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November 07, 2017

How Social Media Transformed The Fashion Industry From A Dictatorship To A Democracy

Text by Aalika Mahindra

The biggest brands are acknowledging the power of a diverse bunch of blogger-influencers who have revamped the face of fashion

“It’s sort of comical how you think that you’ve made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry. When in fact, you’re wearing a sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room….” -Miranda Priestly

If you’ve watched The Devil Wears Prada (2006), you probably remember the moment you heard that monologue on cerulean blue and were traumatised by a brief existential crisis about every item of clothing you have ever bought.

Believing the movie’s version of ‘the people in this room’ makes the arbiters of taste out to be the stuff of cliched fashion nightmares — the icy editrix; skinny, vacuous models and effeminate fashion assistants with a penchant for oversized pinky rings.

Currently, with the rise of social media and its consistently growing impact, the global fashion industry has transitioned from dictatorship to democracy, reorganising the hierarchy that controls consumers. The gilded, closed doors, behind which a select group designated trends and allocated sartorial destinies, have been unlocked, the rarefied haute air escaping with a defiant whoosh. When users increasingly employed various social media apps as platforms to showcase their personal style and opinions on fashion, the more popular and savvy of the lot evolved into the bloggers and influencers who dominate our feeds today. A large-scale demystification of the fashion industry occurred; its image of exclusivity shattered by 19-year-olds with laptops and an internet connection. Consequently, as brands and designers began to understand this transfer of power, they saw the benefit in collaborating directly with social media stars who could sell out a dress or a shade of lipstick through a single post, thanks to their millions of followers.

In India, Bollywood has always been the prime turf for style inspiration. The look of a character is closely associated with the actor herself, oftentimes because there isn’t an actual distinction between the two. The emergence of a website like High Heel Confidential in 2007 had a slow ripple effect; there was a new spotlight on the off-duty appearances of celebrities, which made them pay more attention to their personal wardrobes, subsequently creating new trends and popularising previously unknown designers. As the notion of displaying and documenting outfits online was normalised, it was only natural that fashion bloggers were the next link in the chain. In the last few years there has been a huge jump in their numbers, as well as in the scope of their roles in the Indian fashion industry and with international brands. The most important aspects in this new wave of fashion are representation and accessibility.

Going down the rabbit hole of fashion and beauty blogs leads to videos with beauty tips for darker skin, lookbooks for plus-sized women, style mantras for women over 50…. The internet has brought the issue of diversity to the forefront of the conversation, and given a voice to those who would otherwise be ignored by this fickle business. The beauty standard has emerged as a subjective and malleable ideal, and you’re likely to find someone who matches your individual aesthetic online, instead of being ruled over by a singular fashion diktat. And when it’s possible for you to directly communicate with your fashion favourites, the simulated personal connection ends up benefitting the brands they are associated with through increased sales and by establishing timeless cult items or ‘It’ pieces for the season.

It is obviously not entirely possible to dissociate commerce from the world of fashion blogging — the most obvious downside being the culture of hyperconsumerism. Watching shopping hauls on YouTube until your eyes water might have you rushing to buy the latest off-shoulder top, only for it to be deemed passé before you’ve snipped off the tag. The cycle continues. As influencer marketing turns into an industry of its own, it is slowly bending under the weight of standardisation and the rat race. The exasperated sighs of editors echoed through Bryant Park a few years ago when the sacred New York Fashion Week was taken over by excessive ensembles and duck lips, as street style fashionistas clamoured to be in the foreground of photographers’ lenses. However, there are always aftershocks when there is a tectonic shift from old guard to avant-garde, and it would probably be premature to write off fashion blogging as a passing phenomenon that has run its course just yet.

Clothing is one of the basic necessities of humans, but somewhere along the way as civilisations became industrialised, it turned into ‘fashion’ and functioned as one of the markers of social and economic class, with a privileged few making the rules. Bloggers are, in a way, going back to that primal state of human existence, and reclaiming fashion for everyone by infiltrating the once intimidating cartel of fashion’s elite with the click of a button.

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