By Mark Ellwood
The latest enfant terrible of fashion is barely two years old, but is already a runway-hogging phenomenon. But it isn’t a Toddlers and Tiaras cast-off, or Zac Posen’s pre-schooler doppelgänger—it’s Pinterest, the photo heavy social network that is a cross between mood-boards and Twitter. Pinterest is a pop culture phenomenon—in March 2012, it became the third most popular social media site in the U.S., and the fastest growing website ever with over 17 million users each month (its real-time explosion is so uncontrollable that those numbers will likely be out of date by the time this story debuts). And most importantly, it’s powered by women ages 25 to 34 whose obsessions are heavily reflected in Pinterest’s content. No wonder that four of the five retailers with the most followers are from the fashion sector—like Neiman Marcus (pinterest.com/neimanmarcus), where an entire board, #NMLoubiLove, is dedicated solely to Louboutins.
Fashion is a natural fit for Pinterest’s 17 million-and-counting users for other reasons, too. Few sectors are so powered by word-of-mouth as social media and fashion have been. Stylist Lauren Goodman lives in San Francisco and witnesses the tech-style mash-up every day; she says this instinctive link is driving fashion’s boom on Pinterest and other social networks. “They’re both about the pulse of your personal expression and taste, and personal style has arguably been the largest trend in fashion over the last five years.” Manhattan-based stylist Mary-Alice Stephenson agrees, adding that the Internet coordinates far better with style slaves’ needs for instant gratification than traditional print magazines. “Fashion is about what’s now before it’s even happening,” says Stephenson. “So the fact that editors view something months before they’re able to present it in their magazine is sort of anti-now.” Perhaps that’s why the canniest print veterans, like Nina Garcia, also reach out to readers via Pinterest, as do magazines including Elle, Harper’s Bazaar and W.
What had initially prevented many fashion brands from making social media an accessory to marketing was the fiddly business of photos, with Twitpic and bit.lys all leading to poor quality images. Then came Pinterest, where the photo-powered boards are a bespoke solution. “People can be at the same time very concrete about what they pin (like a specific pair of shoes they want to buy) or inspirational, like pinning editorial imagery or creating a mood board,” explains a Pinterest spokeswoman.
Pinning power has been leveraged by a few smart luxury brands already, notably Oscar de la Renta. Oscar may have been an unlikely digital pioneer, but largely thanks to the Holly Golightly-esque tweets of in-house PR Erika Bearman, AKA @oscarprgirl, the company is now completely entrenched in the social media sphere. One of Bearman’s latest feats was the live streaming of a recent bridal fashion show for the label, which appeared exclusively on Pinterest (pinterest.com/oscarprgirl/bridal/). Similarly, boho boutique Calypso St. Barth hired power pinner Christine Martinez to ‘live pin’ a Caribbean photo shoot for its summer look book, (pinterest.com/chrisem/island-photoshoot/). Online sample sale pioneer Gilt Groupe even encourages shoppers to browse via Pinterest with its ‘Pin It to Unlock It’ gimmick for its Gilt Kids site, where an item can’t be bought until it has been pinned at least 50 times—which makes braving the waitlist for a Birkin seem relaxing in comparison.
Racked.com’s Kerry Folan, a pioneering pinner who’s trawled the site since its launch in March 2010, believes Pinterest is the natural next step for online content. “Social media has gotten lighter and lighter and lighter,” says Folan. “Starting with the elaborate posts on street style blogs to Tumblr, then Instagram and now Pinterest, which is down to the basics: really beautiful imagery.” Folan confesses she’s even used the site to create mood boards as digital direction for her hairdresser.
Mary-Alice Stephenson ties the rise of Pinterest, turbocharged by power categories like fashion, to wider cultural trends. “The Millennials live in a completely different way than the Baby Boomers, who are all about keeping up with everybody else,” she explains. “The Millennials individualize everything in their own life, and put their personal stamp on whatever they do.” Instead of subscribing to a fashion bible that everyone else reads, this digital generation would rather customize its content—and Pinterest is just the platform to do so. “Their social media platform becomes their own Vogue or Harper’s Bazaar, their very own lifestyle magazine.”
But Kerry Folan cautions that challenges loom for Pinterest. Followers now mix and match boards from every brand, without need to follow an entire pinner’s program, which denies fashion labels the chance to control their visual identity in the same way they can with a conventional print ad. High-low combos may be very chic, but few top-tier houses would wish to see their custom creations bookended with snaps of knock-offs from Forever 21. But another issue is far trickier than grab-baggish curation. “What’s hard for fashion to deal with is that these boards are meant to live endlessly, and people will interact with them that way,” says Folan. “But because fashion trends change every season, the board about neon this season will be irrelevant in the winter. You don’t want to delete the board because of your followers, but do you continue to pin the neon? I don’t know what the solution is, but I do think that you need to have content that reflects the heritage of the brand as opposed to being too of-the-moment.”
Perhaps the direction smart companies will take is to resist social media’s urge to be breathlessly mold-breaking, as it will only seem dated, and instead focus on interacting and discussing the brand, even re-pinning fans’ snaps as quid pro quo. But if there’s any need for proof how Pinterest has already penetrated into the fashion psyche, ask Lauren Goodman. “I was just doing a photo shoot where the creative director said ‘Oh, I should have done the inspiration board on Pinterest and shared the link with the stylists and set designers.’ It blew me away.”
A COLLECTION OF POWER PINNERS
For newbie fashion pinners, Pinterest recommends following three seasoned vets for pinspiration.
The Project Runway judge and Marie Claire editor was one of the first namebrand fashionistas to surface on the site. “What’s great is she understands Pinterest is about your personal interests, so one of her most pinned-to boards isn’t even about fashion, but showcases her taste in home interiors,” explains a Pinterest spokeswoman.
Seal has a strong point of view (a crucial quality for thriving on the boards) and breaks down her fashion pins into categories, like shoes and bags. “Her taste is really consistent across all of her boards, so it’s fun to look at all her pins.”
A longtime downtown New Yorker and demi-mondaine, she has an offbeat approach far livelier than many fashionistas—a board crammed with Monday-beating aphorisms tagged ‘Positivity’ sits alongside another ‘Cats Acting Funny.’ “She has an eclectic fashion sense and her boards reflect that, with imagery from a wide variety of sources.”
Be sure to check us out on Pinterest, pinterest.com/balharbourshops