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Snapchat, a Los Angeles-based startup that makes a mobile application for sending disappearing photo messages, is the fashion world's favourite app

Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

Nearly two years ago, the tech-savvy New York-based fashion brand Rebecca Minkoff began using Snapchat, a then-obscure mobile photo-messaging app, to give consumers a first look at its spring 2014 collection before it hit the runway. The snaps (what photos or videos taken with the app are called) had an unusual exclusivity factor: Unlike exchanges via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, Snapchat posts cannot be shared beyond their recipients, cannot be commented on and last no more than 24 hours before disappearing forever.

What Rebecca Minkoff adopted early has since become the latest social-media platform to resonate among fickle fashionistas. At the fall/winter 2015 shows in New York, London, Milan and Paris, snapchatting was the thing to do, with Valentino offering its followers backstage snaps of Zoolander 2 stars Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson prior to their turns on the catwalk and Stella McCartney posting models practising their runway struts before her show.

"Snapchat allows you to experience something that feels exclusive and inaccessible in a really accessible way," says Neha Gandhi, vice-president of editorial strategy at the fashion media company Refinery29. "We started with insider looks of what is happening at Refinery29 – a snap from a photo shoot or something funny that showed up at the office. Initially, we were experimenting a lot: You post it, it disappears after 24 hours. You sort of get a clean slate and can do anything you think is working and resonating with your audience. So that's really fun."

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Because pictures have to be taken using the app and shared right away, there is very little opportunity for editing, which gives snaps a sense of immediacy other platforms lack. Of particular note is its newish Stories feature, which was introduced this past summer and allows users to string images and videos together in chronological order, creating a visual narrative with a shelf life of a day.

"A couple of seasons ago, it was [all] about Vine – everyone was vining like crazy and you felt like, 'Oh my God, I have to vine,'" says Stella Bugbee, editorial director of New York Magazine's The Cut, who feels Snapchat is the new Vine. Recently, The Cut used it to document the Alexander Wang show in New York. "We definitely got a lot of views from it," she reports. "There's no other way to capture that you're sitting beside Nicki Minaj. You just want everyone to see her and the craziness of it."

The buzz around Snapchat is slowly trickling into Canadian fashion circles. Toronto-based designer and Coveteur co-founder Erin Kleinberg, for instance, says she's eager to ramp up her use of it. "I think it would be really cool to show quick snaps of us designing or qualitycontrolling at the factory," she says via e-mail.

As more brands and influencers jump on the Snapchat bandwagon, personalizing the experience for followers will become key to maintaining an edge. At Glamour magazine, "we use Snapchat for instant real-time moments," Anne Sachs, the pubication's executive digital director, says on the phone from New York. "For example, Rosie Assoulin is a designer we love here and I loved that we could take a quick Snapchat [of her work recently] and put on an emoji or some line drawing and point out exactly what we like [about it]. It's almost like an immediate conversation with your followers and you can say to them very quickly in shorthand, 'This is the look and this is why we love it.'"

Snapchat was launched in 2011 by Stanford University fraternity brothers Evan Spiegel, Bobby Murphy and Reggie Brown. Now based in Los Angeles, it made headlines recently when its potential worth was estimated around the $19-billion (U.S.) mark. The app has more than 100 million active monthly users and counting. Most of them are under the age of 25.

"We felt that, by not [employing] Snapchat, we could miss an entire generation [of followers]," says Refinery29's Gandhi.

Others, however, view the app as somewhat less than groundbreaking. "With Vine," says Bugbee of The Cut, "certain people really took to it and really excelled at making quick little films. On Twitter, some people are really good writers and comedians and really excel in that medium. Some people … excel [at] Instagram. It's yet another place for you to find your voice."

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Whichever Snapchat is – fun new toy or game changer – Uri Minkoff, the chief executive officer of Rebecca Minkoff, says it speaks to the human need, especially pronounced these days, to feel at the centre, on the inside, of things.

"'Let me tell you a secret,'" he says it promises. "'Let me let you in on something very special.'"

*

8 fashionable Snapchatters to add to your friends list:

1. Blogger Leandra Medine, a.k.a The Man Repeller: (via snapchat: man_repeller)

2. Girl Boss author/Nasty Gal owner Sophia Amoruso: (via snapchat: sophiaamoruso)

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3. Fashion, beauty and style website Refinery29: (via snapchat: refinery29)

4. Glamour Magazine (via snapchat: glamourmag)

5. Designer Rebecca Minkoff (via snapchat: rebeccaminkoff)

6. New York Magazine's The Cut (via snapchat: the.cut)

7. Model Soo Joo Park (via snapchat: soojoomoojoo)

8. Blogger Bryan Boy (via snapchat: bryanboy)

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