While some social media platforms take time to gain momentum, Instagram successfully tapped into people’s desire to share photos from the get-go. Within two years of its 2010 launch, Facebook had parted with $1 billion in cash and stocks to secure its purchase. And it didn’t just rival who recognised the power of the platform. Brands quickly saw its potential, especially from the creative industries and those that could share much of their brand story with stand-out images.

So, inevitably, it has become a central network for fashion and luxury e-commerce. Many brands have got it right: Chanel now has around 46.3 million subscribers; Gucci, 45.7m; Louis Vuitton, 47.5m; Dior, 37.6m; and Prada, 27.4m. And now they are going one step further in embracing the world of social media.

To evolve and renew brand positions deemed too traditional, luxury brands are increasingly highlighting the content of their creative directors. Their key objective is to appear more modern and so increase the engagement of their community. However, there can be complications as some of these creative directors develop their own strategies which risk blurring the expression of the brand positioning of the companies for which they work. They can easily switch from brand champion to image ‘scrambler’.

Creative director, or character?

Luxury brands have invariably traded on and promoted, the charisma of the creator to build their mythical and iconic character. Karl Lagerfeld, Olivier Rousteing, and Alessandro Michele have all been supported by personified brand storytelling when building their legends. The figure of the entrepreneur they embody can help the staging of personality traits that can be directly attributed to the brand.

And now this has evolved so that the artistic brand ambassadors have transformed over the years into influencers judged by the number of tweets they share, or followers they have on social media. Their ability to build communities that consist more of younger, more engaged people than the traditional luxury clientele has become almost as important as the sales of their collections.

In this social world, with its cross-media coverage and power to disrupt, creative directors have become stars who can break free from the brand’s style constraints to showcase their personal artistic tastes, lifestyles, sources of inspiration, and – sometimes –on their own Instagram account, their own products.

Influencer disruption

When it comes to disruption, one of the biggest changes to take hold recently has centered not on how fashion brand creative directors have extended into the influencer world, but how influencers have extended into the creative director world.

Whether it’s Love Island contestant Molly-Mae Hague taking on the role of creative director for fast fashion brand Pretty Little Thing, Beyonce’s collaboration with sports brand Adidas, or luxury e-commerce company FWRD signing up Kendall Jenner as its new creative director, fashion is suddenly awash with a new wave of creative influence.

But millions of followers do not necessarily equate to fashion design credentials. And it’s not just industry peers who could be put off by unwarranted respect. Brands want these appointments to have a positive commercial impact, but consumers aren’t automatically swayed by the star factor – especially if they don’t appear to have any relevant qualifications beyond fame for their appointed role.

While influencers may understand the market more than many people working in the industry right now, these creative director appointments function predominantly as a PR stunt. As Kanye West pointed that out back in 2013 when Lady Gaga became creative director of Polaroid: “I like some of the Gaga songs, what the f*** does she know about cameras?”

A new type of brand engagement

While social media has built the influence and fame of individuals beyond their day jobs or perceived skillset, the use of collaborations between brands and the famous did not start with Facebook or the rise of Instagram.

Influencers bring a new level of brand engagement to fashion brands’ marketing mix, the personal, close touch that social media is so good at. But they must take care not to conflate reach with expertise because shoppers don’t.

It may just be an issue of job titles, but perhaps it is time for brands to be a little more defined about where a creative director starts and a brand ambassador ends.

The creative director is the star employee, with a status that brings them a close association with the brand. Social media allows genuine creative and artistic directors to share more of their world: their family, private interiors, and friendships. And brands could also do more with it to reflect their values.

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