Sujata Assoumull Sippy
Fashion loves to embrace the new and is always quick to adapt to socio-cultural developments. There is no question that this industry has welcomed The Social Network. The way we look at fashion has totally changed, thanks to Facebook, Twitter, Blackberry Messenger (BBM) and Instagram.
And the way we report fashion has changed too. Fashion shows are streamed live, reviews on blogs are up minutes after a show, and online e-commerce stores make collections available minutes after a fashion show has ended.
You can buy an outfit even before the next day's newspaper review is out. Twitter, of course, means that even the fashion reportage a paper carries is outdated. Today every fashion writer needs to learn the art of reviewing a show in 140 characters. Knowing your social media is as important as knowing your fashion. The fashion brands, retailers and magazines are well aware of this-and therefore they are all social media-friendly.
And often enough, social media will be more willing to push the envelope than traditional media. Recently, a leading fashion magazine made a fashion faux pas-the outfit they had put on their cover had appeared on another fashion magazine a year earlier, and as we all know repeating in fashion is a big no-no.
Interestingly, most of the dailies decided to overlook the incident. Bloggers were not so forgiving and brought the error into the public arena. And it started a much-needed debate on the responsibility of fashion media.
Even when you look at electronic media, you will notice that unless it is a 'makeover show', most television channels shy away from showcasing fashion, style and luxury. And again social media is poised to fill the gap, with several YouTube channels launching this year all based around style. It seems social media believes that there is a demand for fashion-based content.
However, social media has given anyone and everyone a right to an opinion. This is not necessarily a good thing. Many bloggers may love fashion, but do not really understand fashion. Most blog about what they wear more than what is happening on the runway. Their first post of the day during fashion week will nearly always be about what they are wearing today.
They give themselves more importance than the subject they are seeking to be an expert on. There are perhaps a couple of well-researched fashion blogs in India such as www.borderandfall.com. The problem is they are not updated regularly enough, which makes them lose relevance. Fashion is all about being up to date. The only constant in fashion is change.
One downside of social media accessibility is that fashion has lost that 'rarefied' status it once enjoyed. That mystery around fashion has gone. This really is one of the pillars this industry is built on. Fashion has always prided itself on being aspirational and enjoyed its elite status. Social media may have helped the industry seem more relevant and more au courant but it has chipped away at fashion's aura of exclusivity.
Social media has also changed the way a consumer approaches fashion. Even if you aren't an online shopper, you'd have done your research on what you want to buy before you enter a store. And if it does not have what you want, you simply buy it online. In the end, fashion is all about the consumer.
Spend a weekend observing your own friends on social media. Most will change their BBM display picture every time they step out. This picture change automatically gives you an update on their latest wardrobe change. If the photograph came out very well, it will be promptly uploaded on to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as well.
Just as you judge a book by its cover, you judge people by what they wear. According to the Association of Image Consultants International, 'Appearance, Behaviour and Communication' form the abc of your image, and the instant first impression is made by appearance.
It is natural that when you update your picture, it will be judged by how you look. The more comments or 'likes' you receive directly relates to how much your look is appreciated. If there are lots of comments, you may think twice about repeating the outfit, as it has been 'virtually' seen too much.
Of course, the whole point of putting up a picture is to be noticed, and who does not enjoy flattering comments. You would never put a picture up when you are not looking your best. Take a look at your friends' Facebook profile pics; nearly all of them are 'dressed-up' pictures. Dressing has really become about impressing.
For those who are at the forefront of the glamour industry, Twitter and blogs have given fashion a new importance. Many celebrities have realised that fashion can be their new best friend as their pictures will be posted overnight on style blogs, and everyone is free to comment on what they wear. And since nothing sells in India like a celebrity, so his or her love of fashion has given the industry a status.
If a designer has a choice between sending an outfit to a fashion magazine or for a celebrity appearance, you can bet that they will choose the latter. A celebrity pic goes viral on social media and reaches out to a much wider audience, which is why fashion magazines love putting Bollywood stars on their covers. What could be better publicity than having Sonam Kapoor (with well over 43 lakh followers on Twitter) tweet a picture of her wearing an outfit.
And following suit, most of the so-called fashion blogs concentrate on celebrity. They are only interested in fashion if a celebrity is wearing it. One of the most successful fashion blogs is www.highheelconfidential.com. It is now over five years old and is a site most love to hate.
I overheard a well-know fashion director of a fashion magazine saying, "I check it out every day. Most women I know do, even if they will never admit it." Every important fashion magazine: Vogue, Grazia and elle have dedicated teams just working on their website content, as they know the future is social media (although even their content has a high celebrity quotient).
Undoubtedly then, thanks to social media, fashion is in a state of change right now, but Indian fashion has been more than fashionably late to embrace this wave. There are still many Indian designers who are not on Twitter, Instagram or even Facebook. But look at the broad brush, and fashion has become more social media-savvy. Better late than never, and this is the space to watch out for.
The writer is a fashion columnist and the former editor
of Harper's Bazaar India
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