In recent years, the rise of influencer marketing and the growth of fashion influencers, in particular, has turned the 2.4 trillion dollar fashion industry on its head. Influencers offer designers a new way to advertise at Fashion Week and effectively reduce their dependency on the traditional fashion press for promotion.
The industry shift has been met with intense backlash from longstanding fashion publications. Many see influencers as a disruption to long-established Fashion Week promotional strategies and as a legitimate threat to the fashion press’ ability to generate advertising revenue.
The reciprocal relationship between fashion designers and the traditional fashion press has historically shaped the week. Designers depend on the press to promote newly announced collections and the press depend on designers’ collections and showcase for the latest, trending news and stories.
Here we’ll break down the complicated history of relationships between brands and influencers at New York Fashion Week and discuss what the future may hold for social media influencers at the event.
New York Fashion Week, a semi-annual event held during February and September of each year,has long been regarded as a glamorous but exclusionary event — perhaps due to the price point of designer apparel or the perceived inaccessibility of the fashion industry’s most prominent figures.
The world’s most prestigious fashion designers converge in New York City to present their latest collections to a conglomeration of critics, celebrities, and buyers. Since its 1943 inauguration, the event has become one of the fashion industry’s most important occasions and attracts a variety of individuals for a variety of reasons.
The front row of NYFW is typically occupied by the traditional fashion press, stylists, retail buyers, and celebrities. The press comprises of critics, magazine editors, and reporters from some of the world’s most prominent publications and fashion outlets. Due to the weight of a published critique in influencing trends and more critically determining which collections sell, members of the press have traditionally been major players at the event.
In addition to the press, stylists attend to find clothing for clients and nurture relationships with designers. Celebrities are also typically in attendance, either due to an interest in fashion or because of the social nature of the event.
In recent years, social media influencers have become an invaluable promotional tool for brands at Fashion Week due to their large online followings and proven ability to drive sales. Their efficacy has resulted in front row seating at shows and lucrative brand sponsorships.
Fashion influencers first grew to prominence in conjunction with the rise of blogging and the growth of social media platforms like YouTube and Instagram. By creating the type of content media audiences were increasingly hungry for and adeptly adopting new content formats like Instagram Stories and online livestreaming, influencers began to outperform fashion brands’ and publishers’ social media accounts in terms of reach and audience engagement.
As influencers become the new tastemakers, they are threatening the role of the traditional fashion press. In the context of Fashion Week, influencers offer several benefits beyond what press typically is able to provide:
1. Influencers maintain engaged social media communities accustomed to daily interaction and updates. In comparison, Fashion Week content created by the press is more passive and doesn’t reach audiences with the same immediacy and consistency.
2. Influencers are highly relatable individuals that audiences easily identify with and trust when it comes to product endorsements.
3. Influencers can create personalized storylines around Fashion Week that are memorable for audiences, whereas Fashion Week coverage created by the press can lack a personal perspective.
The incorporation of influencers at NYFW initially began with product placement and one-off social media posts, in which influencers documented their Fashion Week experiences in partnership with various brands.
These posts typically took the form of influencers sharing a photo or video of themselves wearing an outfit gifted from a designer. In doing so, influencers showcased a designer’s outfit and enticed followers to buy the product from the designer.
As influencer marketing has evolved so have branded partnerships at Fashion Week. To distinguish and attract influencers, fashion brands now invite influencers to participate in elaborate branded experiences and exclusive events leading up to and after NYFW. Brands also secure influencers through brand ambassador programs in an effort to build long-term relationships beyond NYFW.
Kate Spade is one well-known fashion brand leveraging its brand ambassador program at New York Fashion Week. In the above example, fashion influencer Nicolette Mason (@nicolettemason) is pictured holding a Kate Spade handbag.
Within the caption, she emphasizes her role as a brand ambassador and connection to the brand through a personal anecdote. She also showcases looks from the brand’s Fashion Week presentation in the multi-image sponsored post, effectively expanding its reach beyond physical attendees.
The success of influencer partnerships at NYFW has resulted in notable outrage among the traditional fashion press, perhaps best exemplified by a 2016 Vogue review of Milan Fashion Week. In the article, multiple editors antagonized fashion influencers with statements like:
I have to think that soon people will wise up to how particularly gross the whole practice of paid appearances and borrowed outfits looks. Look for style among a bought-and-paid-for (’blogged out?’) front row is like going to a strip club for romance.
Influencers present a legitimate threat to fashion publications. In the past, top fashion brands predominantly utilized fashion publications as an advertising channel, either through print ads or digitally. However, as consumers spend more time on social media and the medium becomes increasingly central to product discovery and purchase decisions, brands are allocating significant portions of their advertising budgets to influencers.
Today, the impact of fashion influencers on Fashion Week and the larger fashion industry is undeniable. Though influencer partnerships require fashion brands to pay for press that was previously free, influencer-generated publicity is incredibly lucrative.
Case in point, popular fashion blogger Arielle Nachmani (@somethingnavy) reportedly drove $40,000 in Pertersyn handbag sales over the course of two days after featuring Pertersyn in an Instagram story. In September 2017, she also drove one million dollars in Nordstrom merchandise sales in the span of 24 hours.
The presence of influencers at Fashion Week will likely remain a contentious issue, but their value to fashion brands will only increase with time. In comparison to the authors at fashion publications, influencers present a relatable, personable face.
Working in conjunction with influencers gives brands access to millions of fashion-interested consumers who trust their product recommendations. The accessibility and relatability of influencers is something the traditional fashion press will likely continue to find difficult to compete with.