Unpacking Clubhouse

A New Voice in Brand Accessibility

Key Takeaways

  1. Since the popularization of social media in fashion, Instagram has been top dog in the hierarchy of apps for brands and fans alike. But consumers are growing weary of the influencer-industrial complex.
  2. Clubhouse is, famously, invite-only. This makes it an attractive platform for the industry, which requires exclusivity by design. But the longevity of this appeal depends on how long Clubhouse can maintain its artificial scarcity, which erodes every day as its membership increases.
  3. Wordy, cerebral content lends well to Clubhouse’s audio-only design. Intellectually-minded voices in fashion can easily exchange ideas and maximize their reach by combining forces. And brands could really benefit from working with them, too.

Fashion is a chatty business. Rubbing elbows with the right people has long been a fundamental part of accelerating one’s career in the industry, whether as a designer, stylist, editor, buyer, or anything in between.

In the COVID-era, though, networking looks more like getting introduced through a ubiquitous cc’d email thread than making a connection (at least somewhat) serendipitously in a room full of stabled fashion folk (perhaps with a little help from a vodka tonic). That is until Clubhouse, the buzzy drop-in, audio-only social app, entered the scene. Much has already been said about Clubhouse’s potential to reshape the way we connect with each other online but is it the next big thing for making your name in fashion?


THE INFLUENCER-INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX AND ONLINE RELATABILITY


Since the popularization of social media in fashion, Instagram has been top dog in the hierarchy of apps for brands and fans alike. But consumers are growing weary of the influencer-industrial complex—an infinite image-scroll of well-dressed, beautiful people doesn’t feel as potently aspirational as it did a few years ago.

Brands are now experimenting with new platforms and mediums to grow and engage with their young audiences. Think Valentino commissioning memes for their online campaign, and Moncler creating a TikTok challenge to promote their iconic puffer jacket. But, more often than not, attempts to adopt the lucrative language of terminally online youth fall a little flat. This generation of young adults has a sharp instinct when it comes to discerning organic content from content that’s meant to feel organic, but was actually workshopped by a Zoom conference of adults trying to inhabit the mind of Gen Z.


A NEW VOICE IN BRAND ACCESSIBILITY

With Clubhouse, brands don’t have to mime the affects of internet culture to hit the elusive sweet spot between relatable and aspirational. Even the most rehearsed take on a Clubhouse room is still subject to the quirks inherent to livestreaming. Leaning into the informality of the medium is a way for a brand to create a candid voice without the corporate cringe of reverse-engineered memes and TikTok dances. It’s refreshing to hear industry insiders stumble over words, navigate awkward pauses or tech problems, and talk directly with starry-eyed listeners. It’s a much-needed break from the constant editorializing fashion’s infamous for, and it doesn’t make the conversation less insightful or captivating (if it is), it just makes it more real.

Of course, fashion still needs its ivory tower, even if it’s a little bit lower to the ground. Clubhouse is, famously, invite-only. This makes it an attractive platform for the industry, which requires exclusivity by design. But the longevity of this appeal depends on how long Clubhouse can maintain its artificial scarcity, which erodes every day as its membership increases.



THE COLLAB ECONOMY

Clubhouse’s “drop-in” structure is reminiscent of real-life mixing and mingling, and it’s also squarely in line with the industry’s spiral into ceaseless collaboration. Each passing season delivers a larger sprawl of mashups from streetwear brands, fast-fashion giants, and luxury houses alike. The best marry the novelty of an unexpected alliance with thoughtful design and execution, while the worst read as gimmicky attempts to cash in on cold hard hype. 

The same is true of the conversational collabs facilitated by Clubhouse. Many are cross-industry and cross-topic—you can, for example, tune in to hear Virgil Abloh debate the merits of Caravaggio with Lupe Fiasco (a chat that took place February 14th). These kinds of rooms are entertaining and often end up recapped on Twitter, but really only work if at least one of the hosts is a big name. And even the allure of an unusual pairing of voices is not enough to create a virtual conversation that’s exciting or memorable.

Take designer Rebecca Minkoff’s all-in approach to Clubhouse. She hosts multiple rooms a week, many of which are panels offering practical advice on how to build a career in fashion. I tuned in to a more lighthearted chat, between Minkoff and TikTok star Nadia Caterina Munno, who’s known for her Italian cooking videos. The conversation was pleasant but unfocused, and it got a little painful when Munno repeatedly pushed the idea of a pasta-themed collection onto a polite but unenthusiastic Minkoff. This kind of collaboration feels like off-brand clout-farming and should be avoided. It might draw a crowd, but ultimately, it’s damaging to cultivating a cogent brand image and building an engaged listenership.


FASHION’S GETTING DEEP

Clubhouse will likely be a major player in what Highsnobiety’s Christopher Morency calls “fashion’s race to intellectualize itself.” And it’s not just labels getting a high-IQ rebrand, there’s a whole new genre of online creators, from Youtube video essayists to podcast historians, taking fashion analysis deeper than it’s ever been. Institutions have followed suit—this past fall, Vogue released a 13-part podcast series analyzing the fashion of the ‘90s and its cultural impact.

Wordy, cerebral content lends well to Clubhouse’s audio-only design. Intellectually-minded voices in fashion can easily exchange ideas and maximize their reach by combining forces. And brands could really benefit from working with them, too. I can imagine a variety of educational discussions co-hosted by designers—consider a seminar on the history of punk fashion held by Vivienne Westwood, or a panel on the impact of internet culture on couture featuring Demna Gvasalia.

This is possibly the most compelling way for fashion to develop a long-term relationship with Clubhouse. As much as we’d all love to hear Jacquemus tell us exactly how he did it, this motivational “designer-tells-all” format won’t last forever. Brands still need to maintain mystique, which loses its potency if the face of the house is constantly live explaining the nitty-gritty of funding a first collection to Parsons freshmen. Plus, as Clubhouse continues to grow, there will be more and more experts—some merely self-proclaimed—trying to tell us exactly how to succeed in fashion. They may be right, but hustle culture gets exhausting, and the best connections are often born from mutual interest, not mutual ambition.