GUEST POST: Capitalising on fashion by making storytelling fashionable: The overlooked power of social media

Richard Swartz is president of Mano Swartz Furs.

The fashion industry may lack certain things, but it does not suffer a shortage of material. I do not mean a physical loss of material, as there are large swatches of Spider silk and Egyptian cotton and samples of cashmere and wool, voluminous sets of fabrics, colors, patterns and stripes.

The shortage I refer to is one of content – the absence of stories, truthful and legendary – about houses of style, designers commissioned by Her Royal Majesty and frequented by Hollywood royalty; names immortalized by a client’s specific style, a bespoke suit worn with miner boots or a black turtleneck tucked inside a pair of Levi’s 501® Jeans, and memorialised by the first name – Ralph, Oscar, Coco and Calvin – of the designers themselves.

The failure to tell these stories through the use of social media is not only a missed opportunity and a marketing defeat; it is a sign of limited imagination and broken communications, the substitution of a sentence fragment and link – the replacement of words with symbols and abbreviations, reducing the poetry of prose into a latter-day telegram – in lieu of a never-ending story of excitement and adventure, and myths and mythological figures.

Too many fashion companies assign these projects to writers without a sense of vision and style. The result is as predictable as it is unfortunate: The cheapening of social media into an obsessive pursuit of “likes” and “followers” at the expense of a theme – a self-indulgent acquisition of empty numbers, accounts created by no one signifying nothing – as men and women of flair and originality passively approve the association of their names with the online equivalent of an inarticulate monologue.

The irony is that, well before the debut of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, designers like Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein could make a rightful claim to the moral copyright of these respective tools.

Well before the use of digital photos as the currency of electronic commerce, there is the source code, so to speak, of multi-page advertisements – fashion as film – that is more powerful than any tweet containing 140 characters of “business speak.”

I cite the reinvention of The Establishment with a fictional replacement, staged, lit and photographed by Bruce Weber, where collegiate models use a school tie as a belt and a regal, mustachioed gentleman, the paterfamilias of a production as grand as it is simple – reducible to four words, stitched on every label, patch, tag and insignia: “Polo by Ralph Lauren” – watches over his descendants, a camel coat draped across his back and shoulders.

This pictorial narrative continues, as children and their canine companions race down an Irish-green hill from a manor of famed lineage, greeting make-believe aunts and uncles, and cousins and friends, in a scene where talk of money is verboten but wealth abounds.

That world, and here I celebrate Ralph Lauren’s work without regard to his use of social media, is an ideal that must exist on the web.

I know of what I write because, in my role as Ppesident of Mano Swartz Furs, I am the caretaker and curator, on Facebook and through my company’s site, of a history more authentic than any designer’s attempt to manufacture a facsimile of the same. But my influence on social media is only as good as my ability to share my stories about the people and milestones behind my brand, rather than boosting my ego or selling my wares.

The point is, I have enough material – albums of black-and-white photographs, handwritten letters and typed correspondence – to tell an epic story about an oceanic voyage from the Old World to the New, where two passengers, an old Civil War veteran (a former Union soldier) and a young boy, my paternal great-grandfather, befriend each other on a steamship bound for New York City.

In the weeks during their transatlantic journey, the wise American teaches his student and shipmate about America; he recounts a country divided and torn asunder, led by a president named Lincoln, a man called Abraham of Abrahamic distinction, prepared for North and South to suffer the woes of an offense committed against God “until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’”

Every fashion company has their own story, and every fashion company has a story worth telling.

The challenge is to write that story, with a voice of passion and precision, so social media can be a destination for readers and consumers alike.