Have you heard? Listening is the new black and Zoom-ing is so 2020. Welcome to Clubhouse. The audio-only social network from Silicon Valley is taking lockdown-weary iPhone users by storm. Part live podcast, part TED Talk and part chat room, Clubhouse currently has millions of users and a $1 billion valuation (not bad for an app still in beta). Anyone can join with an invite from an existing member, and eventually it will be open to all.
Here on the one-year-old app, ears – rather than eyeballs – rule the day: the intimacy of voice coupled with zero concerns about how one’s hair or home looks on screen is proving a powerful formula. “Clubhouse is nothing without community and is everything about community, and connection,” says Clubhouse co-founder and CEO Paul Davison.
At any given time, said global community can join hundreds of live, moderated talks and hangouts, known as rooms, on hundreds of topics from travel and TV to side-hustling, social justice and, yes, fashion. (FYI: room-hopping and one-on-one chatting are encouraged!) While it’s still early days, we decided to see how the fashion world is navigating the platform.
Virgil Abloh, creative director of Louis Vuitton and Off-White, is all in. Since joining Clubhouse last summer, the super-user has been enjoying rooms on fashion, arts, culture and more. The arbiter of cool and Kanye pal believes it’s his job to be on the network. In a recent Business of Fashion podcast, he explained: “I’m in the design community, which means I’m part of the uber-small percentage of people that get to dictate what pants you’ll wear next year… so I think it’s part of my responsibility and craft to be knowledgeable, to know what’s going on in the world.”
Additionally, Abloh sees the app as as an opportunity for fashion brands to connect with people in an uncurated, non-visual way: “Clubhouse is focused on audio… and I, for one, think it’s a new landscape to hear what a brand is about without the use of image and without the adjacency of seeing a product within that image. What do you have to say? That becomes compelling in the fashion industry – when we can use our voice to create engagement.”
One thing Clubhouse is N-O-T? A place for the hard sell. You see, with all the, err, visual noise stripped away, authenticity and connection become ever more important. Fashion folk are figuring it out… just being on Clubhouse – on panels, in rooms – is half the battle.
For example, Norma Kamali, who just published her new book I Am Invincible, and Kenneth Cole recently participated in a conversation about brand-building hosted by Guy Raz of National Public Radio’s How I Built This. Audience members who would never ordinarily find themselves in a room with their design heroes are able to hear them in real time and ask questions – this kind of access is exciting and truly sets Clubhouse apart. In the MENA region, Saudi fashion designer Arwa Al Banawi was one of the first to jump on the Clubhouse bandwagon.
Brands are also using the app to announce or share news. Milan-based The Attico founders turned to Clubhouse to talk about their new genderless streetwear capsule collection, while footwear designer Giuseppe Zanotti chose February’s Milan Fashion Week to make his debut on the network. In celebration of his fall/winter 2021-22 men’s and women’s collections, he held two separate talks – one in Italian and one in English.
Who knows? Maybe lively conversation sans airbrushed imagery will become the new norm in fashion marketing. As long as it includes a charming Italian accent, we’re all for it.