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Snap, tag, post, repeat - how fashion became addicted to social media

You know the model agents of the world had to go for twice as many coffee-fuelled emergency chain-smoking breaks the day they realised just who had booked the new Marc by Marc Jacobs campaign in their place. Instagram: fashion’s favourite new international scouting ground and public enemy number one to the traditional system.

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For autumn/winter 14’s badass Marc by Marc makeover – courtesy of Luella Bartley and Katie Hillier – Marc Jacobs and his partner-in-crime, mega stylist Katie Grand, decided to run an open casting call for any fervent Instagrammers, who felt like starring in a global fashion campaign. “It seemed like a great idea to me, as casting through Instagram seemed cool, current, and strong,” Marc said. More than 70,000 girls and boys posted their finest selfies, begging the designer to #CastMeMarc, before nine of the thirty finalists flown to New York were booked for the campaign. 

Following in the footsteps of Nicola Formichetti, who cast his #DieselReboot campaign via Tumblr last year, Marc’s social media move was the crowning act in a season devoted to fashion’s general worship of all things Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. (Sorry, Pinterest, you not so much.) Since the industry got its first smartphone, our every move has been documented at great length on social media. From the sarcy Twitter observations of writers on the front row to stylists’ comprehensive Facebook albums of their newest editorials, and Riccardo Tisci’s thorough coverage of Madonna’s birthday party on Instagram, social media is a sleepless, bottomless blank canvas forever open to an industry fuelled on sensory overload. And this season, fashion celebrated its favourite addiction. In February, selfie queen Cara Delevingne walked the full Giles runway filming herself with an iPhone – and uploaded the video immediately after – only a few exits after social media royalty Kendall Jenner walked her second big show as a model. (The first one being Marc Jacobs the week before.)

Needless to say, the Giles show – like the Marc Jacobs show and the Marc by Marc campaign – was co-conceived by Katie Grand. After Jenner had walked the Marc Jacobs show, Grand enlisted her for a one-day takeover of the official Instagram of LOVE – the magazine she founded – effectively turning a reality TV star and social media wonder into a high-fashion model, only to turn her back into a social media wonder all over again but suddenly with newfound fashion street cred and an entirely different point of departure as a result. Add to that the fact that Jenner’s debut on the Jacobs catwalk was a social media phenomenon before news even hit the Mail Online, and Grand’s dialogue between fashion and social media suddenly seemed like the ultimate use of the most user-friendly platform in the world.

As the poster girl for the social media generation of models, Instagram was also Cara Delevingne’s go-to casting couch on her first big foray into the land of brand collaborations this season. #CaraWantsYou was the hashtag for the model’s global social media search, in which she called for aspiring models to “post a pic of yourself looking fresh to your Instagram” for a chance to star in the campaign for her DKNY collaboration. Mirroring the Jacobs method, the idea of scouting campaign faces via social media isn’t just a reflection of fashion’s increasing infatuation with so-called ‘real people’, but the biggest degree of brand-to-consumer interactivity fashion has ever known. What used to be considered plebby by a largely elitist industry is suddenly the next big thing. But beware: with fads come backlashes, and fashion isn’t exactly known for its incredible attention span.

While our current social media excitement is injecting a healthy dose of unsnobbish novelty into a fusty industry, the backside of the snap-happy, self-promotional medal is already starting to show. Increasingly over the past couple of seasons, the backstage areas of shows normally reserved for post-show interviews with the designers have been rammed with a certain type of show-goers eager to take selfies with the designers. While some designers are tolerant and patiently oblige, it’s a tendency which has resulted in camera bans and buffed up security backstage at other shows where designers are less keen to play celebrity and fashion prop to the fangirls. The spirit represents the dark side of social media – anti-social media, if you will – which fashion previously brushed shoulders with during the infamous Twitter wars of 2013 between former New York Times critic Cathy Horyn and Hedi Slimane when the designer joined Saint Laurent.

It’s obvious why fashion and social media is a marriage made in heaven. The thrilling immediacy of social media is like crack cocaine to an industry terrified of being passé. The only thing that weighs as heavy in fashion nature as the pursuit of the new is the creation of the individual’s image. It’s basically about being unique, and few things make you feel special quite like casting your campaign from unknown Instagram users, or posting a picture of yourself posing with Donatella Versace minutes after her show. But for an industry that sometimes struggles to keep up with its own pace, the disposable culture represented by the endless unchartered territories of social media also seems a little bit scary. This season wasn’t just fashion’s tribute to a brave new cyber world, but also the industry’s sly underhand to the social media we’ve become addicted to. After all, ironic distance was always something fashion did well.