Click Bait: Why the Social Media Supermodel is Cheapening Fashion

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By Julienne Davis | 6:39 pm, September 12, 2016

Recently a friend gave me her September issue of American Vogue to peruse. (I no longer buy it myself after seeing the cover for April 2014, but more on that later.)

The September issues are a big deal in fashion which is why they tend to be the fattest editions and the ones that many fashion houses spend big money on for their advertising campaigns.

I noticed the model of the moment who just landed the all-important Vogue cover is Kendall Jenner. Many companies have also jumped onto the KJ bandwagon: she is also the face of the campaigns of Fendi, Estée Lauder and countless others who I won’t bother to name. (They can thank me later.)

I’m not here to bash Kendall Jenner – she is a pretty girl. But as a former jobbing fashion model myself, and someone who looked up to Vogue like it was the Fashion Bible, it used to be that “supermodels” had to have something out of the ordinary… something truly spectacular about them.

Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington, Helena Christensen, Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss… they had something distinctive about their beauty that was unique, recognizable and exceptional. Agents would scour the world for these beauties and important photographers would “discover” them – which later would turn into edgy editorials and later, big campaigns. A Star would be Born.

Of course us fashion models would strive to be one of them, doing as many photo shoots as we could get with the right up-and-coming photographers. Traveling from NYC to London and Paris and Milan. Pounding the pavement with our books, hoping to be the new discovery for a leading magazine’s editorial pages.

Now? It’s ALL about social media. Posting selfies and basically being or hiring a marketing guru. And KJ? Well, she has 65.3 MILLION Instagram followers. Yep. Today it’s all about that.

It used to be that people would look to Vogue as a leader in fashion. Top fashion magazines would strive to be trendsetters. Sadly nowadays Vogue and other publications, fashion houses, and many beauty/makeup lines are no longer looking for that special face that truly represent their brand. They are simply looking for the face that has a huge social media following.

I think it’s utterly lazy. It’s the stuff of lowest common denominator. None of these brands are catering to their core audience. It’s now becoming a vicious circle. Magazines find their numbers dwindling so they think, ‘Quick! Who has the biggest social media following? Let’s get them!’

Meanwhile their tried and true core audience? Well they’ve just alienated them…Again. I stopped supporting Vogue after April 2014; A huge reality star and her narcissistic husband were on the cover (I won’t give them the oxygen of publicity by naming them). Was she relevant when it comes to being a fashion leader? Did she have a distinctive style all her own? Had she done anything of note? (Okay, a sex tape if you want to count that.) Was she a talented actress or singer or artist? Human or animal rights advocate? Anything at all? No, no and no.

Yet, Anna Wintour’s Vogue did well with that cover selling more than 500,000 copies. Some may say that is successful. I say she sold out the brand. It was telling it was also the first time a hashtag was used on a Vogue cover. Social media indeed.

Calvin Klein was recently quoted saying: “Now, models are paid for how many followers they have. They’re booked not because they represent the essence of the designer, which is what I tried to do — they’re booked because of how many followers they have online. I don’t think that, long-term, is going to work. I don’t think that’s a great formula for success for the product you’re trying to sell.”

I agree. How many of Kendall’s Instagram followers are truly interested in Vogue? Or a high end label like Fendi? I’m sure many will say it’s because KJ is “current” and they are reflecting that in their campaigns. But Calvin Klein is right… long term, it’s not a good move. It’s regurgitating second hand news via social media rather than bringing fresh, new ideas using the fashion industry’s skill and artistic expertise.

On the flip side, social media – when treated differently – can give hot new designers like Australian Alice McCall more opportunities that they wouldn’t have if Instagram and other social media outlets didn’t exist.

Alice stressed the importance of social media in fashion to Heat Street at a dinner for New York Fashion Week.“There is now an authenticity to how we can share our brand with millions and convey what we do to the real person,” she said. “It’s wonderful because I can control how the world, and what the world, sees with my product.

“Instagram supplies a really great voice to my brand and it gives me market research for what my customer likes because you get the dialogue and commentary that gives us feedback to what people think and like.

“The customer wants more than the product. If we can give them a snippet into my world and the brand’s world, it allows them to understand the story and becomes even more three-dimensional.”

So basically, it’s a more immediate form of market research. However it’s not about what social media can give a brand but what it takes away. Social media removes much of the mystique from a brand. It’s all so readily available. Mystique is good. If it were my brand, I think I’d be finding innovative ways of building on the mystique. Using a reality star wouldn’t be one of them.

Still it’s early days for social media. For the present time, the fashion world is clearly enamored with those reality and Instagram “stars” who have ace marketing teams that got them their millions of followers.

As one can pay to get more followers, many of them may be fake. But for some numbers are everything. Or even the only thing.

Clearly that’s a case in point for Kendall Jenner. But I hope for change. I loved fashion for the art of it all. I want to be excited by fashion’s choices again. I want to be wowed. And yeah, I want the mystique.