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Yesterday fashion designer Rebecca Minkoff announced the company will release a preview of its latest fashion line prior to its debut on the New York Fashion Week runways.

That’s basically unheardof — the whole point of fashion week is to give buyers, the press and industry influencers first access to the latest collections. If it’s all online first, that kills the anticipation and production value of packing people into tents. By releasing Minkoff’s new designs to the Internet first, the company is undermining the entire runway charade.

Which is why the execution of Rebecca Minkoff’s social media move is actually quite brilliant: The previews are going out via Snapchat. Recipients will get a 10-second glimpse of the new looks, and then they’ll be gone forever.

Hardcore fans get something special, but only for a few brief seconds. There’s an immediacy to it, as well as a layer of excitement that transcends a boring email, or a Tweet, or a Facebook update — pay close attention so you don’t miss it!

Indeed, this sort of engagement with brands is Snapchat’s eventual plan for monetization. From the New York Times:

Its founders envision a future where the company could partner with brands or advertisers that want to show certain Snapchat users a glimpse of a new device, a preview of a new movie or a sneak peek of an upcoming line of clothing. Or, they say, they could show “exploding coupons,” an image that gives information about a deal or discount that expires after a certain amount of time.

Fashion week is all about exclusivity. It’s no accident the whole thing makes people feel unwelcome. As a wise colleague said over dinner last night, “They want you to feel uncomfortable and insecure, which makes you want to buy their expensive clothes, so you can wear them and feel less uncomfortable and insecure.”

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The Snapchat reveal is a way to make fashion week more open, democratized, and participatory, without breaking the “come one, come all” floodgates open too far. Fans get a glimpse, but only for a fleeting moment.

Rebecca Minkoff has straddled the line between the Internet’s democratic, “everyone’s equal” philosophy and the fashion world’s strict hierarchy of “in” and “out.” The company has run promoted campaigns on Twitter, worked with Spotify, held Google hangouts, and done lots of campaigns with bloggers and influencers. The brand attributes its 100 percent month-to-month sales in shoes to its Instagram account’s promotion of “shoetography.”

All that social media adoption can backfire, of course. At a February runway show which livestreamed Tweets on a giant screen, attendees got an eyeful when a Tweet containing a pornographic image slipped into the feed. Oops.

The luxury goods category has been very conflicted over the best way to adapt to digital media and engage the unwashed masses of the Web. Chanel, for example, doesn’t even do e-commerce. Many luxury brands don’t post static images of their products on their websites, instead saddling visitors with clunky flash videos of the runway shows, which certainly cannot be pinned to Pinterest or shared on Facebook. Minkoff has counter-intuitively thrived by embracing digital.

Outside of luxury goods, Minkoff isn’t the first brand to adopt Snapchat. Taco Bell famously introduced a new menu item on Snapchat.

But thus far the platform is just a novelty for brands. They are still trying to wrap their heads (and budgets) around Facebook and Twitter. Eventually those brands will have to figure out Pinterest, Instagram and Tumblr. Maybe Foursquare, too. Maybe Vine. Probably Buzzfeed.

Out of all of the big social networks, Snapchat, founded in 2011, is the furthest from implementing a formalized advertising program. But avid users are probably already nervous: If Snapchat turns into a wasteland of dumb notifications and coupons from brands, we’re going to stop paying attention.

Featured image courtesy Wikimedia Commons