Building Buzz off the Runway


Chanel's Karl Lagerfeld acknowledges the audience at a Paris show earlier this year.

GUCCI HAS COME to dominate fashion season social media with its mix of pop culture and high fashion — like a new Mickey Mouse head handbag the brand unveiled here Monday. But rivals are rapidly ramping up their efforts to challenge Gucci's buzz-building crown.
 Gucci's Paris show demonstrated its conversation-starting savvy: A model walked the runway with a large white cockatoo named Kiki sitting on her shoulder. A photo of a denim jacket featuring a portrait of country singer Dolly Parton generated 140,000 likes on Instagram. And the brand's post of its Mickey Mouse bag — a hard plastic head that opens at the top — garnered more than 300,000 likes.
 Other brands are scrambling to catch up. This month, Calvin Klein gave Instagram followers a look behind-the-scenes at its New York show; a video of a preshow fitting for the rapper ASAP Rocky in New York generated 150,000 likes. In Paris earlier this year, Chanel and Louis Vuitton won millions of likes and comments with lavish sets: Chanel built a “forest” in the city's Grand Palais, while Louis Vuitton built a runway in the Louvre courtyard that resembled a spaceship.
 The brands are competing for more than just digital bragging rights. A brand that gains share of social-media buzz relative to competitors can expect a corresponding increase in market share over the next year, according to Tribe Dynamics, a San Francisco-based company that measures social-media engagement.
 Overall, brands typically earn 10 times more digital-media exposure — including buzz on social media as well as blog posts and traffic to their brands websites — during fashion week than they do in a normal month, says Michael Jaïs, chief executive of Launchmetrics, a social-media consulting firm for fashion brands. Fifteen minutes on the runway can create socialmedia buzz that lasts for months.
 Gucci's Paris buzz came on the heels of its February show in Milan, where the label lit up social media with a collection set in a mock operating room featuring models holding baby dragons and replicas of their own heads. The striking images helped Gucci rack up much more social-media engagement— counting mentions of the brand, likes and other factors — for the month than the next closest brand, French couture house Chanel, says Tribe, which ranks social performance.
 Robert Triefus, Gucci's chief marketing officer, says the brand's social-media team carefully curates its accounts on Instagram, WeChat and other online platforms to amplify the shows. But he emphasizes that the point is to support the creative director Alessandro Michele's fashion, rather than guide it.
 Social-media analysts say that Gucci's use of the medium has helped fuel the brand's growth. Its revenue has doubled over the past three years, reaching €6.2 billion in 2017; Gucci is now the world's third-largest luxury fashion brand by sales after Louis Vuitton and Chanel.
 Gucci's spectacle is too much for some in the industry. “Fashion can't be a means to have the media talk about you,” said rival Italian designer Giorgio Armani. “We have to move and excite but without going overboard — it's too easy.”
 Many shoppers devour the images. Annemarie Beck, a 26-yearold who was recently browsing a Gucci store in Paris, watches shows on Instagram and Twitter. “I'm yearning for a pair of Gucci loafers or a Gucci belt,” she says.
 Chanel secured second place in Tribe's social-buzz rankings at fashion week earlier this year by transforming the interior of the Grand Palais in Paris. The catwalk was covered with leaves and models walked amid real trees. A video of the show posted to Chanel's Instagram account was viewed 1.5 million times. A photo of the forest just before doors to the venue opened was liked 250,000 times.
 A social-media splash during fashion week can be even more important for smaller brands that lack the resources to buy large amounts of traditional advertising.
 Balmain, the Parisian fashion house led by digitally-savvy designer Olivier Rousteing, gives followers behind-the-scenes looks at show preparations. Balmain is much smaller than the likes of Gucci and Chanel. But in March, a video posted by Mr. Rousteing to his Instagram account taking viewers backstage at the most recent Balmain show received more than 800,000 views.
 “Whenever Olivier thinks about the show, he's not thinking about the front row that's actually watching the show in the space,” said Txampi Diz, Balmain's chief marketing officer. “He's thinking about the bigger audience.”  

Gucci generated social media buzz at its recent Paris show, which featured a model walking the runway with a large white cockatoo named Kiki sitting on her shoulder, and new Mickey Mouse head handbag.  

BY MATTHEW DALTON

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