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How Instagram is Democratizing Fashion

Where once the fashion elite dominated the conversation about trends, Instagram gives everyone a say. And designers are listening.

There was a time when the fashion industry catered to a crowd of cooler-than-thou insiders. But thanks to social media, that’s quickly changing.

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This was the crux of an Innovation Festival discussion yesterday afternoon between Instagram head of fashion partnerships Eva Chen, Proenza Schouler founders Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez, and Fast Company senior editor Erin Schulte. What was once a multi-billion-dollar industry focused on the interests of fashion buyers and press has now evolved to become more open-minded and inclusive. “Shows were very closed off to the outside world,” Hernandez told a packed auditorium in Manhattan’s Civic Hall. “It’s much more democratic now.”

That’s where Instagram comes in. In the five years since the social platform launched in 2010, Instagram has opened up the fashion world to everyday users all over the globe. By allowing them to tag their favorite brands in posts and strike up conversations in comments, Instagram has made everyone something of a fashion expert. Look no further than this most recent fashion month—week is a deceptive term, says Chen, who spent a month attending shows in New York, Paris, and Milan—which saw 360 million engagements over 44 million unique Instagram accounts. “Now it’s a dialogue between all these people,” she said.

Instagram’s apps, such as Hyperlapse or the recently released Boomerang, push that dialogue along and encourage users to be creative about what they’re posting. The availability of different tools makes Instagram an ideal platform to showcase every aspect of a fashion show. At the most recent Proenza Schouler show, Chen captured the clothes’ movement in slow-motion Instagram video. She called it a “thumb-stopping moment”—a moment every user recognizes as a moment that has to go up on Instagram.

That sort of behavior has changed the way McCollough and Hernandez edit their shows. Black clothes, for instance, don’t read as well on a screen because all the details get lost. The solution? More color on the runway. And what of shorter attention spans and the swipe-right culture of most Instagram users? “The narrative of the show has changed,” Hernandez said. “Before, it was one message and one show. Now, the collection gets more of a wider breadth to keep it interesting. It’s not just about the clothes; it’s about how they look on the screen.”

All that being said, however, Instagram hasn’t turned the industry inside out. Chen says the tendency is for people to say that everything is different because of Instagram. But comparing a 2005 Marc Jacobs fashion show featuring a marching band with this year’s equally fantastical Broadway theme, she insists designers will remain true to their DNA—regardless of social media. “Instagram just magnifies different personality types,” she said.

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