They’re invited to the front rows of the fashion shows; they are ambassadors for prestigious brands, and are followed by millions of people – today, the influencers are an integral part of the fashion landscape. But who are they exactly, and how could we explain their success?
Léa, who lives in London, and is passionate about fashion, art, and digital, took an interest in that question. She was born in the 90s and followed the Internet revolution closely, as well as the gradual democratization of fashion, which used to be institutionalised, closed, and elitist, but that gradually opens up thanks to new generations of influencers.
Let’s begin with the beginning – what does ‘influencer’ mean?
An influencer creates unique and original online content, and exchanges views on a specific subject with a community. The influencers are often millennials coming from creative industries, and very close to their fan base. They can relate and communicate openly and informally on social networks.
The influencer, who is independent, does not – in theory – represent any brand and speaks for himself, which makes his word credible and authentic – which is very important to keep his audience’s loyalty. Contrary to the fashion journalist, the influencer doesn’t need any diploma, any network or professional experience. Actually, anyone can become an influencer!
What is it that makes the influencer influential?
Influence is the power to make someone change their mind, in particular their purchasing power. It’s something that is very difficult to quantify. You can sort the influencers along different criteria – number of followers, commitment of the community, number of likes and comments, reach of the posts… but none of them is completely satisfactory. An influencer with a large community can have less impact than a micro-influencer with 10K followers, but whose community is very committed.
Why are they so successful?
Internet users, and in particular social networks users, don’t want to see ads. Ad blocking is on the rise; we ignore ads because we don’t want to become the target of a brand with a biased message. On the other hand, e-commerce is booming. It seems normal today, but going beyond the uncertainty of online shopping, and sharing our bank account details took time! And even today, you go to the influencer looking for a trustworthy opinion and for reassurance on the purchase you’re about to make.
But if the influencer is paid to give his or her opinion, can we talk about advertising in disguise?
Well then, my theory falls apart!
The influencers first get into it out of passion, and some of them become professionals, which to me means that there’s money involved (collaborations with brands, sponsored posts, etc.). It’s up to every one of us to be critical of what we read or see. I don’t think that the editorial line changes completely. Usually, the influencers are careful, and if they didn’t handle the transition well, they would not be trusted anymore, and would lose their followers.
We have also seen Google report bloggers’ hidden collaborations asking them to explicitly mention their paid partnerships with the “no follow” feature. Indeed, a vastly shared website will be analysed and categorised as qualitative by Google’s algorithm resulting in a good referencing. But if this analysis is biased by money, the good referencing is not always justified.
How does the press see the emergence of the influencers?
Some fashion journalists may have criticised the bloggers and may have seen them as arrivistes wishing to replace them… they are rivals, in a way! But actually, these bloggers entered the world fashion to bring something different. When Garance Doré films great designers and shares informal conversations with them, this is something innovative! Her audience loves it because they are people who are passionate about fashion, and her fans are curious of what happens behind the scenes.
The fashion press has been heavily criticised for not showing reality but photoshopped pictures, and unaffordable clothes. Do you think that, in a way, we have the same problem with influencers, whose life seems at first sight ideal and completely disconnected from their community’s daily life?
Albert Elbaz (the former Lanvin artistic director) once said in a Vogue interview that the essence of fashion was not “[about] looking amazing” but “about giving.” Unfortunately, influencers are often perceived as egocentric people who only think about their selfies. But I think it’s just the opposite. As an influencer, you convey a passion first of all, and it requires a lot of work, so it’s anything but selfish.
And if you follow influencers, it’s precisely because they’re purveyors of dreams. Why do you follow Chiara Ferragni? Of course, you’re looking for a good friend, for the girl who’s going to give you her opinion, etc., but in the end, what you find is a dream. On Instagram, we want to see beautiful and inspiring things! You always need to keep a critical mind, and remember that you’re dealing with a social network – you’re in the representation of the self and of fashion, and not in real life.
So social networks and influencers still have bright days ahead of them?
Instagram is the most relevant social network for fashion, and it’s booming! I think that the job of influencer will keep dematerialising. The new generation will gradually turn its back to a enclosed world, and go towards a larger democratization of fashion and influence. It’s crazy to think that today everyone can have a voice on that topic!
The system of influence has always existed, and we’ll always need influencers. Above all, the influencers digest and then explain the data sent by traditional media. 2 steps are necessary: from the media to the influencer, and then from the influencer to his or her audience. Sometimes, we can be very passive when something is happening, even when it’s something we really like, and we often need someone to play the role of guide. The form doesn’t matter – I think that this job has very bright days ahead!
Who are your muses?
Is it ok if, after an interview like that, I only mention very institutional muses? (laughs) My muses are the women who made me like fashion, and who still make me rediscover it. I’d name 3 of them: Carine Roitfeld, Grace Coddington, and Diana Vreeland. They are women who freed themselves from the chains of fashion (at Vogue!) and brought with them their own style and talent.