LONDON, United Kingdom — A curious new genre of Instagram images began appearing in my feed during New York Fashion Week. Designers and bloggers were taking 'selfies' in ultra high-end cars, on their way to the shows, and sharing them on social platforms.
First, there was the Instagram of Prabal Gurung, stepping out of a Bentley, along with a caption mentioning @WOBentley, a handle named after the founder of the uber-luxury car company based in Crewe, England and owned since 1998 by Volkswagen Group. A few days later, it was pop star (and Prabal Gurung devotee) Ciara, coming out of another Bentley, accompanied by the same handle. And on the day of his show, Gurung's social media feeds also featured Instagram images of a bottle of Evian (one of his show sponsors) and the tempting backstage food spread from Wichcraft NYC.
A couple of days later, Scott Schuman, founder of The Sartorialist shared an image of his girlfriend, the French blogger-turned-media maven Garance Doré, showing off her tanned legs in the backseat of a Bentley, with rich velvety red leather interiors. And there was that @WOBentley handle again.But it was only when I arrived in London and found Susanna Lau, a.k.a. Susie Bubble, cruising around town in a kitted-out Rolls Royce (full disclosure: Lau is a contributor to BoF and gave me a ride in her car yesterday, which was pretty amazing), I knew I was onto something.
For the record, Susie told me she was not being paid by Rolls Royce, but in exchange for the use of the car and driver, was expected to tweet about it. At time of writing, Prabal Gurung had not responded to a request for comment.Consumer brands from the electronics, beauty, automobile and media industries have long tried to align themselves with the glamour of fashion week.
To get a sense of this, one need only take a walk through New York's Lincoln Center, host site of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, which is now, by far, the most commercialised piece of real estate on planet fashion. This season, there was even a branded deejay booth pumping out techno music, conveniently situated on a raised platform right above Lincoln Center's airport-style check-in stations, where dozens of buyers and editors can be found waiting in winding queues.Most of the industry people I've spoken to want to get in and out of Lincoln Center as quickly as humanly possible. Yet the crowds of fashion lovers and curious onlookers milling about outside seems to grow bigger and bigger each season.
But as big as these crowds have become, they are still dwarfed by the tens of millions of people who are now observing fashion week on social media, whose numbers continue to grow with every follow, like and share. So perhaps unsurprisingly, some prominent brands seem to be asking, why advertise in a trade show space when you can connect directly with hundreds of thousands of fashion consumers through the industry's social media stars as they go about their work?
Prabal Gurung, for example, has been very effective in his use of social media to communicate both a lifestyle and a brand, sharing his glowing press, behind-the-scenes moments and images of celebrity friends with his more than 125,000 Instagram followers. Scott Schuman, Garance Doré and Susie Lau have all been at the vanguard of social media since the very beginning of the fashion blogging phenomenon — and as some of the best visual chroniclers of fashion week, they have embraced Instagram, in particular, because it is the most immediate and exciting way to share images with their large communities of followers.
Now, it seems that a number of brands see value in being part of these personal and professional streams as well, something which has not been lost on Instagram. Last week, the company, which is owned by Facebook and just surpassed 150 million users, revealed that it's preparing to introduce advertising in order to monetise its growing user base.
Expect to see much more sponsored content on Instagram in the coming months, both from the company itself and its fashionable superusers.