While TV, music or film fan bases are much easier to identify (like Lady Gaga’s Little Monsters, Harry Potter’s Potterheads), fashion fandoms are far more elusive online. They can be centred on specific garments, styles, designers or brands, and manifest in enthusiastic, passionate or downright obsessive ways. Take the Tribe, for example, a group of loyal Rick Owens devotees who only wear his designs.
The trails to fan access are difficult to identify and collectivise because they exist ultimately as niches within a niche. Plus, the way the Internet is structured has made it tough to pinpoint when fashion subcultures truly began. There is a lack of proper historical documentation as to what communities were significantly active on which web platforms at a specific time online.
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A Click Away
It all began with forums, which gave ordinary, non-industry users a taste of being a “fashion insider”, running as micro communities with moderators who had access to information and networks. One such forum was The Fashion Spot, founded in 2001. There, you could (and still can) find remarkable people relentlessly scanning decades-worth of their comprehensive archives of past magazine issues particularly from the ’90s and the early noughts (with proper crediting, no less). When the second wave of supermodels such as Natasha Poly, Sasha Pivovarova, Magdalena Frackowiak and Snejana Onopka came crashing in, the forum also became home to postings dedicated solely to their friendships with other models or cliques, their diet, their walk, ad campaigns and baby pictures. You could also find complete statistics on models—and this was way before Models.com came into the picture and the rise of influencer celebrity-models such as Bella and Gigi Hadid, and Kendall Jenner.
Content from forums was then imported to Tumblr, in particular, as it functioned as both a microblogging and social networking website. At this point, it was clear that fandom became less about sharing informational interest as it was about sharing humorous cynicism and the eternal devotion to being on the web—what Twitter calls being “terminally online”. Meme generators were becoming incredibly popular.
There were many, many (mostly now-defunct) blogs and photosets dedicated purely to things like Nicolas Ghesquière drinking water (apparently, he mostly drinks Evian); Raf Simons reacting to stuff in GIFs (there are a billion reblogs of him crying at his final show for Jil Sander); vintage photos of Karl Lagerfeld—particularly those before he became a skinny legend; whatever few photos there are of the famously elusive Martin Margiela; and a comprehensive documentation of all the Rick Owens sculpture-furniture (of himself) from his stores.
Online fandom, then, is about building a rapport with others within a community—but eliminating the need for a face-to-face or physical connection. It has provided an entryway into fashion as an experience that can never truly be explained outside of the spaces. How do you really talk about the significance of having your photoset of Sasha Pivovarova smoking backstage at Lanvin’s fall/winter 2014 show being reblogged by thousands of people on Tumblr? How can you express the joy of meeting a group of people who provide entire links to Rakuten, a Japanese e-commerce website that offers archival Bless pieces for sale?
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Likes For Likes
Thanks to the explosive rise of Instagram, content creation today has evolved with sophistication. Instagram has also been widely referenced by the press, especially in the format of snappy lists, to provide meat to digital content.
Fashion fandoms have also started intersecting with other types of fandoms. @gryffindior, an Instagram account compositing Dior outfits onto Gryffindor members, has united fashion diehards with Potterheads. There’s also @artlexachung, which puts Alexa Chung’s photographs right next to iconic artworks. Meanwhile, fashion-specific accounts are also flexing their historical muscles: @diorinthe2000s celebrates John Galliano’s glory days at Dior by carefully revisiting his collections while @whatmiuccia documents various outfits Ms Prada has worn throughout her career, observing how runway looks have been translated day to day by the designer herself. @diet_prada, a passion project by Tony Liu and Lindsey Schuyler which first began as a hobby identifying copycats, has now become the fashion industry’s watchdog, then there’s @oldceline, a resource for fans of Phoebe Philo halycon days at the French maison. And let’s not forget the ceaseless influx of #ootds which give birth to hashtags like #PeopleInCommeDesGarcons.
Perhaps finally the public is starting to recognise the invaluable contributions that fashion fandoms have made. They have undoubtedly changed the dissemination of knowledge to democratise the reach of fashion—information that was once exclusive to people who worked in the industry is now accessible to curious enthusiasts with very little access to the industry. While fashion gets a lot of flak for being superficial, the Web has proven that there exists passionate, knowledgeable, resourceful people, and it has equipped them with a voice. With such discerning audiences, the industry has no choice but to respond to these challenges and keep things interesting—and they have. Such communities have been instrumental in creating new methods of expression and communication, and brands in turn are conceptualising new strategies that speak to consumers schooled in technology. Think: Balenciaga’s meme-centric advertising campaigns, Gucci’s collaborations with Instagram content hobby identifying copycats, has now become the fashion industry’s watchdog, then there’s @oldceline, a resource for fans of Phoebe Philo halycon days at the creators, plus Fendi’s focus on influencer marketing.
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In this Instagram-fuelled era, groups backing of-the moment designers are keeping them on the industry radar for recruitment—the ability to generate online buzz is seemingly a must-have for the résumé now. Besides their knack for capturing the fashion zeitgeist, it is widely considered that fashion designers Demna Gvasalia and Virgil Abloh’s ability to connect with a digitally savvy generation led to their appointments as Creative Directors at Balenciaga and Louis Vuitton, respectively. When Abloh first sent out his first Vuitton male model onto a rainbow-coloured runway in an emotional debut in June 2018, who’d have thought that this was even possible in 2010, when Instagram first hit?