Credit Tom Jamieson for The New York Times
LONDON â Hereâs a question: What do looks from the catwalks at New York Menâs Fashion Week, a video of Gigi Hadid singing a duet with Taylor Swift and the latest cover of the annual Hollywood issue of Vanity Fair have in common?
Answer: This week, all debuted exclusively on Snapchat, confirmation of the enthusiastic adoption of the messaging app by the worlds of fashion, media and entertainment.
Since Snapchat was introduced in 2011, its popularity and growth have been explosive. The service, known for its blurry self-destructing âsnapsâ that can be scribbled upon and that contrast starkly with the curated, filtered scenes found on rival image-based apps like Instagram, has become a powerful social media platform with a $ 16 billion valuation and rumored plans of a public offering. It currently delivers more than seven billion video clips a day among its 100 million active users, most of whom are between the ages of 18 and 24.
That last statistic is the most valuable for high-fashion brands, many of which have clamored to build a presence on Snapchat in the past 18 months in efforts to reach a new generation of so-called millennials.
And in an industry where social-media metrics are as much a barometer of success as the quality of styles seen on the catwalk, embracing the future has been crucial, despite Snapchatâs imperfect and unedited aesthetic, which is at odds with the idealized fashion values presented and peddled by the industry for five decades.
Valentino, Stella McCartney, Louis Vuitton, Carolina Herrera and Michael Kors have all used Snapchat to offer behind-the-scenes glimpses of their womenâs wear shows in the past 12 months. Burberry, often an early adopter of new media approaches, posted teasers to the service before its London Fashion Week show â alongside quirky cameos from front-row stars like the Vogue editor Anna Wintour and the model Cara Delevingne.
But how to accurately measure the commercial value of campaigns that vanish after 24 hours? Labels insist that creating Snapchat stories â like all social-media marketing â is less about driving short-term sales than it is about building long-term brand equity. But after flashy and much-trumpeted arrivals on the platform, companies such as Louis Vuitton and Michael Kors went quiet, and some industry experts say the fashion world needs inspiration to turn that camera flash into cold, hard cash.
âFashion brands are definitely still becoming acquainted with the platform,â said Sarah Owen, a youth editor for trends at the forecasting network WGSN.
Figures like Ms. Hadid and Kylie Jenner are proving to be more nimble on Snapchat than the brands they represent when it comes to winning the hearts and minds of millennials. When it comes to financial returns, it is the unexpected new wave of underground âinfluencersâ â rather than billion-dollar companies â that appear to be reaping concrete rewards, via old-fashioned product endorsements.
Take DJ Khaled, 40, a hip-hop producer who also happens to have one of the most popular Snapchat accounts on the planet. His proficiency on the platform â âa combination of inspirational talk, outrageous adventures and mundane minutiae of life,â according to Jon Caramanica of The New York Times â has won him an army of followers. Around two million viewers watch every snap.
As a result, he is building a fashion empire â he has his own fashion label, he tries out new sneakers sent to him by celebrity friends like the singer Kanye West, he has luxury gifts delivered: Hublot sent him some custom watches midsnap this weekend.
Mr. Khaledâs success is built on the fact that he has realized that paid placements are too obvious for todayâs teenagers and 20-somethings; the strategy has to speak more authentically. Perhaps thatâs why Snapchat is also generating serious money for teenage amateurs who are not only adopting his techniques but also âresellingâ fashion products online.
DJ Khaledâs personal sneaker plugger, for example, a 16-year-old high school student from Miami who goes by the name Benjamin Kickz on social media, says he has made a million dollars from his online business, which boomed after he started supplying rappers and A-listers with sought-after footwear.
Benjamin Kickz began by buying in bulk â and then reselling â rare or in-demand sneakers at a premium. His strategy was built on forging partnerships with local wholesalers to release products to him first, and that resulted in him catching the eyes of celebrities on Snapchat and Instagram.
Charles Fitchew, a 12-year-old in Manchester, England, said that neither he nor any of his friends followed brands on Snapchat, but that they have followed people âclose to the streetwear brandsâ who snap product drop dates and where items can be bought.
âAnd gradually, I realized I could set up a similar sort of business myself, by selling sneakers from my account â last week alone I made 300 pounds,â or about $ 434, he said. âIf someone famous posts a snapchat of themselves wearing a shoe, then the price goes up by a third overnight. There is a fashion business booming on Snapchat and anyone can have a hand in it.â
Everyone, it would appear, but the brands themselves.