NYC Fashion Week 2010 - Spring 2011 Collections, photo by j-No

As an industry that’s built entirely upon the exchange of opinions, the fashion world may seem like a field where social media would naturally take flight.  After all, aren’t terms like “word of mouth” and “viral buzz” the same keywords that signify success on both the catwalk and on Twitter?

But there’s a catch: the fashion world is actually built on a scarcity of opinions.  It relies on the reputations and influence of a select few tastemakers to tell the rest of the rabid audience what they’re supposed to like (and not like), and when.

So how did an industry that benefits from the existence of gatekeepers learn to embrace a new technology that essentially renders gatekeepers obsolete?

By turning their own world upside-down and offering everyone access.

In 2010, the vaunted New York Fashion Week — an event once so exclusive that access to it has been proffered as the grand prize on every season of Project Runway — went social in a big, big way.  Brands like American Express, Womens Wear Daily and Aveda helped sponsor a Twitterizing of Fashion Week, which spurred a wave of tech industry buzz.

Although the fashion world’s initial Twitter experiment was the source of much discussion, the model was reversed in 2011: instead of Twitter providing a top-down information hub, veteran (and aspiring) fashionistas seized the day and curated their own views of Fashion Week, resulting in a more vibrant variety of fashion coverage.  (Our clients Ouidad and Ecover even got into the mix!)

Today, the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week fan page on Facebook currently boasts more than 85,000 fans.  And while this year’s migration of fashion brands to Tumblr has had its share of ups and downs, the future implications of fashion’s affair with social media are clear: this once-insular industry is now actively seeking new ways to build buzz, generate awareness and connect with the general public.

As for fashion’s gatekeepers, they’re certainly not obsolete.  In fact, their expertise is actually even more valuable now, as a filter to help the public make sense of the flood of available fashion information that was once so highly restricted.

Who knew the industry that generates so much of the world’s art, imagery and gossip could get even bigger simply by opening their doors, pulling back their curtains and pressing the “share” button?

Photo from 2010 Fashion Week by j-No, via Flickr