(Anti)Social Media, Men & Luxury Fashion

I was pleasantly surprised to receive my pre-ordered iPhone 6 on the day of its release; I had been told to expect a wait of between two and three weeks. As it happens, the delivery was timely. Social Media Week begins on Monday and I shall be considering the relationship between social media and men’s luxury fashion in a panel discussion organised by Like Minds.

So what do I think of Apple’s latest game-changer? Tim Cook gave a stirring keynote address to launch the iPhone, its bigger brother the iPhone Plus and the much-anticipated Apple Watch, but the reality is that this latest version seems little different to earlier incarnations of the iPhone, at least this is my impression after two days of play. In one respect, however, my use of this phone will be different. Not because of the ‘new HD retina display’ or the ’64-bit desk-top class architecture’, but because the protruding camera – a clumsy design decision – means I shall invest for the first time in a protective case.

If my decision to buy a case was easily made, the process of obtaining one will be far harder because very few are available. Whilst some companies (eg. Knomo) have responded speedily to Apple’s latest product launch and provided online previews of cases and sleeves that will fill virtual shelves in forthcoming weeks, many luxury retailers, including Aspinall, Asprey, Bill Amberg, Mulberry and Smythson, have provided no information about future product launches. On reflection, and with further web browsing, this silence is all the greater because few of these luxury accessory brands presently offer more than a handful of iPhone and iPad covers. Next to nothing is offered for the owners of other makes of smartphone and the growing range of ‘phablets’.

Small branded accessories, from belts to wallets, have enabled the likes of Burberry and Gucci to establish a wider customer base where there is an inverse correlation between people’s brand savvy and their financial resources. The hope, presumably, is to offer a sufficiently diverse product range to enable customers to ‘graduate’ from small initial purchases to larger and commensurately more expensive purchases as they learn to appreciate the brand ethos and acknowledge the self-esteem it provides them. It seems odd that Aspinall et al. have not thought to do likewise. These brands all offer pricier ranges of luggage for which a technology case could provide a lucrative lead-in. The likely reason for this seemingly ‘uneconomic’ activity is that luxury brands continue to have a very limited engagement with social media, a phenomenon largely facilitated by hand-held technology. If the likes of Aspinall, Asprey, Bill Amberg, Mulberry, Smythson, pay little heed to the materiality of phones and ‘phablets’, is it any wonder that they do not fully recognise the creative and social applications of these devices?

Whilst it is very frustrating, the decision of luxury brands not to produce technology cases, or to provide a strictly limited range of them, may not be entirely lackadaisical. Through their paltry provision of technology cases, established luxury brands could be behaving in a similar manner to their most loyal customers by trying to flaunt their cultural capital. As a greater number of people are now able to purchase status-laden products, cultural capital, the ability to demonstrate connoisseurship and informed selection when choosing goods and services, has become more important in separating established wealth from newly acquired wealth. For an established luxury brand facing new sources of competition, one survival strategy in a crowded marketplace could be to focus on foundational collections that are unique, long-standing and largely inimitable because the required expertise and rarity of materials are hard to acquire. New product ranges (ie. technology cases) that might fit ill with a brand’s heritage are, prudently, left to newer companies that have been specifically established to produce them.

That said, regardless of whether a company is old or new the decision to sell products on the back of social media’s popularity may be easier said than done. The use of applications like Twitter hint at a pronounced gender divide that could make marketing tricky for all interested parties. I have done no systematic study to test this assertion, but if you look at the Twitter feed of the people you follow, there is likely to be a dichotomy between male and female tweeters, probably along the following lines: Men’s Twitter feeds tend to be chiefly compromised of recycled content (i.e. re-tweets). Original content is mostly mono-syllabic and declarative. Assertive statements, which might be aimed at specific followers, are given emphasis with a liberal use of exclamation marks, question marks and emoticons. By contrast, the Twitter feed of females tends to feature more original content. It is also characterised by being interrogative with questions directed to specific and general followers alike. Recycled content is likely to be prefaced with the re-tweeter’s thoughts.

Whilst these observations are very general and based on nothing more scientific than a trawl through the twitter feeds of friends and followers, I am struck by the fact that men’s use of Twitter seems to marry up with the conclusions of empirical sociological studies that have considered topics as diverse as male depression and men’s changed patterns of living after retirement. Cumulatively, the conclusions of these sociological studies suggest that a socialised notion of masculinity – where men should appear lean and physically able, stoic and refrain from discussing emotions, ‘manly’ and eschew activities that could make them seem effeminate, and compelled to excel in professional roles so as to provide for themselves and their immediate family – prevails and overrides the myriad masculinities that academics and commentators have attempted to delineate in recent years. The implication is that men’s usage of Twitter, and related social media, is likely to be characterised by anti-social tendencies – declaring rather than discussing, contrasting rather than considering, inclusive rather than expressive.

Unfortunately, these musings bring me no closer to finding a case for my iPhone 6 and a request for recommendations through Twitter is unlikely to yield much, at least from my male followers.


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