Instagram changed fashion. Last night, fashion said thank you.

Every year the Council of Fashion Designers of America honors the achievements of veteran designers and celebrates the potential of a class of newcomers. Monday night’s ceremony highlighted the old-school craft of clothes, the gut-instincts of an enduring merchant and a wave of American designers who are informed by the street.

It was also a slog through long speeches, stuttering gratitude, affectless reminiscences, grudging laughter and fear of Kanye.

Ultimately though, Instagram was the most interesting win of the night. Its impact says the most about fashion in our popular culture.

The CFDA ventured boldly into new territory. It gave its media award — typically presented to a writer, editor or photographer — to a company, or more precisely, an app: Instagram. Voted on by the CFDA board, Instagram had the support of some of the industry’s most influential voices, said the organization’s chief executive Steven Kolb.

photo: cocktail dress

Launched in 2010, Instagram was created as a photo-sharing device with a selection of filters and other doo-dads to doctor images to a user’s aesthetic tastes. Kevin Systrom said that he and co-founder Mike Krieger never envisioned Instagram’s effect on the fashion industry: “There’s a funny picture of Mike and I wearing baggy shirts and pants. So to say we were thinking about fashion would be an overstatement.”

“We started it to be for everyone,” Systrom said in an earlier interview. “The universality of images is something we hold near and dear.”

But Instagram, Systrom acknowledges, has changed fashion. “Designers are thinking of things to put in shows to encourage people to take Instagrams,” Systrom says, noting the recent Chanel show in which designer Karl Lagerfeld created an entire supermarket set including details such as boxes of Chanel rice, shopping carts and displays of produce.

There have always been designers who created elaborate sets for their fashion shows. But in recent years, in addition to Chanel’s French bistro, Givenchy’s auto carnage and Dries Van Noten’s hippie sit-in, designers are giving audiences carefully orchestrated group shots of models — perfect for Instagram.

Where it was once de rigueur for models to make one final pass down the runway at the end of a show, now they come out as a group and pose. Often they remain in position even as the audience is leaving — more opportunities for guests to swarm around a model to capture a perfect close-up for Instagram.

“I went to the Burberry show in L.A. and I was talking to [creative director] Christopher Bailey,” Systrom says. Production values of fashion shows have gone up, Bailey told him, now that images are disseminated instantly — or as quickly as all that filtering and editing will allow. Pictures go far beyond newspapers and magazines and websites to be shared — and re-shared — millions of times in ways that are not just regurgitating what the designer says but from a new point-of-view. A designer no longer lectures. Instagram helps spark a conversation and a debate.

Instagram is part of the great democratization of fashion, helping to create an entire class of fashion professionals who did not hone their chops as junior editors or assistants. They are untethered to specific publications. Their message is wholly visual and it is personal. And for some people, such asLeandra Medine and Chiara Ferragni it has become lucrative, as they become tastemakers to their hundreds of thousands of followers, brand ambassadors for labels, collaborators with fashion designers and even designers, themselves.

Instagram has given models a tool for creating a public personality long before they sign big advertising contracts, sit down for a chat on a late night talk show or otherwise raise their voice. With Instagram, they can be heard without ever having to open their mouth.

As designer John Bartlett noted, just after he posted a photo on Instagram, the fashion industry has a natural affinity for the app, with its focus — not just on the visual, but also on personal aesthetics. After all, designers can share all the photos they want via Twitter, for instance, the obsession with Instagram is in altering those images to reflect their point-of-view.

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