DJ/tech entrepreneur/fashion party fixture Hannah Bronfman loves her Samsung Galaxy Note III smartphone. Oh, and the Galaxy Gear watch, too. "I really like the idea of spyware. I wish I was a ninja," Bronfman half-joked at a dinner she co-hosted last week with Editorialist and the CFDA. "You could make a sick viral video without anyone knowing." Beyond the fact that it integrates pretty seamlessly with the watch, she loves the Note's 4.8-inch screen. "Instagram just looks so much better when it's bigger," she said. "I see all the bloggers and all the writers using the Galaxy."
Indeed, over the past three years, Samsung has made a major push to get the fashion industry to notice its offerings. While semi-spontaneous marketing stunts at the Oscars and the White House have dominated selfie news over the past month, Samsung's New York Fashion Week presence was equally intense.
Along with a wall of Galaxy-shot street style images displayed in the lobby at the Lincoln Center tents, Samsung collaborated with Swarovski on a limited-edition crystal cover that launched at Swarovski's 5th Avenue store just in time for the shows. (The Seoul-based conglomerate also sponsored Lincoln Center's VIP lounge.) But beyond the advertorial hoopla, this past run of fashion weeks marked the first time we observed a significant number of editors and buyers using the Samsung Galaxy Note in a serious way. As in, they were using it because they liked it, not because they had been given one for free (or paid to do so as part of a campaign). Known fans of the Note include many of the bloggers and writers Bronfman spoke of, including Style Bubble's Susie Lau and Bryanboy.
To be clear, it hasn't been a breezy sell, despite the fact that Samsung outpaced Apple last year in worldwide phone shipments. The fashion industry is both old-fashioned and snobby about its tech products. While there are still editors who swear by the Blackberry -- and are surely rejoicing over the resurrection of the company's Bold smartphone -- others are Mac fanatics who bow down to Jonathan Ive, Apple's Burberry-clad senior vice president of design. (And yes, there are still plenty of tech dinosaurs. One magazine editor in chief is rumored to have never sent an email without the help of an assistant.) Over the past three years, Samsung has made a big effort to connect with fashion audiences, sponsoring events, teaming up with bloggers on native advertising, but also collaborating with designers -- including Alexander Wang, Fallon's Dana Lorenz and Giorgio Armani -- on limited-edition products.
"Instead of trying to be everything to everyone, Samsung's effectively positioned the Note as a phone designed to work for fashion designers. That's really smart, and it sounds like it's working," says marketing expert Andrew Davis, author of Brandscaping: Unleashing the Power of Partnerships.
To be sure, fashion takes up a microscopic sliver of Samsung's ginormous $13 billion annual marketing budget. But given that the industry consists of an inordinate amount of "influencers" -- aka, people whom other people listen to -- the word-of-mouth potential is great. "Samsung is walking a fine line between authentic influencer endorsements and fabricated stunts," Davis said. "The more it focuses on the former, the more successful it will ultimately be."
Samsung has early adopters like Eva Chen to thank for the sea change. Long before she was appointed editor in chief of Lucky, Chen started using the Galaxy Note. "I was perplexed and fascinated by the large screen," she said. (Her other two major devices are made by Apple: a Macbook Air and an iPad.) Chen learned to love that screen -- now 5.3 inches -- and is on her third-generation Galaxy.
"The first year I was using it, I got weird looks. People would ask if it was a PalmPilot," she said. "By the third iteration, they started asking me to show them how to use it." As a journalist, Chen is a fan of the stylus -- "I might look like a nerd, but writing things down by hand helps me to remember things" -- and as a pop-culture enthusiast she loves watching television on the wide screen. ("I've watched entire series on my phone," she said.)
But it's during fashion week when Chen finds the Note particularly useful. She takes hundreds of photos each day, and while she's not convinced the actual picture quality is any better than on an iPhone, "the post-production experience is really great. The screen is so big, the editing tools are great, and so are the built-in filters."
Of course, Samsung has a long way to go before it dominates the seats at NYFW week like it does the sponsored backdrops. A few of the industry personalities we reached to -- people who had once publicly touted the Galaxy -- have since defected to the iPhone. But the war to win fashion isn't lost just yet. Samsung's real challenge will be facing the iPhone 6, which is rumored to have a larger screen. It's also rumored to hit stores in September, maybe just in time for the fall shows. Let the battle begin.