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The Real Action at New York Fashion Week Is on Your Phone Screen

As more designers embrace the see-now, buy-now runway show, social media has taken on a central role as the way to turn watchers into shoppers at New York fashion week.

This week, with more platforms than ever where brands and showgoers can post, the stakes have never been higher in the race for attention on Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter.

Runway shows last about 10 minutes, and models walk briskly, making for moments that pass by fast. Social media’s power is that it spreads the buzz exponentially, as people share with their followers, who share with their own audiences and so on. After the fashion show at Rebecca Minkoff’s SoHo boutique, social-media influencers took selfies with fans. The brand shared this shot on Snapchat. 

“We have 15 minutes where the world’s attention is on us, so how do we maximize that?” says Uri Minkoff, brother of designer Rebecca Minkoff and chief executive of the brand. The label posted callouts across various social networks inviting fans to her SoHo boutique on Saturday, for a see-now, buy-now fashion show including shopping immediately afterward. More than an hour after the show, women waited to enter the store in a line that snaked down the block.

In addition, the brand cast five influencers, with a combined roughly 3.5 million Instagram followers, to walk in its runway show and tweet, Instagram and Snap. After the show, the five women were stationed at the back of the store, where their fans came to meet them—and take more pictures to share on social media. Sales at the New York store on Saturday were more than double the comparable day last year, a spokeswoman said; e-commerce sales were up 50%.

Rather than play favorites among different networks, many influencers and brands flood the zone. They have detailed social-media strategies and digital teams firing on all devices. Their audience is demanding, with zero tolerance for blurry Instagrams or boring Snaps. Many people follow a personality or brand across multiple channels and prefer not to see the same picture twice.

“It almost feels like a race, getting it all done, taking it all in,” says Chloe King, public relations and social media manager at Bergdorf Goodman, the luxury department store owned by Neiman Marcus Group. Bergdorf Goodman posted a shot on Instagram Stories promoting designer Victoria Beckham’s collaboration with Estee Lauder during her fashion show Sunday. 

Bergdorfs has a sizable digital footprint, with more than one million followers on Instagram. Before the shows, Ms. King worked with the designers Bergdorfs carries to find unique angles that often tie back to the store. Instead of posting a picture of the clothes on Instagram after the Victoria Beckham show on Sunday, Bergdorfs posted a shot of a model’s dramatic blue eye shadow, a plug for the designer’s new collaboration with Estée Lauder; it posted runway shots elsewhere.

One of the week’s biggest spectacles, #TommyNow, the combined runway show-carnival Friday night from designer Tommy Hilfiger, was the source of glamorous imagery that will live on social media for weeks. It deluged watchers with ways to shop the in-season clothes and capsule collection with model Gigi Hadid.

Watchers of the live streamed event on Tommy Hilfiger’s website could opt to “Save Look” to a wish list, then click through to buy the pieces; the brand’s Facebook page has a prominent “Shop Now” button. A link in the brand’s Instagram profile page took shoppers to a website that looked just like its Instagram feed, with an added gallery of product pages below the pictures.

Designer Michelle Smithof the label Milly, who follows the industry’s usual model of showing clothes one season ahead, uses social media as a barometer. She shares runway shots with her followers and counts how many “likes” each gets. “I can see if something’s going to be a hit, and then I know I can buy deep into it,” she said. “It’s like seeing into the future.”

In addition, the social platforms each make their own fashion week push. Snapchat offers specialized geo-filters and culls through thousands of snaps that users submit, to put together its New York Fashion Week “story” and broadcast it to millions of users world-wide. Instagram selected a diverse group of Instagrammers for its #RunwayforAll initiative and is promoting features of its Stories function. Twitter automatically adds a red high-heel emoji to the hashtag #NYFW and has selected some influential attendees to promote as its #FashionFlock.

The most immediate debate was how to differentiate between Snapchat and its new competitor, Instagram Stories. Both are a way to post photos and short videos that disappear in 24 hours. “Are they the same followers? Are they different followers? I feel like I’m going back to school,” says model Coco Rocha. She often heads to her waiting car after a show to powwow with her photographer husband about what to post where.

Many users see their regular Instagram feed as a space for lasting images, and Instagram Stories as the place for a quick, “hey we’re here!” look. Instagram Stories also offers a seamless way to post older photos and videos. Snapchat has a leg up on fun, with more filters, emojis and stickers. People use both Snapchat and Instagram Stories in the moment, while a fashion show is in progress. 

Designer Misha Nonoo opted against a traditional fashion show this week and released a digital lookbook on Snapchat. It’s possible for users to repost images across multiple platforms, but the practice is frowned upon. “You have to give your viewer a reason to check a different place,” says designer Misha Nonoo, who opted against a traditional show this week and released her digital lookbook on Snapchat.

Over-posting is a concern, says Emilie Fife, senior manager of digital communications for the Council of Fashion Designers of America, who collects and curates runway images from her army of colleagues shooting and Snapping from the front rows. “There’s so much content out there,” she says. “It’s about staying in the conversation without overcrowding it.” The CFDA is using Instagram Stories as a daily diary of the shows, while highlighting lesser-known designers on its Instagram feed.

Teddy Tinson, the creative content editor for IMG Models, recommends a group shot, with many tags multiplying the potential audience. He also suggests posting several times a day. “Think of it like a meal plan: it’s breakfast, it’s lunch, it’s dinner,” he says. “Is it time to eat? … Then it’s time to post.”

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