From Adidas Yeezys to Vetements slogan sweatshirts, there are certain pieces that spread like wildfire online. But what exactly is it about them that gets them shared, shared and shared again?
If a brand isn’t blowing up on Instagram, does it even exist? And if a runway piece isn’t inspiring its own obsessive #hashtag, or a Tumblr dedicated to pictures of it from every possible angle, is the modern-day designer actually doing what they’re being paid for? these are the kind of pseudo-existentialist questions we fashion folk concern ourselves with, the sartorial equivalent of asking if a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?
Important fashion philosophies aside, the social media juggernaut shows no signs of slowing – quite the contrary, June 21 2016 marked Instagram reaching half a billion users. But what is it about certain fashion pieces that means these platforms can transform them into superstars? Is it a question of perfect timing? A certain influencer’s backing? Utter chance? Or is it that most ancient of credentials, nearly lost in the mists of time; just really good, old-fashioned design?
Let’s take some of the biggest contenders of recent months; Adidas’s Yeezy Boost trainer, Dior’s So Real sunglasses and Balmain x H&M’s power-shouldered extravaganza. The most obvious connecting thread between them is the overt celebrity element within each – incidentally, all associated in some way with the Kardashian klan, if anyone was in any doubt as to how much internet they can actually break. Kanye West’s Yeezy has been posted on Instagram over 3 million times, presumably doing nothing for his God complex, but wonderful things for his bank balance. Or at the very least, for Adidas’. After all, who can forget Kanye’s plea to Mark Zuckerberg to clear his alleged $53 million debt? Yeezy; small tip. If you’re going to ask the founder of Facebook for a bail out, don’t do it via the medium of Twitter.
Regardless, hopping from one platform to another, Kanye creates almost-unparalleled hype and awareness. Not only is he a viral superstar, but by proxy, his footwear is too. His is a unique voice – a foghorn, if you like – that cuts through an incredibly over-saturated media landscape. With Nike being by far the most followed fashion brand on Instagram with 54.8 million fans, we can only imagine the glee that Adidas, with its modest 12.9 million, felt when Kanye announced he was jumping ship from the swoosh to the three stripe. The man – and his shoes – are a social media dream. Asos.com, no stranger to social media domination with five Instagram accounts alone, told us that some of their most engaged-with product posts on Instagram this year involved the humble sneaker. “Everyone loves them,” they said. The proof all points to sportswear – but trainers in general – having serious social media clout. Great news for Gucci’s Ace sneaker, newly-launched and eminently ‘grammable. We predict an Insta-riot.
Now let’s examine the curious case of Dior’s So Real sunglasses, launched for S/S14. These now-iconic shades will be one of Raf Simons’ lasting legacies. Again, blessed by the golden touch of the Kardashians (or, in this case, The Jenners – Kris and Kylie as well as social media queens and Emirates Woman cover stars Olivia Palermo and Kristina Bazan, the graphic shades have quickly become an Insta-Snapchat mainstay that you can’t swing a Fendi bag bug without hitting. And yes, a celebrity advocate or two is all well and good in order to pick up speed – but there’s much more of an alchemy to the formula. what is it about them that really captured the heart of social media?
Firstly, something needs to photograph well. Mirrored shades offer that in spades – whether that’s accompanied by a latte in a breakfast flat lay, or offering a universally flattering addition to a selfie underscored by Louboutin’s matte nude lipstick and a T-rex hand resting under the chin. They’ve also struck the right balance of being exclusive and aspirational, whilst hitting a price point that makes them relatively accessible. Cue millions of girls dreaming of, and hence Pinning, Snapping and Instagramming them. Throw in a multitude of colourways, a distinctive, architectural silhouette and a designer label, and you’ve got a recipe for social media gold.
When it came to Balmain x H&M’s judicious partnership last year, they were two already-thriving marketing machines coming together to instigate a social media meltdown. H&M’s past designer collaborations have always caused a stampede, but Balmain, due to its exclusivity, had been hyped more than most. In addition, what’s the one thing that Olivier Rousteing does better than cutting silhouettes sharper than his cheekbones? Painting a heavily filtered, jet-set life with his glam squad of Kylie, Kendall, Gigi and RiRi. He’s a social media master, feeding all his tricks into the collection, knowing full well what has the capacity to go viral.
Balmain is a great example of brands using social media in a really progressive way. But it’s Burberry that has always pioneered innovation, using a really strong multi-disciplinary approach – they have 38 million followers over 19 global platforms. They’ve partnered with everyone from WeChat and Google (they launched ‘the Burberry Booth’ last year, using real-time video which allowed customers to appear alongside characters in their Festive Film), to Snapchat (Mario Testino shot their campaign live on it), Twitter (posting preview pictures of S/S12 on their ‘Tweetwalk’) and Periscope (live-streaming their London in LA show). Early adopters lap it up, and the brand remains a trailblazer.
The best bit for brands, however, is that this engagement invariably converts into sales. Hannah Craik, Head of Social Media for Asos told us, “We know that if we feature a product that really catches people attention, it can sell out. Posts that perform the best are those that are relevant to our followers and that fit with platform behaviour. On Facebook that’s about giving people something they can recognise themselves or their friends in. On Instagram, that’s about showing them something they need in their lives – be that fun novelty or amazing occasionwear.” For us as customers, it’s great news as well, since the world is now our shop window. “75 per cent of Instagrammers say they take action after seeing a post,” Instagram say. “This is partly because people come to be inspired and discover things they care about. Some of the most successful advertisers – of over 200,000 worldwide – on Instagram are small brands and businesses.”
It’s certainly true that social media has levelled the playing field. Look at small, emerging labels like Marysia Swim with its scalloped bikini, Rae Feather with its monogrammed beach bag or Elina Linardaki with its pom-pom Penny Lane sandals. Pinterest, Tumblr, Snapchat and Instagram are awash with them, all hero pieces that caught a wave and rode it to an absolute apex. Net-a-Porter.com have now even picked up Linardaki, and Harvey Nichols-Dubai are carrying Rae Feather. Viral superstars done good. So is there a science to it? Some kind of algorithm we can neatly summarise with? Like much in life, we’d say success can be narrowed down to three things; a fundamentally sound product, connecting with brilliant people, and a really, really good filter.