The Fashion World’s Up and Down Romance With Social Media

Men's Fashion Week has been the usual whirl of debuted clothes, high cheekbones, trendy parties and… Instagram? But is the industry ready for the present tense?

Yes, we know: real men wear pink—and red, and baby blue—on their bodies, and even in their hair. After this week, add multi-hued florals and color-blocked flip flops to that dandified mix. But the biggest news out of this year's "New York Fashion Week: Men's" is the current state of the industry's on again off again romance with social media, a relationship that has so far proven both beneficial but … rocky, too.

What are the other takeaways from NYFWM, Spring 2017, besides great bodies, sculpted faces, celebs, and parties? What does the Council of Fashion Designers of America's now three-season old twice-yearly men's fashion outing mean in terms of actual branding/business/hard numbers—outside of being Ab Fab with better abs?

Steven Kolb, CFDA president and CEO, contends: "The social media of designers and brands in this venue allows them to talk directly to customers. Social media's engaged the men's retailers with new ways of engaging shoppers that might not be an immediate transaction—but it can help develop future transactions. For instance, Jerry O'Connell was one of our ambassadors this year; he's seeing a lot of engagement on his social media. The menswear community's always been strong—but these shows totally amplify it. And it's a chance for sponsors to help define their brands and position themselves authentically. It's also a benefit to New York's local economy and jobs."

Yes, the NYFWM's "ambassadors" appointed by the CFDA are of course social-media inspired. O'Connell partied stylishly and virtually with his more than 48k Instagram followers. So did Common (1.1mil), Kellan Lutz (617k), basketball star Dwyane Wade (7.2 mil), Nick Cannon (1.5 mil), and model/editor/influencer Eric Rutherford (130K), who's attended all three NYFWM's weekly outings (kicked off by the CFDA in July 2015).

Thomas Iannaccone/REX/Shutterstock

"The integration of the brands with the event feels nicely layered in this go round," Rutherford observes. "NYFWM's is helping to raise awareness and buzz through social media as well as traditional platforms. For instance, it's upped the visibility of New York street style as a retail and style influence both around the world. It shows what you can do just by hitting the streets looking good! And every season, it's made my own social presence grow—I've gotten daring."

One of the few negatives, though, notes Rutherford, is that trendspotting half a year before clothes are actually available can be a spoiler. "It helps sell clothes, but it's created a challenge for people who see a shirt or jacket in someone's post and want that piece now—but have to wait six months till it's in a store. Or a fast fashion company [meaning knock-off brands like H&M or Zara] sees it and produces it within weeks. Social media means instant gratification, which the fashion industry isn't set up for—yet."

Hollywood celeb stylist Jeanne Yang, known for her A list sartorially splendid male clientele (Jamie Dornan, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr, Christian Bale, Keanu Reeves—and a certain Mr. Clooney), observes this, too. "I'm using these shows as a guide for trends. But they run the risk of overexposure—I've heard from some non-celeb clients that they're hesitant to purchase pieces six months after they've seen them on the runway or they've had too much social media. I think the whole business model is about to change. Everyone wants more exclusivity now—not just celebs."

Meanwhile, top sponsors had more visibility this go around. Amazon Fashion president Cathy Beaudoin presided over a soiree at the Skylight Clarkson Space, with Kellan Lutz, various models and VIPS – definitely a step up from their event last year. "It was only a year ago that we invited the industry to our Williamsburg photo studio to celebrate the launch of New York Fashion Week: Men's," Beaudoin tells The Daily Beast. "This season, we were excited to bring the worlds of Amazon Fashion and East Dane to the home of Men's Week at the Terminal."

And Cadillac timed their upped-participation in this week's shows with their new major New York HQ presence (relocating from Detroit in September 2015) in Soho dubbed "Cadillac House," a building with a 12,000 square foot main floor that's hosting several actual runway shows (Timo Weiland, GypsySport, Thaddeus O'Neill) and a designer retail space open to the public. In fact, the CFDA kicked off the week by hosting a party with the auto brand starring the very chic Common, and the glittery presence of the photo-op- able O'Connell, Nick Cannon, Lutz, and Shaun White.

"Any brand can write a check," says Cadillac Global Communications Director Andrew Lipman, "but we've increased our partnership with the CFDA because it's organic. Part of redefining the new Cadillac brand is knowing what's important to the luxury consumer of Gen Y and Gen X: designer fashion. This association helps us to increase relevance to the younger customer. And when people walk into shows at Cadillac House, the first thing they see is … three new cars."

For the designers—particularly those outside biggies like Michael Kors, John Varvatos, Tommy Hilfiger—social media ops outweigh the high costs of shows, models, parties, etc. Bradley Schmidt, one half of the Brooklyn-based team Cadet (almost 10K Instagram), says, "When you have three hundred and fifty plus people posting about your show on various social media channels, it connects with people who may not know us—which means new customers. Since we have retail stores and ecommerce, it actually helps generate sales there—even though the collection on the runway's not yet in stores. This season, we also dressed the hosts of the Amazon VIP Lounge, which got us more eyes/social media posts. For existing customers, it solidifies us as a "real" brand. We also cast sexy models—we have the sexiest show in NYFWM—that helps with the social media side, too!

"Social media's been a great way to read an audience that otherwise wouldn't see the show," says Carlos Campos of his eponymous brand. "We aren't huge on social media (10.6K Instagram)—but this season we implemented our own Geo-located Snapchat filter to give the models something to do backstage, and allow people to represent the brand while sharing their views of the show. During the show days after it, we've seen a bump in our Instagram follows. Events like NYFWM have definitely helped us cast a wider net in terms of visibility. Now we're hoping it will do the same thing for sales!

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