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Essay: Emojis

by Chris Hobbs on 10 September 2014

MATCHESFASHION.COM's senior writer and fashion editor and self-confessed emoji addict Chris Hobbs offers a witty, personal essay.

MATCHESFASHION.COM's senior writer and fashion editor and self-confessed emoji addict Chris Hobbs offers a witty, personal essay.

I admit I'm on the extreme end of the scale when it comes to teen speak and the obsessive use of emojis in everyday conversation. I’ve screened calls while I concoct the perfect picture sequence. The contacts in my phone are no longer represented by mere letters, not when a cigarette and red wine glass emoji are representative enough for some of my closest friends. My mother is in on the act too, most Thursdays she Whatsapps me something along the lines of, 'Took Nana to get her hair permed and then we went to Costa for a latte *old woman, coffee cup, cake emoji*.' I like to think of her as an early adopter, but actually, a quick survey of my friends' mothers confirms that they’re all quite partial to the black leotarded twins dancing in unison. How modern.

Emojis have infiltrated culture in a huge way, peppering Twitter and Facebook feeds across the land, appearing in music videos and photo shoots. Katy Perry tapped into the zeitgeist with the video for her song Roar, spelling out the lyrics in pictorial form. Beyonce, enamoured with a fan-made video for her song Drunk in Love, produced emoji surfboard t-shirts that sold at her latest tour, sparking a mini craze.

Modern conversation is so very adaptable; we talk in hashtags. I've even gone as far as uttering ‘thumbs-up emoji!' when something brilliant has happened. Yes, I know, so meta. Sometimes I get nostalgic for my Nokia 8210, but then I remember that to text the letter 'S' (and this was before predictive text) you would need to tap the number seven key four whole times. Of course, that little quirk stemmed a whole craze of its own: text-speak. Due to a phone’s limited characters and high text costs it was both time and cost effective to utter verbal shortcuts, such as 'C U L8R' or 'BRTNY IS GR8.' Though that fad seemed to die a slow death with the advent of unlimited minutes, corporations latching on, in a bid to look current, or just the general overuse of such utterances from people over the age of 40. Mother Hobbs, a trailblazer in some senses, still enjoys a bit of classic text chat.

At present there are 847 emojis with a further 240 following in the near future. There are twelve hearts but no cheese, a fax machine but no white wine. Hopefully the emojis Gods are taking due note.

The cult of emoji (literal translation 'picture letter') began in earnest, as most technological advances do, in Japan, around the mid-nineties when mini pictures were added as a feature to a brand of pagers. By 2008, a standardised alphabet had been created to minimise inconsistencies across different devices, and by 2011, which was the tipping point for most, Apple added them to their iPhone keyboard, thus unleashing a world of possibilities upon eager mobile users. At present there are 847 emojis with a further 240 following in the near future. There are twelve hearts but no cheese, a fax machine but no white wine. Hopefully the emojis Gods are taking due note.

Certain quarters of the fashion world have been very receptive to the emoji, and its less photogenic friend the hashtag. Nick Knight cemented the trend in 2012 with Whaam!, a shoot for Garage magazine featuring model Lindsey Wixson shot as a modern-day Lichtenstein heroine, complete with text bubbles and descriptive emojis. Meanwhile, earlier this year, shoe brand Del Toro teamed up with online retailers Moda Operandi to sell velvet slippers emblazoned with a handful of famous emojis.

Daubing your brand in these mini pictures, for the moment at least, says 'we’re young, we’re with it and we’re a little bit off-centre.' Luxury brands, such as Gucci and Burberry, trailblazers at the online fashion lark in some senses, have, however, lagged behind with text speak and mini pictorials. Perhaps it's because emojis aren’t very luxury? A quick survey of 20 luxury brand’s Twitter feeds would concur – notwithstanding a rogue praying hand from Valentino – this to be the case.

In contrast, younger, web-friendly designers, who are more likely to update their own Twitter pages are riffing on the personal touch. Step forward Christopher Shannon. Sample tweet: 'Apparently it's been decided that I should take over at Iceberg *snowflake emoji*.'

As well as Shannon (who affectionately refers to followers and haters as 'hun'), teen speak has been appropriated by a slew of younger brands eager to connect with potential shoppers. Fashion East's Ashley Williams, who is known for slogans, bold prints and quirky designs, resonates with the emoji user, as does her partnership with Pixie Geldof on their Instagram-brand Funky Offish. Indeed, they've built the whole label off the back of being dab hands with a keyboard. A splattering of tortoise, heart and pouting lip icons can go a long way when building a fashion career these days it seems. Move over Central Saint Martins.

Sid Bryan, Joe Bates and Cozette McCreery of East-London based knitwear label Sibling have worked hard to cultivate a social media feed that reflect the brand’s youthfulness; they are flagrant users of emojis and teen natter. 'We use emojis for a few reasons,' says McCreery. 'Firstly, on social media our audience is relatively young and so often we have emojis sent to our accounts and it's nice to reply speaking in a similar language. Secondly Sibling is very much about having fun. Writing a message with added, often random, pictures is very 'us' and makes us laugh. Thirdly, pictures often add a subtext that in fact the comment is very tongue in cheek or that we are more excited/happier than can be put across in the limited space of a Tweet.'

New York-based jeweller Alison Lou, whose feed is chock full of lovehearts, has been inspired so much by emojis that the bulk of her current collection involve smiley faces, love hearts and lips. 'The impact that phone messaging (especially emojis) and social media are having on communication is significant and something that is inspiring to me. A piece of jewellery should always signify a certain time or feeling in one's life, and I want to marry this visual of emotion with the emotional relationship people have with their jewels.'

A solid year into my emoji obsession, I spotted Antipodium's Resort 2013 collection, which featured an emoji print of guns, eyeballs and bows which had been peppered onto blouses and dresses. I coveted that print. Why? The irony factor perhaps. Or maybe the immediate, in-your-face impact that’s so vital when trying to stand out in a world so completely saturated with visuals (surely also the reason why fashion has once again embraced the logo). This kind of quick visual messaging counts when your smartphone is overloaded with snappier and snappier content.

Good case studies are Karl Lagerfeld's penchant for a kitschy moment at Chanel and Jeremy Scott's recent Moschino makeover. Both designers created the most Instagrammable collections of the A/W 14 season by embracing witty visuals with recognisable punch: Moschino’s appropriation of the McDonald’s logo and Chanel’s supermarket with thousands of household goods emblazoned with the brand’s interlocking Cs – Lait de Coco, Tagliatelle Mademoiselle, Cho Coco Lait, Jambon Cambon and so on. This is the stuff that speaks to today’s social media-obsessed fashion crowd. It gives them something quick and easy to post, a shot guaranteed to help the likes pour in without forcing them to dream up some pithy pun or #LOLS caption. Scott provided a golden era for the burger and fries emoji while Lagerfeld even developed his own emoji app. It's knowing, it creates hype, it's irreverent, but above all else it’s extremely jolly. And in a fashion world that's ever increasingly high-pressured, what with the unworkably packed schedules and constant thirst for something 'new', who doesn’t want some light relief?

So why do I personally feel the need to customise every part of my life with pictures of frogs? Probably, just because it looks fun. It cheers me. In another life would I like to come back as a Japanese schoolgirl? Oh go on then.

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