Laura Campbell finds out how the fashion industry is starting to make use of Twitter. Listen to this: Marc Jacobs has revealed he's a huge fan of the reality TV show The Real Wives Of New York City. He also wants to know whether it's worth going to see X-Men Origins: Wolverine to "escape for a bit". Anyone know? He should perhaps listen to the designer Jeremy Scott, who seems to be a bit of a film buff. Fresh from the Star Trek premiere, he says: "Loved it! Must see! An [sic] Winona steals the scene - pun intended." Over the pond in London, the Brit-designer Henry Holland is road-testing new e-mail signoffs: he is bored with "let me know" and is currently trying out "yaya". What his best friend, the model Agyness Deyn, thinks of his new style is yet to be seen.
Welcome to the fascinating world of Twitter. With more than 10 million global users, it's the fastest-growing micro-blogging network after Facebook and MySpace, where the minutiae of the Twitteristas' daily real-time doings get doled out over the ether in 140-character "Tweets". Elizabeth Taylor, Courtney Love, Jonathan Ross, Lily Allen, Mark Ronson, Jamie Oliver, Lance Armstrong, Dita von Teese, Kanye West and Demi Moore are all at it. The actress Kirstie Alley has been keeping a close eye on her popularity, which has risen to more than 40,000 followers. She admits to her "Twidiction" and advises people to schedule their "Tweeting time". The British comic Stephen Fry has more than 500,000 followers checking his often thrice-daily Twitticisms.
The musician John Mayer, ex-squeeze of Jennifer Aniston (and a guy not shy of intimate revelations about his exploits), has more than a million following him, almost on par with Oprah, who in turn is catching up with Obama. In the lead is Ashton Kutcher, who is fast approaching two million. Though it was somewhat slower to take hold, Twitter is now entering the fashion world too. Designers and models are starting to puff their brands and keep fans up to speed with their every thought and deed, from wherever they happen to be. They see Twitter as a modern and easy way to convey information to their clients.
"It's a great way to show people what we're up to," says the British designer Sara Berman. She was introduced to the joys of Twittering by a friend a few months ago and has been addicted ever since. "It was something I regularly updated in the beginning, but I don't get to do it as much as I should as I've been so busy with the label. But that's the beauty of Twitter, you can update as much or as little as you want," she says. "It's invaluable for letting people know about any new product launches or general news about the label. When I mentioned our new, limited-edition coats, there was a surge of interest that day that inspired sales."
Dior, Diane von Furstenberg, Calvin Klein, Tory Birch and Urban Buzz all use it as a practical tool to plug a new product or design. London stores Christian Louboutin, Manolo Blahnik and Anya Hindmarch unveil new designs and encourage customers to drop in for a sample sale or limited-edition designs. The Paris boutique Colette Tweets information about deliveries, signings, openings and in-store activities. Even magazines are at it, with Woman's Wear Daily, Elle and Grazia using the service to push issues, promote stories and prove their manicured fingers are always on the pulse.
However, despite the recent surge of fashion newcomers to Twitterland, quite a few designers still haven't strayed into Twitter territory. The journalist Alex Fury of SHOWstudio believes designers have been slower to get hooked because they tend to work in a visual way. He blogs and Tweets before, during and after fashion shows and sees it as an easy way to disseminate information. "You get a good recording of a snap judgement, a gut feeling. It's honest and frank rather than laboured," he says. "There's no time to talk to others. Your words don't get changed or edited by other people's opinions." In short: it's real.
Not all Twitteristas, however, are genuine, and this seems to be Twitter's main flaw. Anyone can pretend to be anyone they want to be. The co-founder of Twitter, Biz Stone, realises there are problems with legitimacy and is working on resolving the issue so accounts can be properly verified. "I don't want someone to trick me," he says. That said, spotting the fakes can be as fun as updates from the real deal. There are plenty of bogus Twitteristas out there, and it is easy enough to spot the impostors. What they say often sounds unlikely and the weblink or bio has a suspect tone. Take the supposed page of Anna Wintour, the editor of American Vogue, where her impostor's bio states: "Purple is the new Vogue, didn't you know?" And the latest Tweet states: "'We do not dictate style, but expect a certain kind of style.' Why is this attributed to me? That doesn't make sense! I need to fire my publicist."
Other possible suspects include Naomi Campbell, Kate "kt" Moss and her six alternative spurious namesakes, Tom Ford and a bogus Karl Lagerfeld, who pops up with such comments as, "I try not to be sentimental and obsessive about possessions. I love collecting. I hate owning." Another Karl (complete with black-and-white mugshot of the Kaiser) hollers: "I love you more than high collars, darling niece."
The whole point of Twitter is that it's meant to be light-hearted and fun - it's called Twitter, after all. "You can broadcast information on sales and events or just have a giggle without feeling compelled to add images or more long-winded tasks," says Amy Molyneaux, designer of the clothing label PPQ, who is relatively new to the Twittersphere. "So in a way it's less distracting as it's so fast to do."
Limited to one short sentence, there is no space for rhetorical rambling. Expressing yourself in no more than 140 characters can be a challenge. Updates need to be tight, punchy, sharp and banal even, but the real appeal is the immediacy and the fact that, in most cases, the words are supposedly coming direct from the horse's mouth. Perhaps the main dilemma among designers planning next season's wardrobe won't be just what we are all going to wear, but a more pressing thought: to Tweet or not to Tweet.