“For the first time we’re seeing the younger generation influencing the older generations,” says Kristina Karassoulis, head of luxury brand partnerships at TikTok. “It’s an interesting shift. Now older generations interested in luxury are asking ‘Who’s cool? What brands should I buy? The kids are buying Celine, Balenciaga...’ I should too.”
Key to the survival of luxury fashion brands is the ability - and willingness - to connect with Gen Z consumers. Currently, there can surely be no better platform to do that than on TikTok, which says 60 per cent of its users are Gen Zers. Fashion houses which don’t make the effort to appeal to the 18-24 market and those born after 1997 risk being left behind.
“There’s a real fear of missing out on talking to this new generation that’s coming through,” says Karassoulis. “Take a super luxury brand like Audemars Piguet - which has heritage and a high networth consumer - what about when these high net worth consumers are no more? 67 per cent of Gen Z and millennials will be the entire luxury market in 2026 and if they’re not engaging with this audience, no one is going to be able to pronounce Audemars Piguet’s name.”
Luxury brands by nature are unwieldy and reluctant to change tried and tested business models laser-focused on their current high net worth customers, but they underestimate the importance of Gen Z at their peril. The global luxury market is predicted to top $1.5 trillion by 2025 and those which have shifted their storytelling to include Gen Z are poised to reap the rewards. Fashion houses like Balmain, Louis Vuitton, Jacquemus and Dior are embracing the world’s most downloaded non-gaming app by livestreaming shows and providing users with fun, relaxed behind the scenes glimpses into the design process.
Burberry happily dived into the world of TikTok from the beginning, launching TB Challenges where users were asked to post videos of themselves making the shape of a T and B with their hands in celebration of the new Thomas Burberry monogram. It generated more than 1 billion views. Gucci’s Accidental Influencer and Gucci Granny #GucciModelChallenge, where users styled their version of the brand’s ‘granny chic’ by putting together looks with headscarves and vintage pieces, garnered 210 million views.
“It’s about cultural relevance which is an essential part of the luxury narrative,” says Karassoulis. “Gucci had a mission to reach millennials and Gen Z. We told them to rip up the rulebook of everything that they knew about content and social media. If you look at Gucci Grannies and the Accidental Influencer campaigns, compared to their assets on Instagram and in print magazines, it’s such a different way of telling the story but it still remains so aesthetically luxury.”
Are the perfectly posed and glossy images on Instagram a thing of the past? With over 1 billion monthly users (TikTok has 732 million monthly active users), definitely not. “There’s room for both,” says Cassandra Russell, TikTok’s head of luxury brand partnerships for EMEA. “But with TikTok there’s space to be your real self. The short form nature of it, with 15 seconds being the sweet spot, means it’s more raw and authentic.”
The authenticity of TikTok means it has gone some way to democratise fashion and has made it accessible to audiences who might ordinarily feel alienated by high fashion. “There are emerging voices and a shift in the way people talk about fashion,” says Karassoulis. “Fashion is so important on TikTok because it’s made it accessible. Even if you are an amazing luxury brand with an exclusive nature, you can find your niche on the platform. It’s a paradigm shift.”
Global fashion trends are born on the platform (#cottagecore had 7.4 billion views) and designers like Celine creative director Hedi Slimane have been influenced by TikTok culture when creating new collections. But it’s discovering and nurturing new talent which TikTok will be focused on at London Fashion Week. The platform is partnering with the British Fashion Council for the NEWGEN initiative which provides up-and-coming designers with access to financial grants, mentoring and showcasing opportunities as well as digital support and livesteaming of their shows.
“Seeing up close the variety of designers and their focus and talent has been unreal,” says Russell. The NEWGEN class of 2021 is ASAI, Conner Ives, EFTYCHIA, FEBEN, HELEN KIRKUM, Labrum London, Matty Bovan, Nensi Dojaka, Paolo Carzana, Per Götesson, Richard Quinn, ROBYN LYNCH, ROKER, S.S.DALEY, Saul Nash, Stefan Cooke, SUPRIYA LELE and yuhan wang.
TikTok will have a showspace at London Fashion Week where NEWGEN designer collections will be showcased culminating in a star-studded Dinner on the Runway event with special live performances. Details to be confirmed.
For Karassoulis, TikTok’s sponsorship of NEWGEN is as much about supporting new talent as it is about developing the platform’s editorial integrity. “TikTok is shaping fashion, we are shaping luxury, we are shaping the future and we need to support emerging talent in order to grow our thought leadership in the space.
“We need to really put our money where our mouth is.”
Find the full London Fashion Week schedule here.