The start of luxury fashion houses during the 19th Century marked a transformative moment in history, birthing legendary brands that would shape the landscape of fashion, and define style, trends and sophistication. These exclusive high fashion luxury brands captivate followers with their exquisite designs and impeccable attention to detail that epitomise desirability. For the majority of their audience, their products are unreachable. So in an industry that defines trends and isn’t aiming to sell to the masses, how does the high luxury fashion industry navigate social media marketing?

Social media marketing for luxury brands

In this episode, we speak with Maxime Bicard, director of digital brand and social media at Versace. With a brilliant career working across the top brands in the industry, Maxime brings a wealth of insights and expertise to the table. Uncovering the secrets behind how the high luxury fashion industry utilises social media in a distinct manner, and why it sets itself apart from most other industries.

Speakers: Cat Anderson & Maxime Bicard

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Cat: Welcome to season two of Social Creatures, a podcast from Sprout Social. My name’s Cat and I’m here to explore some of my favourite success stories from the world of social media.

Social media is a space for anyone and rarely nearly anything goes, but what makes an account successful or popular? Honestly, it’s hard to know, but that is what we’re here to find out.

Throughout the series, we’ll talk to the brands behind some of the best accounts that you know and a few that you don’t know yet, to explore the way that these businesses, organisations, and individuals have achieved their success on social media and crucially how you can do it too.

The key to success for the majority of industries on social media tends to include being relatable, having an authentic tone of voice and following trends.

But in the world of high fashion brands, it seems the standard industry rules just don’t quite apply to them. Instead, social media seems to act as an extension of how luxury brands position themselves as aspirational and emulate a level of desirability that’s frankly unreachable.

So then, how do these brands approach social media? What are their goals and what makes it so unique?

Today, we’re going to be stepping into the world of high fashion and luxury to explore how these iconic brands continue to rewrite the rules and redefine luxury in the virtual world.

Joining me today is Maxime Bicard, Director of Digital Brand and Social Media at Versace.

Maxime, I’m so thrilled that you’re here today and as a digital communications expert for fashion luxury, I’m so curious what your career has looked like to date. Can you tell us a little bit about some of the people that you’ve worked for and maybe how you fell into this career path?

Maxime: Yeah, of course. So, I was working for a lot of big clients on some exciting projects, working on the first paid campaigns on Facebook, Twitter, Google, like it was really new, very exciting. And one of the clients was Vogue.

So, when they were looking for a social media expert for their marketing team, I moved to Condé Nast where I was working for Vogue, Lamo, GQ, Vanity Fair and AD.

I was approached by Versace to lead their digital brand and social media team, which is basically handling all their social media influencers. But also how the brand is evolving with the new technologies, it’s a great moment for luxury brands because there’s so much happening.

But it’s also so interesting to be in the luxury field and in the digital communication field because a lot of what you see in other industries do not apply in fashion luxury. Like it’s so specific, there’s so much conversation around how do you approach this from a fashion luxury standpoint.

Cat: Yeah, first of all, that resume is breathtaking, what an exciting career. Social media and luxury fashion obviously do go together hand in hand, but it’s sort of an anomaly of an industry because for so many other industries the key to success on social media is to be relatable, authentic. Is sometimes to be a little bit rough around the edges, a little bit raw.

Also, to follow trends and the world of high fashion is just not really any of those things. You define the trends; you are not totally relatable and that’s part of the industry.

So, I’m so curious in your eyes and with your experience, how does the world of high fashion approach social media and what do you do that’s so unique?

Maxime: I completely agree with you. I think that the way other industries have been approaching social media is so different. And as you say, where other brands are being relatable, we don’t manage community, we don’t engage in the same way such like other brands can do.

For luxury brands, social media has been an extension of the way they’ve been communicating for so long, which is through being inspirational. It’s definitely the key word for our brand positioning themselves on those channels.

15, 20 years ago they would shoot a seasonal campaign with the biggest photographer. It would go out in Vogue; it would go out in Harper’s Bazaar, it would go out in Elle.

Nowadays, they just shoot differently because they shoot so many content, but they have the same approach of having these very high expectations. Everything is amazingly beautiful, so controlled.

But the social channels and overall, like the way those brands are communicating, it’s just an extension of that idea of being inspirational. And I think that it reflects in so many ways.

For instance, I think … industry have dedicated, I would say like organic people not trying to sell you something but really understanding the market. All of those people will have a luxury background and they say no, everybody in this industry, they understand how luxury houses are working and they’re really helping the platforms understanding as well what is the goal for luxury houses?

Because we are not trying to be trending on Twitter, we are not trying to have the best cheeky tone of voice, like the best joke, no fashion brand is doing this. What we’re trained to do is to have this very beautifully crafted message that is inspirational, but everything is centred around the branding.

Like what is your brand about and how do you express it on social channels? It shouldn’t be social channels that dictate how you communicate about the brand. It’s like the way round.

And I feel a lot of industries are trying to trend, they are trying to engage with their customers, fashion luxury brands, it’s like a bit the other way round.

Cat: I think that’s so interesting, and you mentioned at the start there as well about how it used to be that in fashion you would be doing shoots that would go into print, so that’s not constant.

And if you’re trying to maintain that level of beauty across social media, I imagine that’s a lot of work because again, if you’re maintaining those standards, you want to keep that level of beauty and perfection and artistry across your grid.

So, let’s say we’re talking about Instagram, you want to keep that level of artistry perfect. That must be a lot of pressure when you’re actually coming to post things. Do fashion houses post every day, what’s your cadence of even posting?

Maxime: Don’t try to work around the algorithm, try to do what’s best for your brand. And I think that a lot of fashion brands have been experimenting, but your content is not going to be more engaging if you post every day.

That was kind of the case a few years ago and I remember when I was at Vuitton, we were posting three times a day because they have the capacity to produce that amount of content, not all brands can do this.

But what we can see definitely is that if you push whatever content you have just in order to say, “Okay, we posted today,” it’s not going to engage in the same ways that having like a thoughtful strategy where you say, “Okay, this is the right message, this is the right product we want to push, this is the right photographer, this is the right type of video.” It works well within the storytelling of what we’re trying to say at the moment.

I think a lot of brands are trying to get out of this mentality of saying, “Okay, we need to post twice a day, we need to post every day,” because if the content is not right, it’s not going to serve you.

And actually, you can see that sometimes brands can post twice a week, but it’s so perfect that who cares. It’s going to engage; people are going to be excited about. And so many of those brands are breaking the rules.

You look at Balenciaga, every season they remove everything and they’re going to post everything at once. Looking at Jacquemus and Jacquemus is doing a bit of personal, he’s doing brand stuff, he’s doing a bit of everything and it’s a huge moment whenever he’s posting because it’s unexpected. Everybody in this industry is talking about it.

So, the important part is really the branding to be at the centre for your strategy. If you are starting from, “Okay, I need to post twice a day,” you’re going to fail. There’s no way around it.

I don’t know if it’s across other industries but in fashion luxury for sure, we are moving away from this.

Cat: And I think that makes perfect sense because otherwise as you say, the brand message will get diluted and what is most important is getting that consistency.

I wonder as well with a lot of online fashion on social media, a lot of what they’re bringing in is direct to consumer purchasing and like e-commerce, obviously only a tiny proportion of your audience are actually going to be able to afford to buy your clothes.

So, I’m curious, what are the success metrics that you would typically find if you were in Louis Vuitton or you’re in Versace, are you looking to build audience? Are you looking just to get the tick of approval from the CEO or Donatella? What is it that you are working towards? What are your goals?

Maxime: It’s such a complex topic because it’s a mix of so many different parameters. Because when you work in that field, you work in there as a scrutiny of a creative director, someone that is involved in every creative direction for the brand.

Even though you are creative first industry, you still have business goals, and you have metrics. But metrics is tricky because if you are looking at engagements and reach or followers, it’s kind of a vanity metric.

Of course, it does represent brand power. The biggest brands have the biggest amount of followers. So, like Vuitton, Gucci, Chanel, Versace, Prada, Dior but engagement or reach are not representing fully the power of your brand message.

So, we are looking actually at a lot of metrics and usually our reporting is integrating all of those. We are trying to mix some fully organic metrics like reach, impressions, engagements, communities with some listening metrics as well, like how much people are talking about the brands, all the online conversations, paid metrics of course, we are also linking it to the e-commerce.

So, even though we’re very inspirational, we’re still trying to sell products, even though brands might have from 30 to 50 million followers, and we know that all of them are consumers.

But if you are having a good clickthrough rate for your advertising, if you’re having a good conversion, it’s still channels that can bring revenues.

But at the same time, we knew that desirability was not often linked to engagement. Because the way we wanted to present the brand was a bit more elevated, a bit less accessible.

So, it’s a balance between so many different parameters and definitely it’s so different from e-commerce brands. Like what you are providing is brand image and you’re building up desirability. So, inspirational content, that’s it. But it’s very up to measure.

Cat: I think it’s just so fun that the fashion industry is almost resisting everything else everyone else is doing by saying, “No, this is not how we do things. This is what we’re going to do and we’re going to stick to our guns.” And it’s working and that feels appropriate.

But I’m wondering with the stretch of your career, have you seen how fashion has evolved with its use of social media?

Because the first thing that springs to my mind is I think it was last year when Francis Bourgeois was an ambassador for Gucci and I just couldn’t believe my eyes that this was happening, that this really cute little trainspotter from England.

Maxime: Love him.

Cat: I love him, I thought that was so fun and it was such an interesting campaign, where they were really digging into social media to get influencers. Yeah, I’d love to hear your take on that. How do you think that it’s evolved?

Maxime: So, this is more on the influencer side, and I think this example is quite important because it shows like a trend also in the ways that fashion luxury brands are approaching authentic creators rather than typical influencers.

Like the way it’s been structured over the last 10 years, is brands would only approach, I don’t know like 5% of what we call influencers that were really dedicated to fashion luxury.

So, they would be working with the same 100 people that we all know and follow and it’s really hard for other talents to get in touch. So, the barrier of entry is very strong and fashion brands are not so interested in numbers.

They wouldn’t go for somebody that has 5 million if this person is also doing advertising for toothbrush or like crypto, it’s a no go. And even the slightest collaboration with a fast fashion brand, it’s over. You’re never working with fashion luxury ever again.

So, you had this pool of people that were either coming from luxury or new — very well and that were able to create beautiful content and it’s been working really well for like the last 10 years honestly.

But over the last few years there’s been a change and I think that a lot of brands are also trying to leverage a new generation of content creators that we can basically call like YouTubers and TikTokers and that are more passion driven.

And Francis Bourgeois is a good example and there are many others of people that have created a community around their passion, and they haven’t tried specifically to push any deal around this.

It’s really organic and we can see those kinds of profiles starting to attend fashion shows, working with a few brands, it’s still a lot of the original influencers but you can see space for people coming from the gaming industry or just people that have new communities.

Mostly I would say like Gen Z, it’s the best way today I think to approach them. People who just have been creative and that have been able to express it online in an interesting, unique way.

Cat: I think it’s really fun to be honest, like from a consumer perspective because again, Francis is such a great example of somebody who just captured everybody’s hearts with his raw enthusiasm and passion.

And I personally think as a brand ambassador, having someone like that who is quite wholesome but really appealing is much nicer than maybe some of just the classic celebrities. And I understand the appeal of classic celebrities as well.

As you said, I think Gen Z are opening up to that conversation a little bit more and making space for different types of passion and where it can be seen and different types of aspiration. I just love him though; I think he’s just so magical.

Maxime: But also, I believe that it works really well for Gucci. When he was working with Gucci, I don’t know if he’s working with them again, but at the time the creative director was Alessandro Michele who has this playfulness.

He’s a bit cheeky, he’s also a bit of at the top. He’s very passionate about a lot of things. Would that work for Dolce & Gabbana? I don’t think so. It’s not like in the brand DNA to do those kinds of collaborations.

Dolce & Gabbana did Kim Kardashian and for many reasons, people were kind of surprised by this. But at the same time in terms of brand image, it works, it’s what people are expecting from this brand.

And Francis worked for Gucci because it makes sense with like the brand DNA and at the end of the day it’s coming back to this. Like last year for Spring-Summer 23 fashion show, Versace had Paris Hilton to close the show.

At the time, the brand DNA and the brand image were aligning quite well with Paris Hilton, and everybody was very excited. Understand your brand DNA and then everything is kind of easy and organic.

If you are like a very traditional brand with quiet luxury, if you are like Zegna, Brunello Cucinelli, are you going to work with like 19-years-old that do gaming on Twitch? Would your consumer understand this? Would you get a new audience that would be interested in quiet luxury? I’m not sure. So, they’re not doing it.

Gucci is a good example because they’ve been also very innovative. They worked with Roblox, I think they worked with animal crafting, if I’m not wrong.

But once your marketing team and your digital team understand really well your brand DNA and is able to build a strong digital platform, everything is kind of obvious in the way you’re going to construct your different messages and the people you work with and the way you create content, it all comes down to brand.

Cat: You mentioned quiet luxury there, which I think is something I’ve been hearing everywhere now. And I think there’s been a bit of a cultural shift from maximalism when it comes to high fashion to quiet luxury. I do think some of that might be down to succession.

Maxime: Definitely.

Cat: Yeah, right.

Maxime: 200%.

Cat: The fashion of succession just completely influenced everybody, and everyone was like, “No, no, no money talks and wealth whispers,” so it’s all about quiet luxury.

And I wonder when you keep talking about the brand values, say you’re a Gucci, you’re a Versace, do you use social media to see, okay people are really crazy for quiet luxury now and maybe we’ve been more associated with maximalism and does the brand voice adapt with that?

Also, as well, we’re moving into a time of socioeconomic difficulty for a lot of people. So, being really ostentatious with fashion, is that something that fashion houses take on board or do you just weather the storm and stay true to your brand voice through it?

Maxime: Of course, you’re going to monitor these kinds of trends and how it impacts the consumers and the consumption of goods. A lot of brands are thinking about quiet luxury, how to approach this.

But I believe that if you are a maximalist brand and really, it’s part of your DNA, nobody is going to go to Moschino to get a quiet luxury brand instead of Loro Piana, or like Hermes, it doesn’t make any sense.

Your DNA is so strong, it’s so identifiable that you can’t lie to your consumer about who you are because they know.

Whenever people within the marketing team are working on their strategy, of course they have some sort of short-term thinking, like how do we address these new trends and how do we address as consumer?

But at the end of the day, nobody is going to come to your brand for the wrong reasons. If you want a really nice suit, you’re going to go to Zegna and if you want some really grey beautiful sweater, you’re going to go to Loro Piana, but you’re not going to go to other brands because this is not the core business.

And right now, there’s a big trend on quiet luxury and the brands that are benefiting from it are not the ones that are trying to emulate this, they’re the ones that wear quiet luxury from the start that have been doing quiet luxury for sometimes now. 

Cat: Yeah, that makes perfect sense. I was thinking as well about … you’re probably going to hate me for saying this, but that very famous scene in The Devil Wears Prada. When there’s that scene between Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway and Meryl Streep says, “Okay, we basically chose that jumper that you’re wearing.”

Do you see that at all with trends on social media? Because I know fashion often is the trendsetter. Are there things that you can see on social media where it’s maybe like a very diluted version of something that the fashion houses have started?

Maxime: I think now it’s a mix of both. I believe that of course fashion houses are starting certain trends and you can see some trends coming from runway shows where okay, there is this silhouette and it’s really going to define the next few years.

But now the cycle of trend is so crazy and also, it’s so diluted and I think it’s quite amplified by the platforms like TikTok where you actually have so many communities and so many ways to approach fashion that it’s also informing in a way what fashion brands are going to do next. So, it’s a bit of an exchange of ideas.

But nowadays everybody is a niche of something, especially as a new generation. And you can see this being reflected in all of those communities where people are obsessed with recurrence or people are really into archive fashion.

And I think it’s going to push the brands at being more unique and have higher value for the consumers because now they know the history of the brands, they know what they’ve been proposing, and they also know fashion really well. So, they have to be more innovative, they have to be stronger in the creative proposal.

Cat: From the position where fashion is absolutely an art form, and we’ve already talked about the curation of what you’re posting, and you said yourself it’s highly controlled. It makes me curious how does the world of high fashion and luxury fashion within social media use video?

Obviously, it’s a lot harder to control that, but video is obviously hot, hot, hot in the world of social media. So, I feel like I often just think of still images. So, I’m curious how much video plays into your strategy.

Maxime: This has been such a push from platforms to move to videos, like brands to adapt as well. They still stick to images being kind of the central points of their communications because the idea of print, even though a lot of brands are moving away from advertising in magazines is so strong.

Like you have superstar photographers, you don’t have yet superstar videographers in terms of content creation. So, video I think is just as controlled as any other type of content that is coming out, but depending on the platform you can do different things.

I think the main challenge for brands now is obviously TikTok. Because what people are expecting is so new and different in the way it’s filmed. Then brands have been struggling a bit and for a while, they’ve been just pushing campaign videos, or they’ve been pushing like a bit of behind the scene.

A lot of brands now are experimenting in the ways they create videos on TikTok. And Versace has been pushing a lot of content from fashion shows around top models and it’s performing really well because what are people excited about for Versace?

Well, who’s working the shows and other brands have been doing stuff around craftmanship. It really depends about what type of brand you are, but there’s been most certainly a big shift towards video over the last three, four years.

Cat: I guess I have one final question for you and hopefully just a nice easy one. It’s like taking your favourite child, but what is the most favourite campaign that you’ve worked on in your wonderful and illustrious career? I’m so curious because I bet you’ve worked on some amazing ones.

Maxime: Wow, okay, you got to let me think for a second. I mean, this has been like so many amazing moments. It’s really hard to pick one. And also, I’m not specifically thinking in terms of campaign more really in terms of moments.

One of my favourite moments from fashion shows was the fashion show Versace did in Los Angeles in March. It was a crazy amount of work, but the result was stunning.

And all of the guests that we had were so amazed by the seat setting, by the collection, it made sense being a brand that is celebrity centric, being just two days before the Oscars.

So, everything was aligned. I had people texting me right after the end of the show and saying it was just amazing.

Cat: Wow.

Maxime: Yeah, so it’s been many beautiful moments.

Cat: So, Maxime, before we finish up our discussion today, in this season of Social Creatures, we are sourcing questions from the industry for some of our guests. And we have one today for you.

So, this question is coming in from Abi Errey, who is head of Creative at Hometown Creative.

Abi: Hey Maxime, it’s Abi Errey here from Hometown Creative. So, my question is about showing behind the scenes of the business. You often find that with smaller businesses or perhaps less luxury brands, there’s a lot of behind the scenes that you can show on social media and obviously that seems to be quite popular content at the moment.

Do you have any tips for sharing that sort of content or even your thoughts on whether you should share it at all as a luxury brand?

Maxime: Hi Abi, thank you so much for the question. Behind the scene content is definitely on the rise also with luxury brands. The way it’s currently being approached is not only having a social media manager shooting content on an iPhone.

But just like any other type of content, having proper photographers, videographers, shooting interesting images and videos with the same type of expectation we would have for any other type of content.

So, it’s usually more up and coming names. Our directors within the brands are going to scout those names and partner with them to produce some nice content around fashion shows, around campaigns. And it’s definitely a growing trend I would say.

Cat: This has been such a pleasure to dip my toe, my baby toe into the beautiful cornucopia that is your world. I have really enjoyed this conversation. I’m so envious, I can barely speak.

And I’ve learned so much. Thank you so much Maxime for taking the time to talk to us today, I really appreciate it.

Maxime: Loved it. I love this industry and I’ve been working there for a while now and I’m not tired at all about it.

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Cat: You’ve been listening to Social Creatures with me, Cat Anderson. Many thanks to Maxime for joining me today and a special thank you as ever to Sprout Social for making this podcast possible.

If you’ve enjoyed this episode, make sure to let us know on social media at Sprout Social and subscribe to hear other episodes like this wherever you get your podcasts.

Thanks again for listening and we’ll see you in two weeks.