The social-networking behemoth's fashion community, myspace.com/fashion, launched in beta in January. With almost 50,000 members, it has stitched together branded partnerships with Nylon magazine and InStyle.com and is exploring future relationships with Clairol and Revlon. The site is not yet listed as a tab atop the MySpace home page, but will launch as a stand-alone channel in the "not-too-distant future," according to Shawn Gold, MySpace senior VP-marketing and content.
The core model mimics that of its music channel: empowering individual artists while aggregating an audience. It rotates video content featuring Fashion Week coverage and stylist tips, plus daily fashion and apparel news and artist exhibitions. Already there's strong demand from junior designers, accessories makers and fashionistas who have witnessed viewer response to MySpace Music.
"We now offer the opportunity to evangelize [designers'] work," Mr. Gold said. "Soon we'll add tools for them to monetize."
Picking a runway
Part of the challenge for MySpace will be figuring out how high-fashion it wants to be. Current advertisers include the film "Bratz," which suggests a younger, less industry-savvy visitor. But fashion auteurs seeking a promotional push for their designs can add Sofia Coppola and Vogue's Andre Leon Talley as friends.
InStyle.com anchors the site with a daily digest of its syndicated content, a partnership that pays off in steady click-through traffic. Each visitor to MySpace.com/fashion consumes an average of 26 pages of editorial material per visit on InStyle.com, said Gail Horwood, executive director for InStyle.com. "Partnering with MySpace has meant an ability to get in front of a passionate audience," including people who may not be regular readers, and drives home the idea of InStyle as a brand rather than a monthly magazine.
But apparel marketers, especially luxury-fashion marketers, remain wary of dangling their time-honored brands in front of such a public audience. Banner ads typically don't do their products justice, and, as is the case with all marketers, running ads next to user-generated content poses risks. MySpace's challenge is as delicate as mixing patterns: It must find a balance between user-generated content and brand integration while maintaining user expression and creativity.
"We're mindful the web is a place for interaction, but we believe the content online generally doesn't support brand value," said Mike Hartley, co-founder and creative director of online fashion glossy ZooZoom.com, which is trying to establish a high-end, graphically rich online fashion destination.
Supermodels of the world wide web
Ford Models took its decades-old Supermodels of the World Search to MySpace last week in a deal that will provide behind-the-scenes access to the agency's models and talent. This move follows the April launch of FordModels.tv, a syndicated video-driven network distributed on YouTube, iVillage and Joost, among others. The channel provides expert beauty and fashion tips, as well as exercise instruction and diet advice from company models and stylists.
"The way people experience beauty and fashion is changing from a get-the-message-from-the-mountain to a peer-to-peer sharing of industry vision," said John Caplan, president-chief operating officer of Ford Models. He added that the challenge for traditional apparel and beauty brands lies in creating web experiences that enhance loyalty, not just sustain it.
And with apparel and accessories the fastest growing e-commerce category outside of travel -- soon to reach a 15% share of total e-commerce sales, according to eMarketer -- the brands most likely to benefit will be those that get in on the action at the grass-roots level.