To be sure, designers have been creating drama on the runway for decades—especially showmen such as John Galliano, Jean-Paul Gaultier, and the late Alexander McQueen. At McQueen’s spring/summer 1999 show, model Shalom Harlow writhed on a slowly rotating turntable, while two sinister robots attacked her white dress with spray paint. The year prior a model stood in a ring of fire. But these slightly disturbing dramatizations share as much with the conceptual performance art of the 1970s as they do with the instantly-broadcast “microstunts” of today. The now-famous skulking model that Galliano sent out at Margiela this season deftly scurried down the line between artistic expression and instant meme.

Today’s social media landscape lets designers reach fashion’s ever-widening audience more directly, rather than depending on editors and buyers to convey their vision to the world. An expertly executed Instagrammable moment leaves little room for misinterpretation. And while one could argue the denizens of social media now control the narrative, this week’s Zoolander stunt shows how easily they fall into line and become instruments of promotion. The runway turn of the comic actors Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson set off a single-day social media onslaught, and Paramount Pictures got a high-impact and hilariously on-brand announcement for its Zoolander sequel, delivered by a tribe of online influencers.

Here are some the other ways designers are making these “moments” happen.

Create a scene

Chanel creative director Karl Lagerfeld consistently impresses with his elaborate sets, which have become more interactive in recent seasons.

Models present creations by German designer Karl Lagerfeld as part of his Fall/Winter 2014-2015 women's ready-to-wear collection for French fashion house Chanel at the Grand Palais transformed into a "Chanel Shopping Center" during Paris Fashion Week, personal shopping app PS Dept
Supermarché Chanel.
Image: Reuters/Stephane Mahe

Pre-Instagram, Lagerfeld staged extravagant shows in locales such as Grand Central Station and a Los Angeles airfield. Now, he builds his own locations. Over the past few seasons, he has created the famous Chanel supermarket, “Boulevard Chanel” for protest marches, and this week, the “Brasserie Gabrielle” (named for Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel) where models flirted with “bartenders” and sipped grapefruit pressé while VIP guests watched from booths.

At the darker end of the spectrum, the New York-based designer Thom Browne creates similarly interactive sets that invite viewers into fanciful—though perhaps more complicated and foreboding—worlds. His show this season made’s Tim Blanks wonder whether Browne’s cinematic vision might one day outgrow the catwalk.

Fill the front row with stars

Kanye West’s debut at Adidas this season would have likely have taken social media by storm regardless, but just to make sure, he guaranteed it with a front row that included his wife, Kim Kardashian West (who perhaps you’ve heard of) and her sisters Kendall Jenner and Khloé Kardashian, as well as Beyoncé Knowles, Jay-Z, Diddy, and Rihanna. (Justin Bieber, Big Sean, and Pusha T sat second-row.)

Not only did Kanye guarantee social media coverage by enlisting front row documentarians with massive followings—Beyoncé alone has 27.7 million followers—he also ensured that no one present would be able to resist sharing photos of the blinding star power in the front row. (Kanye returned the favor at Balmain, Givenchy, Louis Vuitton, and a series of performances during Paris Fashion Week.)

Kim, Kanye, North, and Nicki at Alexander Wang.
Kim, Kanye, North, and Nicki at Alexander Wang.
Image: Getty Images/Craig Barritt

Also, babies help! When the toddler North West started to cry before Kanye’s Adidas presentation, Twitter erupted with play-by-plays of a perfectly natural tantrum while awaiting a delayed show.

British designer Victoria Beckham’s children often sit with their extremely photogenic father, footballer David Beckham, beside Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, offering an irresistible front-row photo opportunity.

Drop intimate (enviable) details

In the past, Tom Ford has eschewed the media’s glare at his fashion shows, even prohibiting photography at one (pre-Instagram) presentation where his notable friends—including Julianne Moore, Beyoncé Knowles, and Rita Wilson—served as models.

This season, he went full-Hollywood—flashbulbs included—showing his collection in Los Angeles the night before the Oscars. Ford’s front row included Jennifer Lopez and Gwyneth Paltrow, but it was the white-rose-petal-strewn floor that flooded Instagram: a beguiling visual detail that showed followers the show’s opulence.

And that intimate detail does the double-duty of announcing that you made a short invite list, with the bonus side-effect of inducing Instagram envy. Many of those observing Tom Ford’s show in L.A. were enduring sub-freezing temperatures in New York, no doubt.

Laura Brown, the comedic executive editor of Harper’s Bazaar, turned this on its head by sharing images of herself photoshopped into meme-worthy photos of Paris Fashion Week with the hashtag #Iwasnotthere.

Personally, the desserts at Rachel Comey’s New York dinners tend to trigger my own Instagram envy (along with my sweet tooth). The images from her show look always great, never gauche—which probably has as much to do with the setting as it does with the guest list. A tightly edited group of editors, artists, and friends can be trusted to paint a pretty picture.

Enlist an “Instagirl” to walk in your show

This week, model Cara Delevingne’s Instagram following grew to 10 million, which means she is about halfway to reaching the audience of her friend and catwalk cohort, Kendall Jenner (who has the advantage of Kardashian blood).

But 10 million is nothing to sneeze at, and puts Delevingne firmly at the top of a model category that Vogue has dubbed the “Instagirl,” along with Karlie Kloss, Joan Smalls, and the rapidly rising Gigi Hadid. (Hadid’s following has doubled since we analyzed the fashion Instagram universe last season.)

These millennial supermodels’ massive audiences mean followers will seek out images of them after they’ve walked in a fashion show—and if the model herself posts from backstage, so much the better.

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