How The Desire To Go Viral Has Transformed The Fashion Industry As We Know It

Words by Stephanie Dafeta

10 min read

Has the industry’s focus shifted from the clothes to solely curating the perfect viral moment? Stephanie Dafeta reports…

It’s October 2019, and you are sitting front row at the Grand Palais watching the final moments of Virginie Viard’s first ready-to-wear collection with Chanel when Marie S’Infiltre (notorious comedian) crashes the show, later being escorted off by Gigi Hadid. Now, whilst you can see this is not part of the programme, what follows is an explosion of pictures, videos, and news articles shared and reshared a thousand times over, recounting the moment and sparking debates and conversations. Fast forward a few years; it’s September 2022, and everyone is talking about Coperni’s PFW finale, which saw Bella Hadid act as a human mannequin while a team of specialists led by Dr. Manel Torres, the Managing Director of Fabrican and inventor of the spray-on fabric, created the perfect futuristic slip dress directly onto her body. The moment went viral quickly, especially on TikTok, which saw #coperni go from 7.3 million views to about 123 million that month. It is currently at 473.9 million views. Two incidents, four years apart. One unplanned and the other pushing the boundaries of fashion technology. Both are iconic moments in their own right, cementing their place in fashion history.

From the late Karl Lagerfeld to McQueen and Thierry Mugler, fashion has always loved a shock factor aimed to drive the conversation. And with the rise of social media and algorithms that detect and support sensationalised debates, whether theatrical runway presentations with clear storytelling hooks or outrageous looks peppered across the many red carpets, a new emphasis is placed on curating the perfect viral moment in the dynamic and competitive fashion landscape. This year alone, we have seen a series of stunts one would say were designed solely for this purpose – Heliot Emil and its models on fire, Jared Leto dressed as Choupette Lagerfeld at the Met Gala, ANREALAGE’s UV light-activated colour-changing collection, Sam Smith’s latex balloon Harri pants at the BRITs, and Schiaparelli’s controversial faux taxidermy gowns (no, that wasn’t a real lion on Kylie’s shoulder), to name a few, and it is only halfway through the year.


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A post shared by Schiaparelli (@schiaparelli)

That said, although these viral fashion moments may be at an all-time high, as PR professionals, whose job it is to safeguard our brands’ perception and messaging, we often advise that brands steer away from this tactic, which has clear pros and cons and is impossible to sustain long term. All news is not always good news, and more stock should be put on the quality of discussions across the board, not the quantity, reach or viral factor. Schiaparelli, for instance, was the perfect example of both the feared and desired sides of going viral. In January, the House sent social media into an uproar with its looks on Doja Cat and Kylie Jenner – the former dipped in red crystals from head to toe and the latter with an animal head gown. Whilst this garnered visibility worth around $44.5 million according to Launchmetrics tally of January fashion weeks, the internet was abuzz with polarised discourse – one side about the striking ensembles, and a majority outraged by the presentation. The conversation shifted from “Is that a real lion?” which had been Daniel Roseberry’s – the House creative director’s – intention, to “Why does it have to look like a real lion?” and others accusing the brand of trying to dress up big game hunting.


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A post shared by Schiaparelli (@schiaparelli)

We’ve all heard the saying, “You’re nobody until you’re talked about” (cue the OG Gossip Girl fans), and no words may ring truer in today’s climate – scandal, sizzle, and controversy sell. One might argue that the moments help drive awareness for the brands. These stabs at internet virality even the playing field, allowing brands to receive recognition for their innovation – just because the intention behind a stunt, show, or collection is to garner numerous eyeballs and attention doesn’t mean that viewers cannot appreciate inventiveness. Fashion is a dog-eat-dog world, so, understandably, smaller brands may feel the need to resort to meme-worthy stunts and products to stay relevant and compete with the bigger names. They may see the potential returns far outweigh any risk, whether bad press or otherwise.


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A post shared by JARED LETO (@jaredleto)

But the question still stands, how long can this strategy last? While hypervisibility can be beneficial, redirecting resources towards more traditional brand-building routes may be worth it. Utilising ambassadors who align with your brand at its core and understand the messaging can generate buzz without relying solely on viral chatter.  As brands gear up for the upcoming seasons, it’s important to remember that the ultimate goal is to remain unique in the face of competition. For young brands, it’s crucial to continue carving out your identity. While chasing the next Coperni moment may work for you, it could also fail. A clear-cut strategy that yields sustained results will always be the best bet. It’s time to return to the crux of fashion, the clothes, rather than internet fodder that lasts a few weeks.

Words by Stephanie Dafeta, Junior Account Manager at Atteline

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