene over the past decade, colliding fashion, celebrity and entertainment together. Here is a youth-driven fashion market that prides itself in creativity, being unique, and harnessing the speed of the internet to promote style. As the Business of Fashion reports, withstanding that the Korean market for designer apparel and accessories is approximately worth $5 billion and growing 7.2 percent on average each year, according to Jung Kuho Executive Director of Seoul Fashion Week, the taste for luxury is slowly changing, with an increasing demand for alternatives to mainstream fashion houses. There is a desire for more alternatives and more individuality. A mainstream fashion fix will no longer be enough, however loud the big designer names are shouting for attention.

Youth-driven markets demand speed and they demand innovation. Our need for a fashion fix is never going to stop. Maybe it would be best if our go-to brands and emerging designers didn’t connect those dots too much. If the areas of influence we looked to no longer resembled that slightly beguiling kaleidoscope, where would the unpredictable and exciting surface from?

Charlotte Franklin