how the internet changed the fashion industry

From sharing campaign images to controversy-courting catwalk shows, i-D explores how online culture is shaping our reaction to fashion.

by Bertie Brandes
16 March 2015, 2:13pm

This week at i-D we're exploring how the internet has reacted with fashion to change the industry over the last decade. From YouTube hauls to high fashion houses putting celebrities in their campaigns, the digital revolution might be scary but try as you might, there's no stopping it.

"Wooo! Woo!" squeals Mylifeiseva in a blue fox-print onesie, swinging handfuls of shiny colorful shopping bags around in front of her. It's the day after black Friday and she's about to sit and talk nearly a million viewers through exactly what she bought at Sephora, Victoria's Secret and Forever 21, a bit like a young, excitable air-stewardess. Hauls are like show-and-tell for teenagers, invented on and pretty much entirely contained by Youtube they're the fashion equivalent of the equally popular unboxing video. Hauls have become the subject of intense criticism for glorifying an unsustainable fast fashion culture but despite the haters they continue to pop up, from Zoella's "HUGE beauty and cosmetics haul" (2.1m views) to "Spring clothing haul", "USA drugstore haul" and beyond. Innately substance-less but oddly compelling, hauls are watched by tens of millions of people and revolve around the proliferation of one thing - stuff. In an explosion of commodity fetishism, a huge aspect of digital fashion seems simply to have become the worshipping of stuff. Hardly surprising when the black hole of the internet, with all it's amazing communicative benefits, is endlessly thirsty for the new. From the daily tap-for-credits culture on Instagram to the endless high street splurges we're painstakingly guided through in the hauls ("this is a skort, it's a skirt and shorts mixed together in a really pretty floral print") it seems to be less about quality, culture or politics than ever before.

Not all online fashion is fundamentally superficial though. Brands like VFiles and OMIGHTY are paving the way for an entirely new internet aesthetic totally outside of the mainstream. In many ways the power of social media is democratizing fashion, creating space for online brands to flourish and cater to incredibly specific tastes - if you want to wear the Windows 95 screensaver on your ass, you totally can. Something about it makes me nervous though; a belief in the democracy of the internet is a dangerous one, firstly it's pretty much dominated by advertisers, secondly can we really trust Tumblr, Twitter and Instagram to sift the most interesting and important fashion to the top of the pile given what else seems to slip through the net? Either way it's clear big industry is thinking about it. A lot. While super exclusive, expensive fashion is still very much de rigueur for the classic names, houses known for understated luxury are embracing the same sharing culture online as brands like Topshop in order to stay relevant. When Celine chose Joan Didion to front their campaign last season it represented that oh-so-relevant intersection between fashion and internet-savvy business nous. Here was a fashion campaign that was shared endlessly across social media platforms and skyrocketed to the front page of fashion news websites. Don't get me wrong, I don't think Joan Didion in any way lowered the tone (quite the opposite), but that doesn't mean it's not an interesting statement coming from a label that has only ever used models in the past. Equally Karl Lagerfeld's increasingly young, controversial collections are clearly focusing in on social media draw. Fashion brands are starting to understand that if they don't want to get left behind in the digital age they can't rely on print editorial and ads anymore, instead they're facing up to the fact that popularity, exposure and relevance are more important than ever. Take Burberry's celebrity studded catwalk and supermodel fronted beauty lines, inviting thousands of social media shares.

In wake of a social media explosion the fashion industry has found itself commanding an army of sharers that it's desperately trying to figure out how to communicate with. Very few of them are going to buy a £3,000 leather trench coat but that doesn't matter when power as influencers exists in a world where images are currency. Who knows how the internet will influence the fashion of the next decade, maybe we'll all be front row at Paris Fashion Week using Oculus Rift or maybe there's going to be a huge anti-sharing movement in an attempt to reclaim identity. Either way, make sure you remember your charger. And who you are.


Text Bertie Brandes
Fashion Director Charlotte Stockdale

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