Two more fashion social networking sites have joined an increasingly crowded field.

Closet Couture launched last week, with a twist: It lets women share virtual closets with each other, with experienced editorial stylists available for hire and with cutting-edge online retailers such as Presse and Kirna Zabête. (Another social network, Shoutfit, also featured virtual closets, but shut down last year.) Chictopia opened in April and matches style seekers with trendsetters based on their profiles and outfit ratings. It has advertising from American Apparel and James Perse, among others.

This story first appeared in the October 15, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The first social networking site devoted to fashion was launched three years ago. Now the original MyStyleDiary has been joined by sites such as StyleMob, Iqons, ShareYourLook, ModePass, Osoyou, Polyvore, Glam, Sugar and MySpace’s fashion community. Like general social networking sites, these sites devoted to style allow users to create a profile and link to friends. In addition, many let members upload, vote and comment on photos of outfits as well as blog and converse on any topic.

Meanwhile, retailers and brands have recently jumped into the social networking space, as well. Wet Seal and Juicy Couture have created their own social networks, and St. John plans to unveil one early next year.

Advertisers are finding niche sites like these to deliver a highly targeted, fashion-obsessed audience, although — at least, so far — their traffic is smaller than on the more general social networks. “The niche sites do well for American Apparel,” said Gene Slyman, a freelance media buyer for American Apparel based in Washington. “However, they lack the reach that other larger social networks have. Therefore we end up doing both. We’ve tested literally thousands of niche sites; it’s a non-stop process. The best mix are sites that aren’t too mainstream, yet have the reach that allows us to scale.”

Online ad rates vary widely, from as little as 10 cents to $20 and up per thousand impressions. Niche sites can often charge higher rates.

Closet Couture gives retailers the opportunity to interact intimately with customers. Approved stores and stylists have pages and virtual closets on the site. Site members can virtually try on items with other things already in their wardrobes, get advice from store owners, put items on their wish lists or click through to the online stores to purchase.

“When it comes to e-commerce, [co-owner] Renee [Klein] and I have a really open mind because shopping — especially online — is constantly evolving, especially in shaky economic times,” said Zoe Schaeffer, a co-owner of Presse, a Los Angeles -based boutique and online store that carries Rodarte, Proenza Schouler and Vena Cava. “You have to think outside the box in terms of how you’re going to grab new customers and how you’re going to market yourself. Closet Couture is a fun, easy way to gain exposure and an amazing cross-marketing platform for retailers, stylists and designers. This is the first online platform where you can share merchandise as well as have an interactive experience with credible people in the fashion industry.”

“What we want to do is mix the best stores with the best tastemakers at all levels,” including chain stores and mass, said Closet Couture founder Chris Elia. Launched with about $500,000 in seed funding from retailer House of Lavande and other investors, the Santa Monica-based site has attracted 600 members in one week. Revenue streams include banner ads, a 10 percent cut of stylist services and affiliate fees.

San Francisco-based Chictopia has 13,000 members and about 10,000 visitors a day who leave more than 20,000 comments daily, far more than the average blog with the same traffic. “It creates a platform for trendsetters to make stars of themselves,” said co-founder Helen Zhu. “The deep engagement is very attractive to advertisers.” Sixty-seven percent of its members are 18 to 24 years old. Ninety-one percent are “influencers,” according to Zhu. The site is self-funded and will be advertising-supported.

“It’s proven to be this awesome community that simultaneously generates traffic and ideas,” said Evelyn Peterson, a 25-year-old full-time student in Chattanooga, Tenn., who joined Chictopia in May. Posting photos of what she is wearing on the site has helped readers find her blog, and she hopes it will do the same for the online vintage store she’s planning to open soon. “It gives you a creative edge,” she said. “It’s made me a lot less lazy and a lot more experimental. You’re racking your brain for ‘what should I do next?’ Then you see this girl in the countryside of Norway wearing funny-shaped pants. You’d have to wait so much longer if you were going to mainstream media and waiting for the trickle-down,” she said.

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