Fashion Week isn’t about models anymore — it’s about the influencers

Charli D'Amelio at Milan Fashion Week
TikTok megastar Charli D’Amelio at Milan Fashion Week Vittorio Zunino Celotto / Getty Images for Prada

The most viral moment of Milan Fashion Week last year was when Italian designer Donatella Versace stoked the nostalgia of the internet. She arranged for iconic ’90s-era models, including Shalom Harlow and Stephanie Seymour, to walk down the runway, in turn creating a calculated social media event.  

This year, the fashion industry seems to be trying another strategy.

Instead of mining beloved memories, fashion houses like Prada, Louis Vuitton, and Celine are hoping 15-year-old TikTok star Charli D’Amelio, YouTube sensation Emma Chamberlain, and “e-boy” dreamboat Noen Eubanks will be the ticket to attracting younger audiences to luxury brands. 

On Thursday, D’Amelio posted four videos to TikTok for her 28 million followers from the Prada show in Milan with the caption “@prada #prada.” Collectively, the posts had over 30 million views (and counting) as of Thursday afternoonAnd according to The Cut, she sat next to Derek Blasberg, a veteran fashion journalist and head of fashion partnerships at YouTube. 

Other influencers seen this past month in New York City, London, and Milan include vlogger Margot Lee, singer Loren Gray, and others from the HypeHouse collective, a group of TikTok stars who live together in a Los Angeles mansion, including Chase Hudson.

New York Fashion Week, which took place at the beginning of February, saw a partnership between TikTok and IMG, the company that produces the weeklong event. IMG’s Leslie Russo told Business of Fashion the collaboration was completely unpaid, but meant to “heighten mobile reach and social media relevance.”

Fashion’s relationship with technology, and the digital space in general, has been a tricky one so far. Both sides have tried to make partnerships work in the past that have just fallen flat. It’s not like tech CEOs are known for their wide range of attire, either. And the interest in wearables among fashion elites took a nosedive after Burberry alum Angela Ahrendts left Apple. Plus, some luxury fashion houses are still not active on Instagram, a platform known for its profitable relationships with big brands, which has made some investors anxious

But that doesn’t mean the space is not lucrative.

Move over, magazines

In the last year, creators across YouTube and TikTok, with millions of followers and built-in audiences, scored some serious fashion cash — a trend experts are only expecting to grow in coming years. 

“If any fashion brand wants their company to sustain and stay influential for years to come, they have to be present where people spend most of their time, which is on social media,” Marienor Madrilejo, an agent in the digital media, licensing and branding division for the Abrams Artist Agency, told Digital Trends in a statement. “The best way to do so is to tap the influencers who dominate conversations that happen online.”

TikTok is largely popular among teenagers and has rapidly accumulated more than a billion users and more than 700 million downloads across the globe. On Wednesday, it introduced parental controls

Avani Gregg, another member of Hype House, and Karen Yeung, both represented by Abrams, are expected to attend shows in Milan and Paris in the coming week. 

There’s more: Chamberlain and the Dolan twins (known from their popularity on the now-defunct Vine app) have partnered with French luxury label Louis Vuitton to create exclusive content for the brand on its YouTube channel. The deal naturally comes with tickets to the runway show, so catch them posting on social next week in Paris. 

Last month, Dolce & Gabbana teamed up with Hudson and other TikTok stars like Gianmarco Rottaro, Marta Losito, Marco Cellucci, and the Baker brothers in Milan for Men’s Fashion Week to announce the brand’s plan to join the platform soon, according to an Instagram post

And then this past December, Celine tapped Eubanks, who has nearly 10 million followers on TikTok, to be the face of its latest campaign, solidifying the power young internet stars have on very real financial capital. 

“Gen Z is starting to age up and their buying power is growing,” said Madrilejo. “The fashion houses are realizing that digital is a burgeoning, new ecosystem that they need to conquer outside of the traditional media outlets.”

The static collaboration between fashion houses and Instagram influencers has certainly lost its shine in comparison. The younger generation of content creators are on all platforms, and even though they are known individually, they are also part of large communities of digital-savvy teens with millions of followers dedicated to their every movement. This gives them the ability to make every moment a viral one. 

So, going all-in on creators like Chamberlain and D’Amelio is clearly a no brainer for brands eyeing a slice of their social media prowess. So front-row photographers better start learning their names. 

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