Instagram’s Eva Chen: ‘Fashion’s always been over the top’

Eva Chen’s Instagram feed is filled with photos of some of fashion’s top designers and models, her enviable wardrobe, and what seems like a never-ending collection of handbags and shoes. Sprinkled among those are shots of beauty products, snacks and treats, and her family.

It looks like a good life. Then again, as Instagram’s head of fashion partnerships, she’s the poster child of what an Instagram feed should look like.

The former editor of Lucky magazine, who’s had roles at Teen Vogue and Elle, left the publishing industry for Instagram a little over a year ago but insists the jobs aren’t that different.

“When I was a magazine editor, my role was to work with photographers, stylists, models, writers and editors to coax the best work out of them … on behalf of a magazine. Now, part of my job is to do that, but for their own Instagram and their own storytelling,” she says.

With 647,000 Instagram followers, Chen, 37, is a social media mogul. Glossy caught up with Chen to discuss her role at Instagram and how the platform has played a part in some of the fashion industry’s biggest changes.

Has Instagram played a role in fashion brands’ shift to see-now-buy-now and the rise of transparency in the industry?
The fashion cycle even before Instagram existed had been on a shift. The retail industry in general was changing tides. Net-a-Porter and e-commerce sites like ShopBop and Amazon have changed the cycle in general of fashion and the expectation if you see something you should be able to click it and get something two days later.

Has the app changed how brands approach fashion shows? Nowadays, millions of people are watching them all over the world.
A lot of people ask whether Instagram has changed show production values or “people are staging shows just for Instagram now.” My favorite fashion show was one Marc Jacobs did 10 years ago and the finale was a marching band playing “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” and there was metallic gold and silver confetti coming down from the rafters. If that happened now, people would say it was staged for Instagram, but it happened 10 years ago.

Tommy Hilfiger’s NYFW show was a spectacle — a carnival, fashion show, see-now-buy-now. It sounds like the Marc Jacobs show on steroids.
I loved it. Could a brand have done that 10 years ago? Probably. Would they have been likely to? I’m not sure, but I do think now people are thinking more about the consumer in general and thinking about how to make it an inclusive experience, and Instagram has played a part in that. Fashion has always been a visual, show-and-tell industry. It’s always been over the top. I don’t think that’s changed, but Instagram’s allowed more people to see it.

How has social media changed who the gatekeepers of fashion are?
I think that everyone’s entitled to an opinion now, and people have always been entitled to an opinion, but they didn’t always have a platform where they could share it. Nowadays [at a fashion show], a digital editor is sitting next to someone who might be purely a print editor who might be sitting next to [blogger] Susanna Lau [Susie Bubble], who may be sitting next to a model who’s just sitting in the front row. The thing is they’re all going to have very different perspectives on that show, and that’s a good thing.

So there’s no one authoritative voice any more?
Anyone who’s saying there’s only one right voice in terms of who is authorized to have a fashion opinion: That doesn’t feel very modern to me. I’ve seen and know both sides. Bloggers work incredibly hard at what they do; they’re not just changing clothes between every show. It’s just a different time, and I think that there’s room at the table for everyone.

What are brands doing right on Instagram?
They’re engaging back with their audience. Take Glossier, for example; they have 320,000 followers, which is not a lot compared to some beauty brands that have millions, but when they’re asked questions, they’ll write back. It’s also important to create original content for Instagram. You could post five lipsticks against a white background for e-commerce or shoot the exact same against a countertop that could be any girl’s vanity and ask what is someone’s favorite color. One encourages conversation with followers, and the other is “buy me.”

What’s the biggest challenge fashion brands face with social media?
Human resources. A lot of the time, brands are not staffed to devote more resources to Instagram. I don’t mean financial resources, but it takes someone with an eye. For example, take a handbag brand based in NYC. You want pictures of girls carrying the bag on cobblestone streets or having coffee in a cafe. That has to come from somewhere.

There’s been talk of an “Influencer Bubble.” Do you think it’ll burst?
I don’t think so. I think these girls have incredible influence within their follower base. Influencers are like a brand signing an athlete, a model, an author — it’s a completely different audience. It’s important to recognize influencers as a different kind of spokesperson with their own strong impact.

Where does Instagram sit in the wider media landscape?
Instagram is a common thread and undercurrent in everyone’s day. I don’t think it replaces traditional media, but it’s an enhancement in whatever you’re doing, and it can help amplify the message. The companies that were formerly traditional print media, the ones that have adapted the quickest and have a presence everywhere, are the ones that are doing a bit better because they understand people graze when it comes to media. There’s still a lot of respect for traditional media.

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