inside the facebook group opening up the fashion conversation to all
High Fashion Talk is the secretive Facebook group where fashion obsessives meet like-minded souls.
Members of High Fashion Talk meeting up in London during fashion week.
Facebook is unfashionable. Or, at least, that’s what we’d all led ourselves to believe. After everyone’s parents moved in and made it difficult to share anything you didn’t want them to see, Facebook lost any modicum of cool, and those who wanted it went elsewhere (read: Instagram).
Despite this, Facebook also happens to be the social network where some of the most fascinating discussions about the fashion industry are currently taking place. Top fashion editors may have their private WhatsApp groups and pre-show frow chat to spread industry gossip and discuss collections, but none of that really competes with High Fashion Talk.
Founded by Iolo Edwards in 2017, High Fashion Talk is a Facebook group where -- the clue is in the name -- people come to talk about clothes. For people who are really into fashion, Instagram, with its endless posturing, self-promotion and particularly polished brand of insufferability, doesn’t facilitate the most important thing: community. “[The high fashion industry] is a one-sided conversation for the consumer,” says Harrison Hunter, who works with Iolo on HFT as both a kind of business manager and a managing editor, depending on the day. “It’s hard to find a position where you can be one on one with someone and actually talk about something you’re passionate about. If everyone links up and joins the dots more, it really does join us all up to make an ecosystem. It’s about being connected.”
“Facebook knows that everybody’s gran joined and made it uncool, and you can’t share everything you used to share there anymore,” says Edwards. “But groups moved the conversation into a closed sphere with people with the same interests as you and I think because you’ve got something with these people, you form closer bonds.”
With membership currently exceeding 25,000 people from around the world, the group is a veritable hub of micro-influencers, designers, fashion nerds, editors, writers and students who together make up an international demographic of young people (and occasionally older people too — there’s a 60-year-old Japanese man known as Mr Hamada who regularly posts pictures of himself in his extensive Comme des Garçons collection) whose brains big fashion brands would die to pick. A recent poll in the group asked what users’ top three brands were; as far as barometers go for knowing what young people think is cool (and more importantly, what they actually want to buy), HFT is nothing short of a market researcher’s wet dream.
Of course, while HFT might be relatively new, its approach is not entirely unique. “There have always been these small communities online, but historically they’ve been based on specific brands or sales,” says Edwards, referencing groups such as Saint Laurent Talk and Rick Owens Talk, and the buy/sell Peckham-based group Wavey Garms. “I’d always wanted to do something like that but never really knew how to start it.” After joining The Basement, a Facebook group that focuses on streetwear and hypebeast culture, Edwards decided he wanted to start his own community. “I liked it, but never felt part of [The Basement] because I wasn’t that much into streetwear,” he says. “Instead, I was listening to podcasts, reading brands’ Wikipedia pages, watching ShowStudio, or the old show reports on Style.com. I’ve always been obsessed with these discussions happening, but never had anybody to discuss with.”
‘Obsessed’ is a word Edwards uses a lot. The 28-year-old currently lives in Wales and splits his time between there and London, coming to the capital to work with brands and curate shoots for HFT. Posting everything from Rihanna’s latest Interview magazine shoot to polls about the fashion shows HFT’s members are most excited about this season, Edwards is, by his own admission, his own most active member. “I used to get on everyone’s nerves posting five times a day. I’d see an article and share it and say look: this is interesting, then add a bit of context, and ask ‘what’s your opinion?’ But it turned out that people were happy for that opportunity to be able to discuss that.”
The cross-section of people in the group is staggering, like a kind of fashion campus canteen with tables of people CSM students would die to sit with. Mert Alas the photographer is a member, as is the designer Thom Browne. Younger designers like Liam Hodges and Max Allen are also in there, as is the film director Fabien Constant. “I personally got asked to join the group by a social media friend and found the whole approach to fashion, design and style very refreshing,” says the London-based designer Matthew Miller. “It’s incredibly exciting how the individuals support each other in a digital community, and it’s a complete change from a lot of the negative trolls you usually find on the internet.”
And a Facebook group where people go to geek out about clothes is… kind of wholesome. As far as young people looking to learn more about fashion goes, it’s undeniably a brilliant resource. There’s no blueprint for it, though, so it’s also hard to define. It’s a platform, sure, but it’s also an online community centre for kids who love fashion. “How I think of it is that it’s a magazine, with every function apart from the print and the website,” explains Edwards. Much like a magazine, the group produces photo shoots, but they live on social media as opposed to the group’s website. “Magazines are trying to send people over from Facebook or Instagram to their website and what we want to do is put it there where people want it, which is on those social media platforms where they engage with it,” says Edwards.
From a branding perspective, the group could also be considered a powerful influencer -- but Edwards is holding the controls firmly. “There are a lot of agencies that are doing work with influencers with a million followers, but maybe only five percent of those followers are engaged. And the problem with micro-influencers” — who have less followers but more clout and engagement — “is that it’s trouble to find each influencer and contact them directly, and the agencies don’t have time.” That access is something Edwards has instantly. “It’s a leaner approach, but we can do the whole influencer thing without losing the authenticity.”
To make this happen, Edwards maintains a filter on the group, and not just anyone is allowed in. “We turn down 60% of the people who want to join,” says Iolo. “You can tell they won’t appreciate it for what it is. They’re more into logos or something.” While this sounds like exactly the kind of elitism Iolo didn’t like about the fashion industry in the first place, these are his gates to keep, and his goal is to keep out people who might detract people speaking openly — occasionally, someone in an unusual outfit will attract the wrong kind of comments, and the admins step in. “I’d love to let everybody in and let everybody get along but it won’t happen until they’ve had a change of mindset. We keep the community as it is,” says Edwards.
That sense of a community of people with common interests is something both Hunter and Edwards missed growing up: “It’s hard to find that community in your hometown or school, and often those environments are very exclusionary of these kinds of interests,” says Hunter. “Some of our younger members say that with how they dress and what they’re interested in, they have a very hard time at school or whatever, and their self-expression is squashed by their environment.”
In contrast with many spaces where people discuss streetwear online, HFT manages to do it in a way that isn’t overtly masculine, and without the latent homophobia that anyone who has been on streetwear Reddit will be familiar with. Facebook’s profile system means anonymity isn’t an option, and people are accountable for what they say to each other. Members still offer “constructive criticism” on each other’s fits, and the result is a space free from harsh judgement from people who don’t ‘get’ it.
How exactly the group’s presence will affect the fashion landscape remains to be seen; right now, it’s simply too soon to tell. But one thing is certain: its influence is steadily and solidly growing. HFT’s members go to it for content, news and analysis because they genuinely trust it -- no mean feat for a platform in 2019. “We’re currently in a bit of a digital cold war, where individuals are finding it increasingly difficult to trust authority and media and so are turning to genuine people with genuine opinions,” Matthew Miller says. “HFT is at the forefront of the zeitgeist. It’s real-time data, real-time emotion and authenticity from real people.”