J.W.Anderson has no lack of titles to hang his hat on: British Womenswear Designer of the Year 2015, British Menswear Designer of the Year 2015 (yes, he won both) and most popular man on Grindr.
No, your powers of deduction do not deceive. J.W.Anderson was, at least for a time, the most popular man on the gay men’s dating app.
And it wasn’t for a faceless picture of washboard abs or a particularly virulent case of "masc 4 masc." Rather, the innovative Irish-British designer became the first-ever to stream his entire show via the dating app, beaming it directly into the smartphones of Grindr’s seven million users. Every blog and their dog can now livestream a show; this strategy made Anderson’s AW 2016 show the talk of London Collections: Men last month, and the resulting press from his ballsy venture introduced him to entirely new audiences.
Jonathan Anderson, the brand’s eponymous creative director, justifies the move with, "Grindr is a widely used social platform that really reflects youth culture right now. At J.W.Anderson, we always look for ways to push boundaries when it comes to gender and our aesthetic. And of course the global reach of Grindr is undeniable. This is why for us, it makes perfect sense for Grindr to be the first outlet to livestream a J.W.Anderson men’s show."
Soon after, fashion label Diesel announced an advertising campaign using its own set of emojis on Grindr, as well as Tinder, Pornhub and YouPorn. Which leads us to ask, with fashion often referenced as the promised land for "sex sells," is this just the latest extension of that?
Sort of. In reality, fearlessly innovative brands like J.W.Anderson and Diesel are pioneers in unchartered territories of promotion. As noted in the Guardian, shrinking marketing budgets and teams are forcing luxury brands to rethink how they reach their target audiences.
Traditional media (i.e. magazines, television, radio) is unreliable. Though fashion brands have increased digital advertising by 53 per cent while decreasing print placement by 2.3 percent since 2014, adblockers are making the internet just as questionable. So what’s left? Public relations and hitting people where they spend the most time: dating apps and porn.
"For us, we're a sexy brand," Diesel artistic director Nicola Formichetti tells I-D. "To support the launch of our underwear line, we're going to be the first brand to ever advertise on Grindr and we're the first fashion brand to be working with Pornhub too. The message is simple: before you jerk off look at this..."
Jerk off jokes aside, Formichetti recognizes the pragmatic benefits as well: "The numbers are crazy. Of course it's fun but it guarantees eyeballs."
"This is where people are now, we live on our phones. I want to go where people are. Tinder, Grindr and Pornhub might appear a little left field but it's Diesel, we can do it, we're not scared of these places, we're not high fashion, we are street." - Formichetti
Grindr alone claims one million active users at any given time, with a total of seven million subscribed to the free app. Tinder’s numbers are jaw-dropping: an estimated 50 million monthly users, 1 billion daily profile swipes and 12 million matches per day.
The stigma towards dating apps has also decreased, with 59 per cent of people saying online dating is a viable way of meeting people compared to 44 per cent in 2003. The same applies to porn, with more celebrities and the public in general becoming open about their usage. Women’s relationship with porn is also on the rise, with Mic reporting Pornhub's 2015 year-end stats showed 24 per cent of its visitors were female, up from 23 per cent in 2014. The site is the 64th most popular place on the web, and sister site Youporn is 172nd.
Is it fashion’s fate to be more hook-up than haute couture? Only so long as it’s a talking point.
Fashion is a thermometer of culture. It has an interdependent relationship with current events and trends, and dating apps like Grindr and Tinder are just the mot du jour. The logical connection is there, as Anderson points out in the New York Times: "I think fashion is a sexy platform as well, ultimately. We’re all humans, so we all have to be somewhat sexually attractive to someone. That’s the name of the game, with clothing."
That said, it was still a gamble to market on an app with as steamy a reputation as Grindr. Rumour has it some modelling agencies wanted to pull their talent from Anderson’s show for fear of reputation damage. The risk paid off for Anderson, however.
Beyond reaching Grindr’s huge user base, Anderson saw the even larger benefit of near-universal press coverage. From the New York Times to Vice I-D, virtually every publication covered the show. Diesel’s move to advertising on dating apps and porn sites received a similar public relations boon. Editorial is the most surefire way to leapfrog adblockers, and brands may even pick up a journalist’s endorsement along the way.
Ultimately though, moves like these connect with audiences because they tap into the most pure spirit of fashion: to be whimsical and innovative. As Diesel artistic director Nicola Formichetti tells Dazed, "What we see in advertisements is just selling fake dreams, fake things, this impossible beauty. I think we have to be honest."
He continues, ”Yeah, this is an ad, we're selling shoes. But it's in an interesting way, and people smile."
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