How Instagram has changed fashion

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 June, 2015, 6:08am
UPDATED : Monday, 15 June, 2015, 11:10am

Every year the Council of Fashion Designers of America honours the achievements of veteran designers and celebrates the potential of a class of newcomers. This year's ceremony on June 1 highlighted the old-school craft of clothes, the gut instincts of an enduring merchant and a wave of American designers who are informed by the street.

It was also a slog through long speeches, stuttering gratitude, affectless reminiscences, grudging laughter and fear of Kanye West.

Ultimately though, Instagram was the most interesting win of the night. Its impact says the most about fashion in our popular culture.

The CFDA ventured boldly into new territory. It gave its media award - typically presented to a writer, editor or photographer - to a company, or more precisely, an app: Instagram. Voted on by the CFDA board, Instagram had the support of some of the industry's most influential voices, said the organisation's chief executive Steven Kolb.

Launched in 2010, Instagram was created as a photo-sharing device with a selection of filters and other tools to doctor images to a user's aesthetic tastes. Kevin Systrom said that he and co-founder Mike Krieger never envisioned Instagram's effect on the fashion industry: "There's a funny picture of Mike and I wearing baggy shirts and pants. So to say we were thinking about fashion would be an overstatement."

But Instagram, Systrom acknowledges, has changed fashion. "Designers are thinking of things to put in shows to encourage people to take Instagrams," Systrom says, noting the recent Chanel show in which designer Karl Lagerfeld created an entire supermarket set including details such as boxes of Chanel rice, shopping carts and displays of produce.

Where it was once de rigueur for models to make one final pass down the runway at the end of a show, now they come out as a group and pose. Often they remain in position even as the audience is leaving - more opportunities for guests to swarm around a model to capture a perfect close-up for Instagram.

"I went to the Burberry show in LA and I was talking to (creative director) Christopher Bailey," Systrom says. Production values of fashion shows have gone up, Bailey told him, now that images are disseminated instantly - or as quickly as all that filtering and editing will allow. Pictures go far beyond newspapers and magazines and websites to be shared - and re-shared - millions of times in ways that are not just regurgitating what the designer says but from a new point of view. A designer no longer lectures. Instagram helps spark a conversation and a debate.

Instagram is part of the great democratisation of fashion, helping to create an entire class of fashion professionals who did not hone their chops as junior editors or assistants. They are untethered to specific publications. Their message is wholly visual and it is personal. And for some people, such as Leandra Medine and Chiara Ferragni it has become lucrative, as they become tastemakers to their hundreds of thousands of followers, brand ambassadors for labels, collaborators with fashion designers and even designers, themselves.

Instagram has given models a tool for creating a public personality long before they sign big advertising contracts, sit down for a chat on a late-night talk show or otherwise raise their voice. With Instagram, they can be heard without ever having to open their mouth.

As designer John Bartlett noted, after he posted a photo on Instagram, the industry has a natural affinity for the app, with its focus not just on the visual, but also on personal aesthetics. After all, designers can share all the photos they want via Twitter, for example; the obsession with Instagram is in altering images to reflect their points of view.

Kim Kardashian, dressed in a see-through Proenza Schouler dress, presented the media award to Instagram. Systrom noted that while he might be the CEO of the company, she is the queen of Instagram, someone who has turned the selfie "into a science".

For better and worse, Kardashian has, with the aid of Instagram and her nearly 35 million followers, left fashion transfixed. She can hijack fashion headlines simply by showing up. She became a new kind of fashion celebrity - one without a model's physique. She so mesmerised Vogue with her tail feathers that it declared this the era of the big booty.

This year's awards were also distinguished by first-time host, James Corden of The Late, Late Show. He took aim at fashion's Lolita-esque tendencies with pointed jokes about photographer Terry Richardson and former American Apparel boss Dov Charney, who have both been accused of sexual misconduct by those with whom they've worked.

Chelsea Clinton paid tribute to the late designer Oscar de la Renta, noting how he encouraged her to stop hiding in the shadows and step into the spotlight - and gifted her with a velvet dress to encourage her to do so.

West, who gave the fashion icon award to Pharrell Williams, was pure, barely contained emotion in both tone and gesture. Dressed in a flowing black shirt, he silenced - and worried - the audience when he warned folks that he was the angry version of Williams. He was Williams' anger translator. Thus began one of West's familiar monologues on the fashion industry's judgmental nature - its bullying and mean-girl tendencies and refusal to recognise his brilliance. But then he stopped himself - as if remembering that he was actually on stage to pay tribute to a man he admired.

When the awards ended, Corden dispatched the audience to the atrium of Alice Tully Hall, where a party awaited. Folks slowly filed out to find waiters passing a light supper. The bar had reopened. It was time for congratulations and hugs before venturing out into the rain.

Everyone pulled out a phone. They started taking pictures. And posting them to Instagram.

The Washington Post