Of the variety of community-centric platforms that have flourished since the dawn of the pandemic — TikTok, Patreon, OnlyFans, to name a few — Clubhouse has emerged as a favored and, at times, controversial space within the fashion industry. Flooded with users from various backgrounds, the app is a stark juxtaposition to the typically exclusive and impenetrable world of fashion commentary.
Launched in March of 2020 at the crux of the pandemic, the invite-only app has amassed an impressive 10 million downloads since its inception. Clubhouse users can create “rooms” and “clubs” where a chat similar to a conference call ensues — there are moderators and listeners, the latter of which can request to comment.
Compared to fashion’s usual preferred platforms like Instagram and TikTok, the app is notoriously free of visuals — a format that creates a much-needed sense of connection and interaction amidst isolation. Spanning hot-button topics from representation, industry imbalances, and creative integrity to more mundane touchpoints such as the recent Chanel and Dior collections, Clubhouse propels a bevy of unique, and often unheard, perspectives to the forefront.
Part of the beauty of the app is its knack for putting well-versed industry veterans in the same spaces as students and casual fashion enthusiasts. “We have industry veterans and even high school students that pitch into the conversation [on Clubhouse]. It is wonderful to be able to have a conversation between those two groups of people, because that would never happen anywhere else,” said director of High Fashion Talk, Iolo Edwards. What Edwards speaks to is a disruption of the industry’s habit of fashion commentary propelled by a certain set of voices. Exclusive fashion shows and events have created a culture of “if you know, you know” that precludes certain voices from being acknowledged. Much of that has seemingly changed with Clubhouse, where a distinct focus is placed on highlighting voices not usually engaged in the fashion system.
Pandemic-induced virtual fashion weeks have increasingly democratized the fashion space, with many brands experimenting with new formats and mediums. Once behind closed doors shows and presentations are now objects of detailed discussion in Clubhouse rooms and across social platforms — perhaps hinting at a less exclusive future for fashion weeks to come. Fashion criticism as a whole has rapidly shifted from journalist-curated content to call out Instagram stories and Clubhouse show reviews. Clubhouse users are virtually the critics of the critics — commenting on industry happenings and holding industry figures accountable.
Despite Clubhouse’s rapid success, the app’s open format makes it prone to fact-checking issues and attitudes of superiority. Because there are users of varying professions —journalists, students, designers, and those adjacent to the industry — an unintentional hierarchy may be perpetuated by those immersed in the industry. Damilare Arah, co-coordinator of Voices in Fashion — a bi-weekly fashion Clubhouse room—points out a subtle tick that has arisen in many rooms.
“So many people start [Clubhouse discussions] with their credentials first before they speak, there is a massive introduction that goes on,” Arah tells CR, “And that can take away from the speed of the conversation. Because there’s no need for snobbery. There’s no need for elitism.” This reality stands at a crossroads with the initial appeal of the app — if users are hiding behind credentials during their commentary, won’t they fall into the same elitism that has dominated traditional fashion conversations?
“Anybody can get on Twitter, or Instagram, or a publication, and can catfish being smart, you can catch fish being knowledgeable,” Paris-based commentator and writer Louis Pisano said, “but Clubhouse [creates] visceral reactions to something or a topic, without trying to package it in a certain way for your image on Twitter or Instagram.”
Though the platform may struggle with slight pretentiousness at time, the podcast-like setup makes digestible content available to both the industry veteran and the casual connoisseur — something that we can all get on board with.
Still, it remains to be seen whether Clubhouse will retain its popularity post-pandemic when users return to the workplace as users spend increasingly less time on the app.
“You’ll have to make sure that every room counts so that people tune into your Clubhouse rooms. Whether that makes for better content is possibly questionable.” Edwards said, “But I think it’s the way we’ve seen it already start to happen with people making really clickbait titles on the app. It’s a matter of making the content “can’t miss content.”
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With both Instagram and Twitter adopting Clubhouse-like features, it seems as if the app’s influence has already been solidified in the social media sphere. Brands are dabbling in the Clubhouse sphere, too. Versace unveiled its “Medusa Power Talks” — a series of discussions featuring guests such as Indya Moore, Irina Shayk, Precious Lee, and Donatella Versace. Whether casual fashion Clubhouse users prefer brand-curated content or the more free-flowing, natural content that has arisen from the app remains to be seen.
“Moving to Clubhouse can be a really great way to have a dialogue between the brand and the consumer” Pisano said, also stating that brands “need to take a little bit of a breather and figure out what strategy they’re going to implement on Clubhouse. And not just “here’s a new platform, let’s try to get as many followers as we can on there.”‘
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No matter the uncertainty, Clubhouse has created a new set of thought-makers—an intriguing mix of social media influencer and fashion expert. Casual discussions, often void of hierarchy that may come with traditional fashion criticism, makes the platform all the more inviting. Though there are still kinks to work out within the app, the old adage “everyone has an opinion” couldn’t be more true.