On Tuesday morning, at Facebook’s New York headquarters, Instagram hosted a “master class” for local editors getting set for what host Eva Chen described as “exciting, exhausted, life-consuming” fashion month.

Chen was joined by Virginia Nam, also of Instagram’s fashion partnerships team, who noted the amount of attention the social platform will be given in the weeks ahead, starting with the Sept. 6 launch of New York Fashion Week: 200 million people — roughly one-third of the Instagram community — are connected to fashion accounts, she said.

Advertising executive Trey Laird, plus-size model Candice Huffine and designer Prabal Gurung joined the duo for a “power panel” on Instagram’s transformative effects on the industry. Talk quickly turned to what brands should do to “win Instagram” during show season and beyond.

“It’s a ‘choose your own adventure,’ in terms of who you want to follow,” Chen said. With an overwhelming number of brands vying for fashion fans’ attention, here’s what brands can do to be deemed worthy, according to the panelists.

Let your guard down
What flies on Instagram is changing, Nam explained, and its evolution mirrors a widespread shift underway in the fashion industry.

Instagram became saturated with “perfect” images — “the avocado toast with a sprinkle of paprika, a little bit of cappuccino art situation and a pair of Fendi pair of sunglasses, all shot on a white Carrara marble countertop,” said Chen, offering up an example. As a result, people stopped paying attention. 

“Pretty doesn’t work [on Instagram] anymore,” Nam said. Today, raw, behind-the-scenes images are seen as more interesting; designers who are “pulling back the curtain” and showing more than just their “best and most beautiful imagery” are having the most success on the platform.

Another reason for the shift is the rising popularity of Instagram Stories. Though the feature is barely a year old, it boasts 250 million users, all of whom are becoming accustomed to content that reads as authentic versus staged.

“Stories allows brands to connect on a deeper level with their audiences,” said Chen, giving props to Gucci — luxury shoppers’ current darling — for using the feature to its advantage. It takes a casual approach, regularly allowing its artist collaborators to man its Stories. What’s more, its creative director, Alessandro Michele (@lallo25), regularly shares snippets of his day.

Brand or not, “you just want to be yourself in Stories,” Chen advised.

Re-evaluate your audience
Laird said brands need to realize that, thanks to Instagram, they’re now talking to the world; it’s no longer the industry talking to the industry about what’s “edgy” and “forward.”

“The whole notion of what ‘aspirational’ and what people want is different,” he said. “It’s maybe not different in the industry yet, but that’s the industry’s problem, and they’re going to have to catch up with the world.”

Huffine agreed: “In the [industry’s] bubble, aspiration has lost its meaning and become unattainable,” she said. “In a way, it’s time to burst the bubble. The humanization of the model, the brand, the designer is what people crave. That’s what Instagram does.”

Laird used model Emily Ratajkowski, the fashion insider with the most viewed Stories, as an example. “One minute she’s doing a bikini thing, the next she’s at a Trump protest,” he said. Her appeal is that she shows all sides of her personality, not just her portfolio-perfect images.

“’Aspirational’ can be beautiful — there’s nothing wrong with that,” Gurung said. “But the dialogue has changed. That shouldn’t be the only conversation.”

Stand for something
Laird said when he works with brands, he always encourages them to have a point of view. “Don’t just put stuff out there; put something out there that means something,” he said. “With [social media], everyone has a voice. What matters is what you do with it.”

Gurung agreed. “I don’t believe in coincidences. I’m a firm believer that if you have a platform — because you’re successful or privileged — there’s a reason for it. What are you going to do with it? How are you going to use it?”

Gurung admitted that when designers were silent during the time of the Women’s March and about the Black Lives Matter movement, he judged them.

“Whether you have an audience of one or a million, you should be speaking out about what you’re passionate about.” And, he said, with so many messages coming across feeds, you need to do it in a bold way to make an impact.

Chen reminded attendees of Gurung’s fall 2017 show finale, in which models walked the runway wearing T-shirts with feminist slogans, including ”The Future Is Female.” “I cried,” she said.

Diversify
Another way Gurung wants to use his platform is to change the current beauty ideal, which he describes as size 0, blonde, fair-skinned and blue-eyed. “I want the runway to represent the world I want to live in: full of color, diversity and different sizes, he said. “Those things make it interesting.”

He’s been using his runways to do just that, though he said he’s faced obstacles every season. Casting agents repeatedly shoot down his requests, telling him “demand is not there” for the models he wants, so there are little or no options for him.

Huffine is well aware of that conversation. “I’ve heard so many times from designers, ‘I can’t sift through all of the agencies to find [diverse girls]. I can only cast what options I’ve been given.’ You can’t fault someone for what they don’t have access to — but that’s why the industry needs to be challenged.”

Gurung said the real change won’t happen until “Céline, Prada, Gucci and Saint Laurent” stop the pattern. “That’s just the reality,” he said, noting he has, however, seen American brands increasingly working with diverse models. Their Instagram fans are demanding it, he explained.

“You saw that in the last two seasons, when certain shows cast only one type of ethnicity,” Chen said. “They are called out on their Instagram. Seven hundred million people around the world are making their voices heard.”

Prabal Gurung fall 2017 runway image via harpersbazaar.com

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