Stills from Ralph Lauren's TikTok.

TikTok... But Make It Fashion?

TikTok’s renegade attitude remains largely untouched by the fashion world. But can polished brands carve out an authentic presence on the inherently chaotic platform?

by Julia Lindsay
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Mar 18 2020, 2:00pm

Stills from Ralph Lauren's TikTok.

We spend too much time on our phones. On Facebook. On Twitter. On Instagram. These apps have become an intrinsic part of our lives, maybe even an inescapable one. And just when the glow of newness fades out and we think we can walk away, something new comes along to pull us in.

Enter TikTok, the video-based social app offering impressive editing tools and public audio libraries that members can use to create and engage with viral content on a high-impact, individual level. Since its global launch in 2017, it has steadily emerged as this moment’s app of choice among Gen Z and Millennial-cusp users. Picking up where Tumblr unofficially left off, TikTok saw a new way to provide raw, off-the-cuff, and genuine content, overflowing with personality. While the viral videos coming out of the app have led some to call TikTok the reincarnation of Vine, the appeal of the platform goes beyond its visual brevity. As the app grows, its audience has broadened; the average TikTok user could be anyone from a Gen Z-er to a Gen X-er—your high school prom king or four-time Grammy winner Will Smith. People are flocking to TikTok en masse. And where the masses go, the brands will follow.

Over the past year, fashion brands have been running to catch the TikTok train. For an app that prides itself on low-stakes absurdity, the growing number of well-respected labels with millions in revenue arriving to the party is telling. Unlike with Instagram, there is no hierarchy in TikTok. Without 24-hour “Stories” or hyper-curated main feeds, TikTok gives users a pass to post whatever, whenever, wherever. And in stark contrast to Instagram, the more mundane the content on TikTok, the better. Brands and creators seek out the platform to diversify their social portfolio. It’s a safe place to be real, to be stupid, to be candid, and most importantly, to be authentic.

One of the first brands to understand the possibilities of TikTok was Calvin Klein. The label’s profile proclaims, in all caps, “REMOVE THE FILTER. THIS IS #MYCALVINS #IRL.” It’s genius.

Calvin Klein’s identity has always been about intimate and organic moments; #InMyCalvins is an iconic slogan deserving of every meme it’s spawned. In many ways, it is not surprising that the brand was able to see how TikTok could align with their goals. But what is surprising? Their page actually slaps. They are the only brand that has consistently kept up a presence—one that’s playful, young, and real on TikTok in a way that it isn’t on their e-commerce-driven Instagram page. Followers get behind-the-scenes shoot footage mixed with casual holiday-party content—along with a healthy dose of recirculated “In My Bed” series excerpts that showcase the brand’s talent favorites, from Kendall Jenner to Emma Chamberlain, talking about their favorite thing to do in bed. On TikTok, nothing gets between the audience and their Calvins.

But where Calvin Klein seems to intuit TikTok’s utility, other labels have approached it more unevenly. Take, for example, Balmain, which in late November of 2019 brought their Puma x Balmain launch to TikTok for two straight days, debuting behind-the-scenes footage and promotional videos, accompanied by the campaign’s platform-specific hashtag, #FashionDuality, that highlights the outfits that “embrace your inner duality.” After the campaign launched, the page went cold. Or look to Ralph Lauren, whose two-day posting spree in August 2019 celebrated the Polo Sport line with organic video content that was playful, but produced a mere six videos before the brand seemingly dropped the app entirely.

So, fine. Maybe TikTok isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Not every company can find a place in the casual chaos flowing out of the app. But for those brands that do find their place, TikTok represents a new, more unguarded frontier in fashion.

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