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Social Media Fashion Statements

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When visitors land on fashion and design blog The Lil Bee, they'll notice something unusual. In the upper right corner of the page sits a graphical rendering of poppy flowers sprouting across the page with the message "You've found a poppy" and invitation to "follow the poppy trail."

The Lil Bee is one of hundreds of blogs that are part of a network stitched together this month in a social media campaign from fashion brand Coach. The bloggers have added a small piece of code to their sites that acts as a mini discovery tool, along with a game for users to grow the poppy image on the site by their visits or using Twitter to broadcast a message.

The Poppy Project, which promotes Coach's Poppy line of affordable but still luxury fashions, is an unusual approach for the fashion world, which has built brands in traditional media with lush images and an aspirational message. These approaches run counter to the ethos of social media, where sharing and connectivity rule the roost.

Coach leaned on Facebook to launch Poppy a year ago. It tapped into its fan base -- now nearly 1 million -- and gave its Facebook fans a gift when they visited the store. In post-launch research, store managers reported many customers said they initially heard of the line from Facebook, according to David Duplantis, svp of global Web and digital media at Coach.

"We felt the organic nature of poppies growing in social media was a home run," he said.

Yet many fashion brands, particularly those in the luxury category, remain wary of social media. Instead, visit the sites of major fashion names like Louis Vuitton and Gucci and you'll find pretty much the digital equivalent of Vogue: lots of glossy photos and little in the way of interaction. Diana Hong, creative director at Create the Group, a New York digital shop that specializes in fashion, said the rather simple step of adding a Facebook Like button can worry fashion clients who zealously guard their brand image around exclusivity.

"Being open to social media has been challenging because it's almost too open for them," she said. "They're worried about how their brand is perceived."

As in other industries, fashion has its share of hits and misses in social media. Burberry undertook perhaps the most lauded effort with the Art of the Trench, a social site it released last fall that invited users to upload photos of them wearing trench coats and rate and comment on those on the site. It snagged well-known fashion blogger and photographer Scott Schuman to shoot 100 photos of models wearing trench coats.

"It woke up the luxury fashion brands that they can do something social, be cool and still be on brand," said Hong.

Other brands have stumbled. Gucci's social site, EyeWeb, released around the same time as Art of the Trench, raised eyebrows in the fashion business. The site invited people to upload their photos that were then shown as reflections on pairs of Gucci sunglasses. "Kudos for experimenting and trying new things out, but perhaps next time Gucci may want to consider why it is jumping on the social media bandwagon and what it is aiming to achieve before punching its ticket," noted Imran Amed, in an article for The Business of Fashion.

Duplantis doesn't believe the fashion industry is particularly far behind in social media. He points to other social media efforts by Coach, including a contest for brand advocates to design a Coach tote bag. That effort generated 3,200 submissions and 114,000 votes. "Social in general is relatively new," he said. "Fashion brands are engaging in an interesting way.  People need to find what platforms are right for their brand."